Winter lockdown and your car – Part 1

Posted on January 7th, 2021 by Rob Marshall

Winter lockdown and your car - Part 1

While we are now familiar with national lockdowns, either using a car occasionally, or not at all, during winter poses greater risks of breakdown and damage than in the warmer months. As such, our technical adviser has put together a few extra helpful hints to save you money and inconvenience but insists that they supplement our earlier lockdown blogs from last year.


1 Lead Acid batteries

For most vehicles, it can take longer than 20 minutes of driving to replenish the battery power needed to start the engine. Therefore, distrust advice that tells you to start your car and let it idle for a short time for the battery’s benefit. Buy a mains-powered smart charger to ensure that the battery voltage is kept above 12.5-volts. Should the battery be stood for any length of time below this state of charge, it loses capacity, which will shorten its life.

Even electric vehicles have a 12-volt battery; if it becomes discharged, the high voltage system will not activate. It is recharged by the high voltage system, which you can ‘activate’ but be wary of leaving the car unattended for safety and insurance reasons. Consider also that Plug-In Hybrids and electric vehicles have high voltage batteries that last longer when not kept at 100% charge, unlike the low voltage 12-volt lead-acid types.


2 Diesel Particulate Filters (DPFs)

DPFs need high temperatures to empty themselves of soot. Cold weather and short journeys cause rapid filling of the filter, as will any other mechanical defect, such as faulty fuel injectors, or a blocked air filter. Do not ignore any dashboard warning lamp that warns that the filter that is close to becoming full. Consult the handbook for advice. Usually, a more extended trip at elevated speeds is recommended but check that doing so will not break any lockdown rules. Additives that you can pour into the diesel tank can be excellent preventative options but never, ever overdose them.


3 Air conditioning

While we have stated that air conditioning dehumidifies the air and, therefore, dries-out a damp interior, most systems do not work in very cold conditions. This situation is normal but it emphasises that you should remove any damp clothes/shoes from the car. The resultant condensation can cause mould and risks health issues associated with the spores. As the air conditioning system suffers when unused for more than a month, activate it when the weather warms.


4 Brakes

With increased moisture in the atmosphere, brakes are more likely to bind/drag, especially the handbrake. While we are reluctant to recommend that you should not apply the handbrake at all, always leave the car in gear (or select the transmission’s ‘Park’ setting) and consider buying a set of wheel chocks, if you decide to do so. Leaving the handbrake off reduces the chance of the brake becoming stuck on if the vehicle is left standing for over a week.


Many cars possess electronic handbrakes, most of which cannot be bypassed without technical intervention. Check your handbook for any emergency release procedures, should the system not deactivate. Much of the time, corroded parts free-off as soon as the car starts moving but this is not a guarantee. While driving, check for any signs of the brakes binding, such as the car not moving freely, the pungent smell of burning linings, or a wheel rim that appears warmer to the touch than the others after you have completed your journey. The risk depends on the length of time that the car is left unused.


Part 2 will continue looking at the extra challenges that winter lockdowns introduce.