Flat Start Wednesday: how to avoid battery bother as lockdown ends

Drivers are being urged to make sure they aren’t left stranded by car problems this week as England’s nationwide lockdown ends.

Since the start of the second lockdown, many drivers have been using their cars less, with an estimated 30 per cent reduction in traffic during November. As a result, many cars have been left sitting idle, leading to potential problems as the country hits the road again.

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The combination of cars going unused and cold, wet weather could lead to flat batteries and problems starting for many drivers, and has led automotive retailer Halfords to christen December 2 Flat Start Wednesday.

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Being left idle or only used for short journeys can be bad for a car’s battery, especially in winter as we use lights, heaters and windscreen wipers more - all of which place extra strain on the battery.

A quick check in advance could save you from being stranded (Photo: Shutterstock)

Breakdown services see a regular increase in call-outs to flat batteries in winter months and Laura Walsh, Halfords winter motoring expert predicts that this week could see a sharp spike in incidents.

She said: “The combination of the lockdown when vehicles have only been used for essential journeys, and the rain, damp and frost, is a recipe for battery problems.

“Drivers tend to use their lights, de-misters and fans much more at this time of year which will put which electrical systems under extra strain and if the battery is old, or in poor condition, failures are more likely. A battery failure is one of the main reasons for calling a breakdown service at this time of year. It’s worth giving your car a quick health check before heading back on the road or visiting us where we can carry the check out for free.”

How to avoid a flat battery and other problems

A few simple checks ahead of time are enough to make sure that your car is as ready as you when you take to the road again:

Battery – If your battery takes more attempts than usual to start the car, appears sluggish or the warning light on your dashboard is illuminated, it could be a sign of imminent failure. Use a battery charger to replenish lost charge and see if this rectifies the problem. If not, it’s time to get a new battery. Check if your existing one is still under guarantee and if you’re buying new, look for one with a long guarantee (at least three years).

Bulbs – With shorter daylight hours, it’s important to make sure all your car’s lights are working. Ask a friend or family member to observe whilst you run through them all in sequence from the driver's seat - not forgetting to check brake lights illuminate correctly and fog lights are functioning. A defective head, side or tail light bulb significantly increases the risk of an accident and also leaves you open to a fixed penalty notice fine.

Oil – check engine oil levels and top-up as required. If your car has stood for some time, there may be oil beneath it – a clear sign of a leak.

Tyres - while a car is off the road, motorists should pay careful attention to their tyre pressures. To keep them at their best, they can be temporarily inflated to the manufacturer’s maximum recommended pressure. After lockdown when the vehicle returns to regular use, the pressure should be adjusted to the recommended standard inflation. While you’re adjusting the pressure, check the tread depth. The legal minimum is 1.6mm but most experts recommend at least 3mm at this time of year.