Is your vehicle still roadworthy?

Car Spanner Ratchet

The lockdown has left millions of cars sitting idle on driveways or in garages for much of the past few months. But now the Government has eased its restrictions on driving, traffic is starting to pick up again. The temptation after weeks at home may be to jump in the car and hit the open road. However, there are a few things you should do first.

To begin with, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the new lockdown rules on driving so that you are following the appropriate advice and don't put yourself or others at risk. You can visit the government website to keep up to date with the latest news.

Before the 11 May, you could only use your car to shop for essentials, visit the doctor, pick up medicines, to help an elderly person or to get to work, if you couldn’t work from home that is.

These rules still apply but in England you are now allowed to drive for any distance as long as you return home at night and you respect social distancing measures at all times.

But before you do, there are some things you should probably consider.

Check your paperwork

While garages remain open, the government has extended all MOTs that have expired since 30 March by six months. For example, that means if your MOT was due to expire on 3 May, it will automatically be extended to 3 November, which is when you will need to get it renewed as usual.

However, while your MOT should be extended automatically, you need to check with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) that it has before you can drive your car. You can check this online, using the government website.

If for some reason it has not been extended, the DVSA recommends you email with the date your MOT expired along with your licence plate. The DVSA will then email you once the MOT has been extended.

Once it has, then you can go about renewing your tax and insurance in the usual way.

However, it’s worth noting that while you might have a six-month extension on your MOT, you still need to make sure your car is safe to drive.

Make sure your car is roadworthy

Cars are meant to be driven and, when they are not, sometimes they need a bit of love and care to get them back into a road-worthy condition. That’s why it’s a good idea to carry out some routine maintenance checks on your vehicle before you hop in it for a spin.

But don’t worry, you don’t need to be a mechanic to ensure your car is in good working order; you just need to know what to look out for.

  • Oil: This sticky substance is actually very important for the engine, making it run smoothly and protecting it from wear and tear. Without it, you’d break down very quickly. But if you don’t use your car for a while, the oil in your car can deteriorate, making it less effective. One tell-tale sign that the oil needs changing is that the engine is louder than normal when you start it up. Either way, it’s probably worth topping up your oil just to be on the safe side.
  • Tyres: It goes without saying that worn tyres can be dangerous. But also, if you’re caught with bad tyres, you could get three points on your licence and a fine of up to £2,500. But how do you know when they need changing? Well, you need at least 1.6mm of tread in the middle three-quarters of the tyre for it to be considered legal. The easiest way to test this, according to the RAC, is to slot a 20p coin into the grove of your tyre. If you cannot see the outer band on the coin, then your tyres are above the legal limit. If you can see any of the coin’s outer band, then it needs changing. Also make sure they have enough air in them.
  • Battery: When you drive your car, it automatically charges the battery, which is used for many important functions including starting the engine. But when you don’t use your car for a while, there is a risk that the battery could die. Short journeys also sap battery power faster, so if you have lots of errands to do, try to do them all in one go. Or, if you have two cars, try alternating them if you plan on making lots of small trips. If the battery does die, you can use a special car battery charger, if you have one, or ask a neighbour for some jump leads. But make sure you follow the instructions carefully.
  • Brakes: When a car has been left on a driveway for a while, the brakes can develop a layer of rust on the outside which stops them from working properly. Driving your car regularly stops this building up but if you have concerns about their safety, call a mechanic and get expert advice. 
  • Lights: Before you drive, make sure your headlights, indicators, brake lights and reverse lights are all working. If they are not, make sure you get replacements before you drive, even if you only plan to drive during daylight hours.