Coronavirus and your car

The coronavirus (COVID-19) is dominating daily life in the UK and beyond, with thoughts turning to how to stay safe and how to prevent the spread of the disease.

Although the advice is to avoid unnecessary travel, the UK is not yet in lockdown so using your car is still a requirement for many, to get to the shops or help those that might be in self-isolation. Here we try and answer the questions that people may be facing about using their car.

Is my car safe?

If you are the only person to use your car, or if it is just your family and no-one is showing symptoms of the coronavirus, then it is logical to treat it like an extension of your home. 

This means that you shouldn’t need to worry about it if you maintain the same general guidelines that the government has issued. This means washing your hands, ideally before and after you drive it, just in case. 

The exception is if you have driven someone who has caught the coronavirus, in which case it will need to be cleaned. 

The official advice from Public Health England is: “All surfaces that the symptomatic person has come into contact with must be cleaned and disinfected.”

This includes “objects which are visibly contaminated with body fluids”, and “all potentially contaminated high-contact areas”. 

The image above shows the areas of your car that Skoda recommends you clean regularly. According to Public Health England advice, antibacterial wipes can be used for cleaning all these touchpoints – gear lever, steering wheel, indicators, interior and exterior door handles and the other bits that are touched regularly. If the seats have become contaminated then you may want to get them steam cleaned – chemicals might damage those. You should wear gloves while cleaning your car and wash your hands when you take them off.

If you are concerned about a car that others use, like a rental or a shared car, then use the same approach and give everything a once over.

Toyota has put together a helpful video outlining the 40 key parts of a car you’ll want to scrub if you intend to give your car a very thorough clean. They recommend you use a non-bleaching antibacterial wipe to make sure you don’t damage any area of your car.

Here are the 40 parts of your car that Toyota recommends you focus on to give your car a thorough clean:

1. Exterior door handles
2. Frame of door and roof
3. Interior door release
4. Window switches
5. Interior door handle
6. Door pocket
7. Seatbelts
8. Seatbelt clips
9. Seat adjust buttons
10. Steering wheel
11. Horn
12. Control stalks
13. Driver air vents
14. Dashboard
15. Power button
16. Gear shift
17. Multimedia screen
18. Central air vents
19. Heating controls
20. Glovebox
21. Log book
22. Central storage compartment
23. Cupholders
24. Rear-view mirror
25. Interior lights
26. Grab handle
27. Key
28. Head rests
29. Seat pockets
30. Rear central tab
31. Fuel cap
32. Wheel valves
33. Boot lid
34. Parcel shelf
35. Boot floor tab
36. Boot close button
37. Bonnet lid
38. Washer cap
39. Dipstick
40. Oil cap

How do I maintain my car during the coronavirus?

During the coronavirus outbreak, basic maintenance of your car is more important than ever. This is mainly because, although some mechanics are staying open, MOTs have been given a ‘holiday’. This means any car for which the MOT was due to expire from April 1st will be given a six-month extension.

Because of this, it falls to you to make sure your car maintains a certain level of upkeep. For a start, your tyres must be in good condition, with no cuts, nicks or cracks visible. Legally, the tread must be at least 1.6mm deep, although it’s recommended that you change them once there’s less than 3mm of tread left.

A good way to check your tyre’s tread depth is using a simple 20p piece. The coin has a thick borderline that’s a couple of millimetres thick, so it’s worth using this as a measurement by placing it in the tread of your tyre. If you can see the inner edge of this border above the rubber, you should think about changing your tyres very soon. 

If you’re not driving regularly, your car’s battery can discharge. To keep it in tip-top condition you’ll need a battery trickle charger. However, this requires close access to a power source.

If you can’t keep your car near a power source to trickle-charge it, then it’s worth investing in a jump-start pack. This is essentially a smaller, more portable battery that you can charge up from your home and use to jump-start your car if its battery loses charge. The charge on these generally lasts two to three months, but they should be recharged each time you have to use them.

Should I drive if I am self-isolating?

If you are self-isolating you are advised not to leave your home at all. 

Can I get coronavirus from petrol pumps/car chargers? Should you take precautions? 

