How long can a car sit without driving?By design, cars are made to be used regularly. It is generally recommended to take your car out for a 15-20 minute drive every two weeks minimum. If allowed to sit for prolonged periods unattended, problems can occur. How long it takes for this to happen to undriven cars can vary based on where the car is stored and the surrounding temperature amongst other factors.
When stored at suboptimal temperatures you may run into issues such as, such as deflated tyres, a flat battery and brittle rubber on windscreen wipers. Likewise, if your car is too warm for too long this can also cause battery issues and tyre damage, so it’s important not to overcompensate on the heat of your car’s storage conditions during a cold winter.
So, what winter car checks should you be performing?
Car Battery ChecksWith regular use, a car’s battery will typically last around 3-5 years. If your car is left unused, the battery is likely to go dead in less than 3 months. This is because the car’s alternator normally recharges the battery while driving. This cannot happen if the car isn’t driven. Inspecting the battery should be your winter checklist’s top priority.
Make the following battery checks this winter to make sure you can get going:
- Check the battery’s terminals for corrosion/dirt and ensure they are fitted tightly.
- Ensure the battery is seated properly to maintain connections.
- Check the age of your car’s battery – batteries will start to degrade after approximately 5 years. Your car battery will have a date code stamped into it, which can often only be seen by removing your battery. However, the code doesn’t always indicate how long the battery has been fitted to the vehicle, especially if you didn’t buy your car new. If you’ve owned your car for several years without changing the battery, it may be time to do so to run less risk of breaking down.
Car Oil Level CheckMake sure to check your car’s oil levels and condition before you head out in the winter. In cold weather, oil becomes thicker which makes it slower to flow through the engine and harder to pump through the engine block. In turn this puts further strain on your car’s battery, which can already be weakened as detailed above. To check your car’s oil level:
- When your car is parked on level ground with a cool engine, open the bonnet and find your dipstick.
- Remove dipstick and wipe it clean with a rag – note the markers on the dipstick signifying the minimum and maximum oil levels.
- Push the clean dipstick all the way back into its tube, and then remove it again.
- If the level is halfway between the minimum and maximum levels indicated on the dipstick, no oil needs to be added. If the level is below halfway, add more.
- If adding more oil, ensure it is the correct type of oil for your car as different engines require different oils. Your vehicle’s manual should indicate the type you need if you are unsure.
- Locate your car’s oil cap (usually marked with an oil can symbol), remove the cap and pour in the oil slowly. As you are doing so, keep checking the oil level with your dipstick to avoid pouring in too much, which can also cause damage to your car.
- When done, replace the cap and dipstick and clear up any spills before firmly closing your bonnet.
Check your fuel, coolant and other fluidsWhen you’ve checked your oil, you should check your car’s other fluids as well, such as your fuel, engine coolant and windscreen wiper fluid.
Coolant should be topped up if levels are below its container’s indicating marks and changed completely if there is any rust or discolouring present in it.
More dirt on the roads during winter means keeping windscreen washer fluid levels maintained is even more important. Ensure it is topped up with a quality additive that protects at low temperatures to avoid the fluid freezing in the tank.
Rubbers - Car Tyre ChecksChecking your car’s rubbers is vital in cold winter weather, especially after prolonged storage. Your car’s tyres are its only point of contact with the roads, so ensuring they are healthy before driving in winter is critical.
Perform the following checks on your tyres:
- Inspect for cracks, tears, splits or bulges
- Ensure the tread depth of every tyre is deeper than the 1.6mm minimum level. During winter it is advised to have 3mm of tread depth to improve traction and grip in adverse winter conditions
- Ensure each tyre is properly inflated and has the right air pressure – the correct levels of these can be found in your car’s manual
- Should you wish to, consider swapping out your car’s tyres for specialised winter tyres
Rubbers – Wiper ChecksYou should also check your car’s windscreen wiper blades for splits or cracks brought on by cold weather. If they aren’t in good condition, get them changed before you drive. Then you will be able to properly deal with winter weather and road conditions’ effects on visibility.
Check Your Car’s ElectricsFinally, perform the following checks on your car’s electrics:
- Check your car’s lights work properly and that they are clean so you can be seen properly when winter driving
- Ensure your dashboard’s lights work correctly when the car is turned on
- If your car struggles to start and electrics don’t display properly, there may be issues with your battery. If you have already performed your battery checks and there are still issues after double-checking, your battery may be approaching the end of its life and need to be replaced
Prepare for a breakdownYour car should now be checked and ready for winter driving. However, there is still the chance of your car letting you down on the road unexpectedly. Keep warm clothes and drinks in your car, as well as a fully charged phone, water and emergency food supplies in case you get stuck in the cold.
Nobody wants to have their car break down in the winter, so being prepared is vital. Fortunately, the car insurance that our expert insurance brokers can provide you with can come with breakdown cover provided by the RAC – perfect for peace of mind when winter driving. Check out our Car Insurance page today and see how you can get protected with a bespoke car insurance quote for your needs as an individual, not as a winter breakdown statistic.