We can expect a lot more vehicle and foot traffic in the streets as the general community quarantine (GCQ) transitions to modified GCQ in the coming weeks. However, and we can’t stress this enough: Even with relaxed guidelines, this doesn’t mean that we’re back to normal. We are in the new normal—where regulations shall remain at play.
For motorists reporting back to work, it’s time to dust off and “stretch the legs” of your seldom driven vehicle—and so we’re prepared this back-on-the-road car driving checklist for you.
But before you do that: Have you done enough preparations to ensure your own safety and health and that of your passengers and your vehicle?
If not, let us guide you through some basic precautionary measures to make sure everything is in tip-top shape before you even turn the key. Here are the things you should do before you start driving your car again.
Safe car driving checklist
This guide is divided into two: interior and exterior. We’ve identified regions of these major areas of your car where your attention is greatly needed.
Things to check in your car interior
In this section, we will cover everything you need to inspect inside the vehicle. We’re starting with the interior because this is the place where you’re most at risk of catching viruses–not just COVID-19.
1. First and foremost: yourself
This is perhaps the most important thing to check on this list. Even driving your car out of the garage can take a bad turn if you’re not in the right place both physically and mentally. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is my temperature below 37.5?
- Do I feel sick? Have I been coughing and experiencing shortness of breath lately?
- Am I feeling anxious to go out for a drive?
If you answered yes to any of these, you may not be in the best shape to drive. Ask someone to assist and drive you around or find other alternatives. Your safety is your foremost responsibility.
2. Disinfect your vehicle
Viruses can stay on surfaces for up to a few days, even on points of contact inside your vehicle like the following:
- Steering wheel
- Door handles
- Seat belts
- Panel controls
- Multimedia system
These are hotspots for contracting the virus. Before you clean your car’s interior, remember to wash your hands with soap and wear protective gear such as face masks and gloves to avoid contamination.
Always disinfect these parts with the correct disinfectant for the surface. If you don’t have these, 70% isopropyl alcohol generally does the trick.
Avoid using strong chemicals such as bleach or hydrogen peroxide. These will kill the virus but also damage your car’s interior. In addition, avoid using ammonia-based cleaners on your touch screens and mirrors because they can damage surface coating as well.
3. Stock up on protective and hygienic supplies
Always make sure you have enough stock of face masks, gloves, tissue, and sanitizers ready in your car before you make your trip. These will lessen the risk of cross-contamination from the places you’ve been and the stuff you’ve touched to your car’s interior.
4. Make a car seat plan
In making your seat plan, make sure that you meet the social distancing guideline of 1.5 meters or 6 feet set by the Department of Health (DOH). This means that for most four-door vehicles, you can only seat up to two people per vehicle—driver included. Safety is the priority here. If you need to haul a group of people, plan your trips accordingly or use multiple vehicles, if possible.
5. Open your windows while driving
We understand that some of you are pretty strict when it comes to keeping your car interior clean and this tip will definitely grind some gears. But did you know that in an enclosed space like a car cabin, fine aerosol particles that may carry COVID-19 build up exponentially? Maybe it’s time to consider a compromise.
Professor Joseph Allen of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recommends that you open the windows slightly, about three inches while riding, to allow the free flow of air inside. This will definitely make your interior dusty but you’ll have to clean your car after each use anyway.
6. Get insurance
There will be always be drivers out there who might feel “buzzed” by the sudden surge in the volume of vehicles on the road, which might cause crashes to be a common occurence these days. Thankfully, road accidents are something you can prepare for financially.
Make sure your vehicle is covered by a comprehensive car insurance in case the worst happens—or if you do already have one, check when your policy is expiring. Other than the virus, road mishaps are something you look out for.
Do a checkup of your car exterior
In this section, we will cover everything you need to prep on the exterior parts of your car—including the engine bay and suspension system. In contrast to the interior, troubleshooting the exterior will inform you if your car can actually be driven safely.
1. Check the battery
A dead battery is one of the most common problems car owners face when their cars sit too long. Since today’s vehicles are filled with high-tech electronics, batteries are at risk of being drained if they’re not used.
Steven Greenspan, an instructor at Universal Technical Institute in Arizona, wrote: “These computers do absorb energy, and if a car is sitting and not recharging, the battery can die within two weeks.”
In this case, prevention is better than cure. If you think you’re not going to use your vehicle for two weeks at a time, disconnect the battery terminals. Or you could start your car at least once a week and let it run for 5-10 minutes for the battery to charge properly.
If you have a dead battery, better have one delivered or you can also jump start it with cables.
A working battery is not enough to give you peace of mind. Since the hood is up, go ahead and check the next step in this guide.
2. Check your car’s fluids
Like the human body, cars need ample amounts of fluids in order to run well. Don’t think for a second that just because you’re not using your car, its fluids are a-ok.
Fluids don’t like to sit long because they are intended to circulate along lines and pumps. As a matter of fact, without these fluids flowing on the regular, your fuel pump and the gas tank will break down. Gasoline begins to degrade in six months, assuming you have a full tank. It will degrade faster the less fuel you have.
So check if the level of engine oil, brake fluid, coolant, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, and fuel is not close to low. Top them off if needed. Consult your owner’s manual for the proper fluid specs needed for your car.
3. Check your tires
While it may seem nothing, proper tire pressure is important for your vehicle’s performance, safety, and mileage. Running on flats can severely damage your suspension and rims. Tires tend to lose air naturally.
So if your car is sitting for a prolonged period, they’re at risk of developing flat spots. The only way to prevent them is to drive your car. Now that we’re on GCQ, it’s probably a good idea to check and refill them as needed.
And while you’re down there, it’s time to take a look at the next step on this guide.
4. Check your brakes
One downside of keeping your car stationary for a long period of time is developing rust on the rotors, especially when your car is exposed to the elements. And it does not take long for rust to settle, it only takes a matter of days.
This buildup could result in noisy and uneven braking—a small nuisance, but a nuisance nonetheless. Emergency or parking brakes can also get stuck if they’re set for a while.
So how do you solve this? By driving your car. See how a lot of these problems can be solved just by driving your car once or twice a week?
5. Wash your car
If your car isn’t parked under a covered garage or enclosed in a car cover, we highly suggest that you at least give your car a rinse before driving it.
Not only will it make your car look nice, but it will also flush away dust, dirt, and debris that accumulated on the surface of your car during the time it’s not in use. Contaminants being baked under our tropical sun can ruin surfaces such as your paint and glass.
Also, wash your car, D-I-Y style, or check if there’s a drive-in carwash near you. Unless your neighborhood car wash has specialized equipment to lessen the risk of virus transmission, steer clear of carwashes to exercise social distancing.
But even then, we don’t recommend it. The fewer people coming in contact with your car, the better chance it has to avoid being contaminated with the COVID-19.
These tips may be too much to follow right now and that’s understandable. However, we’re living in a new world. These are habits we need to build moving forward.
As car owners, it’s our responsibility to keep our cars safe, not just for ourselves, but also, for our families. Driving responsibly is part of the cures that society needs now.