Thankfully, many fuel stations already have gloves laid on for public use at the pumps. They are normally used by those that don’t want to get fuel on their hands, but they provide a handy means of keeping your hands protected while handling the pumps.

If the station you are refuelling at has run out of the gloves, though, then the same advice remains true – wash your hands at the service station’s bathroom or use hand sanitiser if no such facilities exist.

For electric car drivers concerned about charging up their car on a public charger, the owner of the biggest UK charging network, BP Chargemaster, has stated: “We recommend that customers follow government advice when it comes to washing your hands regularly, specifically before and after using any public charging point – not just those on the Polar and Charge Your Car networks. Given the official advice about avoiding restaurants, pubs and cafes for social distancing purposes, we recommend the use of hand sanitiser gels before and after using charging points.”.

What happens if I break down or have a puncture?

Although people are being encouraged to stay at home where possible, using a car will be an inevitable requirement for many, even if it isn’t as regular an occurrence as it would normally be.

But what happens if you get a puncture or your car breaks down? The high levels of rain over the winter means that there are lots of potholes on the roads. Equally, using your car less often might mean you end up with a flat battery.

If you get a puncture and are able to change a wheel yourself then you are fine to do so at the side of the road in the same way as you always would, so long as you maintain the 2m distance to anyone that may stop to help. The normal laws of the road apply, though, so you should still call for assistance from a breakdown company if you are on the motorway.

The good news is that the major breakdown companies will still come out to you if your car breaks down for whatever reason. The AA, Green Flag and the RAC all say that drivers’ safety remains their top priority, although they have put precautions in place to protect drivers and breakdown technicians alike.

The RAC says: “Please let us know if you have symptoms or have been diagnosed when you call our breakdown line so we can take the necessary precautions when helping you.

“When our patrol arrives, please keep a safe distance of at least two metres away.”

They also say that their drivers will use latex protective gloves, hand sanitising gel and wipes to clean surfaces they touch in cars.

Green Flag says they are following the latest guidance when it is updated, while the AA says it should be able to help in most circumstances. It says that those who have symptoms, have been diagnosed or have been asked to self isolate will be told what to do when they call to report the breakdown.

The exception may be European travel. Both the AA and the RAC say their coverage is continuing with restrictions. Green Flag goes a little further by saying: “Any customers who already have European cover, don’t worry, you’re still covered. This is the case for any customers with an active Single-trip European, Annual Multi-trip European, or Euro Plus policy.”

However, all three urge drivers to check the latest Government advice before travelling

Can I travel in the congestion charge zone?

As of 23 March 2020, the Central London charging zones have been “temporarily suspended” so no-one will be charged for driving into the centre of London. This has been done to help key workers avoid public transport so as to avoid spreading infection.

This means that the Congestion Charge, the LEZ and the ULEZ won’t apply as normal right now. Transport for London is also providing a code to NHS workers to waive the initial fee for renting a Santander bike so the first 30 minutes is free. It will also be moving more bikes to stations close to hospitals.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “This is not an invitation to take to your cars. To save lives we need the roads clear for ambulances, doctors, nurses and other critical workers. This is an unprecedented time and I know Londoners are doing everything they can to look after each other. I continue to urge all Londoners to follow the advice of public health authorities and not leave their homes unless it is absolutely essential.”

Congestion Charge (sometimes known as C-Charge) – applies from 07.00 to 18.00, Monday to Friday, £11.50 a day.

Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) – for vehicles that don’t meet up to certain emissions standards, applies 24 hours a day, seven days a week all year apart from Christmas Day, £12.50 a day (on top of the C-Charge). Lorries over 3.5 tonnes and buses or coaches over 5.0 tonnes pay £100 a day.

Low Emission Zone (LEZ) – on top of the C-Charge and ULEZ, for commercial vehicles operates all day, every day of the year including Christmas Day. £100 for vans or specialist diesel vehicles (over 1.205 tonnes unladen weight up to 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight) or minibuses (up to 5 tonnes) that don’t meet requirements. £200 for HGVs, lorries, vans and specialist heavy vehicles over 3.5 tonnes as well as buses/minibuses and coaches over 5 tonnes.