During the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown, it’s likely your car will be sat for an extended period of time.

Using your car after an extended break? Here's what to do when you drive for the first time in a while.

Do I still need to pay car tax while my car is not in use?

Your car will still need to be taxed if you’re driving it or it’s parked on a public road.

The only exception to this is if the car is declared off the road with a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN) and it’s parked on private land.

If you declare it off-road, you can’t drive it — not even for a quick trip to the supermarket or a medical appointment.

If you need to renew your tax during the coronavirus lockdown, you can do so online using the government website.

Does my car have to be insured if I’m not using it?

Yes, your car needs to be insured while not in use. The law (Continuous Insurance Enforcement, to be exact) says you have to keep your vehicle insured even if you’re not driving it.

The only exception is to declare it off-road (SORN) but, again, doing so means you cannot drive your car.

If you need to renew your policy, you should be able to do so online. Similarly, you should be able to reduce your insurance cover while the car isn’t in use. We urge you to check the fine print of any insurance cover and confirm exactly what is and isn’t covered in all instances.

Keeping your car in good shape

If your car is set to be parked on the drive, road or in the garage for the next few weeks, then we recommend you follow these tips:
Top up with fuel if possible
A full tank doesn’t cause as much condensation, which can cause issues if left to build up. It also means you’re ready to go if you do have to travel.
Occasionally release your parking brake
Leaving your parking brake on for too long could cause your brakes to seize up, so we recommend you periodically release the brake and move your car a short distance (ideally while running the engine to charge the battery).
Keep the battery charged
How long a battery holds its charge depends on the age of the battery, how often you drive and other factors like the climate. Things like the alarm system and onboard computers can drain the battery even when your car is parked, so it’s worth keeping it topped up as much as possible.

• If you have a garage, you should consider a smart charger — which can be left plugged in and will draw current when required.
• Alternatively, you could consider buying a trickle charger to regularly top the battery up. You may need to leave it all day or overnight.
• If you don’t have any of these options, for example because you park on the street, you should just start the engine once a week and run the car for around 15 minutes. This will help re-charge the battery properly and keep the engine in good condition too.

Again, try to co-ordinate this with other journeys to minimise your time out and help flatten the curve of coronavirus’ spread.

In each of these, don’t leave the engine idling, and do not leave the engine running without being in the car.
Mind the diesel particulate filter
The Diesel Particulate Filter has been fitted to all diesel cars since 2009 and is designed to stop soot leaking into the atmosphere and make the car eco-friendlier.

Soot caught in the filter is normally burned off when the filter regenerates. In ideal circumstances, a longer drive at a sustained speed is needed to do this.

What to do
To minimise the need for a ‘forced regeneration’ to clear the filter, or the installation of a new one, you should run the car for at least 15 minutes while the filter regenerates. Avoid turning the engine off mid-way through a regeneration as this will cause it to stop and could create further issues.

There should be a change in the engine note, an increase in idling speed or a hot smell from the exhaust when the process starts. You may also notice the fans kick in.

When to do it
If it’s possible to do this regularly and keep a healthy social distance, try to do so.

You’ll normally know if the filter needs a regeneration as there’ll be a warning sign on the dashboard. Other signs are that the car goes limp, performance is affected and/or the exhaust emits a strong smell.

Leaving your car for an extended period

If you won’t be using your car for the next two or three months, you should follow the above advice and also:

• Clean and polish the car to prevent any dirt drying on
• Make sure the car is dry to reduce the risk of rust or discolouration
• If you’re storing it in a garage or confined space, make sure it’s well ventilated
• You should also consider lubricating locks, so they don’t seize up or jam shut

You may need to check your oil level and change it if possible. If you can’t, you should change the oil when you take your car out of storage.

Top tip: if you’re leaving your car parked facing downhill, turn the wheels into the kerb so the pressure isn’t all on the handbrake and leave the car in reverse gear.

Storing a petrol car

After a length of time, a half-full or near empty tank will condensate and collect moisture. This can lead to corrosion of the tank and water in your fuel. The fuller a tank is when stored, the less space there is for water to condense.

If you have spare fuel, it should stay fresh in a sealed container for up to a year. If it’s exposed to air, however, it can degrade in the space of a month.

Storing a diesel car

Similar to petrol cars, diesel cars can collect moisture and face corrosion and water in your fuel. It can also lead to bacterial and fungal growth.

Stored diesel should be OK for up to a year, but this can depend on the type of diesel. Summer diesel, for example, is more likely to wax in cold weather.

Storing hybrids and electric cars

Electric and hybrids car batteries charge differently to the conventional 12-volt battery in petrol and diesel cars.

Generally, you should aim to keep an electric car’s battery charged between 50% and 80% to prolong its lifespan. Try not to let the battery drop below 30% too often as this can affect long-term performance.

We advise you to consult the owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer (through phone or email, no face-to-face visits before 1st June 2020) for best practice for your specific make and model.

Also be aware that, during lockdown, the installation of home chargers is currently limited to key workers. We will update you as soon as this changes.

Keeping your car safe while it’s not in use

Parking in a garage or on a driveway is one of the more secure options, but if you don’t have access to either then try to park as close to your house as possible — thieves are less likely to approach a car that can be easily seen. Ideally, park in the view of a window so you can see the car and would-be thieves know you can see.

If you’re parking on the road, try turning your wheels towards the kerb to make an easy-getaway trickier. If possible, park somewhere well-lit.
Take any valuables out of the car for as long as it’s out of use, including anything stored in the glove compartment. Remove any charger cables or holders for mobile phones and, if you use a sat nav, clean the windscreen to get rid of the ring mark.
Avoid leaving car keys and documents anywhere obvious or visible, such as near a door or window.
Alarms and additional security
Most, if not all, modern cars are equipped with an alarm, but you may need an alarm professionally fitted if you’re driving a much older model.

Older cars (pre-1998) may also need an immobiliser fitting, which helps prevent the car being started without the proper key.

If you’re nervous about leaving your car unattended for a length of time, look at additional security measures such as:
• Steering wheel locks
• Gearstick and handbrake locks
• Additional electronic locking systems
• Warning stickers

You could also install a tracker into your vehicle, or marking parts with an ultra-violet pen, which can help police find the car should it be stolen.

Related: here’s what to consider if you’re worried about your van security.
MG ZS electric car on the road

When you drive for the first time in a while

There’s no set time span to keep an engine off. Provided your car is properly maintained during that time, e.g. you warm the engine up and drive once every couple of weeks, it should be fine.

When you start driving again for the first time in a while, here’s what to do.

• First up, make sure your car tax, insurance and MOT are up to date. If you need an MOT, you’ve been granted a six-month extension due to the UK government’s lockdown, so arrange your first trip to be a garage for a pre-booked MOT.

• Check tyre pressure. You can find the recommended PSI (pounds per square inch) figure in your manual or online.

• Check under the bonnet for signs of rust or damage, and make sure nothing’s nesting there (also check pipes and hoses for signs of chewing).

• Check all fluid levels before you start the engine.

• Gently check your brakes (and handbrake) for corrosion. If the handbrake was left on, it may have seized up.

Put your car in gear and drive slowly, paying close attention for any strange noises or jolts.

If your car has been stood for a while, it may be worth booking in a full service as and when garages are open and you’re back on the road.
We’ll update this article as we learn more about the length of the lockdown and social distancing measures in the UK. If you’ve any tips on keep your car safe and running smoothly during this time, please do share them with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.