Getting your car ready for the road after coronavirus

Things to check after weeks of not driving.

Michelin Tire
Make sure your car is ready for the open road after weeks of sitting idle. –Michelin

Life is slowly getting back to normal and for many people that means the return of the daily commute. Hopefully, you’re ready, but what about your car? After sitting mostly unused for several months, you need to make sure your car is safe to take back out on the road. Mike Bundick, product marketing director for Michelin, has a quick list of things you should do before you once again head out for a drive.

A car that’s been sitting outside all spring has likely collected plenty of dirt. Even a car kept out of the elements in a garage can collect grime over the course of just a few weeks. Start by popping the hood to make sure there aren’t any leaves or twigs that have found their way into the engine compartment. Also keep an eye out for nests from small creatures that decided to make a home in your engine. Remove loose debris paying special attention to the battery connectors.

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Once you’ve cleared visible debris from those connectors, you need to confirm the battery is charged. “Take your car around the block for 15 minutes before you head out, to be sure it’s okay,” says Bundick. Don’t wait until you need to go out for your first day back in the office. Check your battery ahead of time to avoid an unpleasant surprise first thing in the morning.

It’s also a good idea to check your air filter, which collects dust and dirt even when a car hasn’t gone anywhere for weeks. If it looks dirty, then go ahead and put in a new one. Check your oil, too. “Even if your car’s not running very often, oil still breaks down,” says Bundick. First, check that the oil level is within the automaker recommendations using the oil dipstick. At the same time, make sure the oil is not thick and dirty. If it is very black and somewhat sludgy, then it’s best to get an oil change before you start driving your car again.

There’s also the matter of tires. While they haven’t been getting any mileage over the last few months, they still need attention, especially if the car hasn’t moved at all. Anytime you’re inspecting your tires, start by conducting a penny test to check the tread.

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Simply insert a penny between the treads with Lincoln’s head upside down. If the top of his head is covered by the tread, then it’s good. Otherwise, your tread is too low and it’s time for new tires. Check in a few different spots to account for uneven wear that might make some parts of the tread good while other parts are not.

The weather was still quite cold back in March, which means many people may have had winter tires on their cars. If you still have winter tires, don’t forget to swap them out now that the weather has warmed up for summer.

Also take a minute to check the tire air pressure. You can find the air pressure recommended for you tires in a couple of places. Sometimes there’s a sticker inside the door or on the inside of the gas tank lid. Failing that, pull out the owner’s manual and look up your tire’s proper inflation.

Tires that have been sitting for a while on an unused car may also suffer from flat-spotting. You might not see this, but you will feel it as a slight vibration when you start to drive. “It should go away after about 20 minutes of driving, otherwise, take your tires to a specialist to be checked,” says Bundick.

Those who have kids can use this as a teachable moment, especially for new drivers. Have your kids go through and check these items with you. These are all basic maintenance items that should be periodically inspected. Take the time to check them now and teach your kids, too, so you’re all ready to get back on the road.

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The Car Doctor
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November 12, 2020 | 4:25 PM