When regional or national driving restrictions are in place, it's important to know what to do with your car and how to maintain it, which depends on how long you’re leaving it idle. For example, you may be using it to top up on food and supplies or driving it if you work in an essential job or industry. On the other hand, you may not need or want to use your car for a lot longer, such as during a lockdown.
Remember that even if you’re not using it, you’ll still have to have a valid MOT and insure your car unless you make a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN). You can only make a SORN if the it’s being kept off the road.
Here are some commonly asked questions and our advice. You'll find more tips on our car maintenance page.
How long can you leave a car without starting?
How long you leave a car without starting can depend on the condition of your car's 12-volt battery. Most modern cars with a fairly healthy battery should last at least 2 weeks, without needing to be started up to re-charge the battery. If there’s any doubt about the condition of the battery, start it once a week just to be safe.
What happens if you don’t drive a car for a long time?
Even if you haven't driven for a while your car should be fine. If it's been regularly started and run for 15-minute periods, the battery should work. The tyre pressures should be checked and adjusted before driving. The brakes may have some corrosion on them, especially if the car was wet when it was parked up. Drive carefully and test the brakes as soon as possible. Make sure you use your brakes for the first few miles to clean off any corrosion.
Is it bad to leave a car unused?
Cars are made to be driven but with good care it should be fine. If it's left unused follow our guidelines.
Can I leave my car parked for a month?
Yes, but it's best to follow these guidelines to keep the car ready to drive.
How long can a car sit before the battery dies?
As we've said above, there are many factors that can affect this. The age of the battery, how the car's been used and the temperature all affect the performance of a battery. If you follow our guidelines your battery shouldn’t let you down.
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What if my MOT expires?
Having a valid MOT is still required by law unless your vehicle is declared off-road with a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN). You’ll find all you need on our dedicated MOT page.
Here are a few simple tips on how to keep your car lasting longer and ready to use when you need it again.
Leaving your car parked for up to a month
- Fuel – Before parking your car up for a long period, it’s a good idea to top up with fuel. Not only will this help with other measures, but a full tank doesn't attract condensation, which could cause issues if allowed to build up over time.
- Battery maintenance – As the government has eased the lockdown rules, it is now acceptable for you to take your car out more regularly, for essential travel. This includes travel to locations to exercise, visit re-opened retail establishments and other essential journeys. In order to be beneficial to your car’s battery, this needs to be a journey of 15 minutes or more. If you aren’t in a position to, or don’t want to make such a journey you can connect your car's battery to a mains-powered battery maintainer or continue to start the engine once a week and allow it to run for about 15 minutes. This will re-charge the battery and help keep the engine in good condition. It’s important to allow the engine to run for this long so the battery can charge properly. In the case of petrol engine cars, it also helps to prevent engines from flooding with fuel. Never leave your car unattended with the engine running.
- Brakes – Sometimes when a car's parked up for a long period with the parking brake on, the brakes can seize. To prevent this it's good practice to release the parking brake and move the vehicle a short distance back and forth, at the same time as running the engine. You shouldn’t leave the parking brake off unless the vehicle is on private land with the wheels securely chocked.
- Electric vehicles – EVs and hybrid vehicles have 12-volt batteries, the same as conventional cars. However, they charge differently. Pressing the start button, so the ready light comes on, will operate the charging system. Doing this for 10 minutes once a week should keep the 12-volt battery topped up. Some electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles can maintain their 12-volt batteries if they’re plugged in to the mains charger. Check your vehicle handbook for details on this.
- Garages – Don’t run a car engine inside a household garage as the exhaust fumes can be toxic. If you keep your car in a garage, pull it out onto the drive to run the engine to charge the battery.
- Tyres – Before driving the car after a long period parked up, check all of the tyre pressures and inflate if needed.
How to store a car for 3 months
As well as the 'one month' points above:
- Clean and polish the car.
- Make sure the car’s dry if you’re storing in a garage.
- Consider a refund on your car tax by making a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN).
- You may also be able to reduce your insurance cover to fire and theft only.
- If the car's in a garage, make sure there's plenty of ventilation.
Over three months
As well as the one month and three month points:
- Check your oil level and change if needed
- Arrange for an 'oil and filter' service
- Lubricate locks
Storing petrol and diesel
- Petrol stays fresh in a sealed container for about a year but starts to degrade in as little as a month when exposed to the air.
- Stored diesel should be OK for up to a year.
- Diesel fuel specs change through the year – summer diesel will be much more susceptible to waxing in cold weather than winter diesel.
- Condensation in the fuel tank is bad news and can lead to corrosion, water in the fuel and, in diesels, bacterial and fungal growth. Unless you can ensure a dry stable environment, it’s best to store your car with a full tank of fuel to reduce the space for water to condense.
Getting back on the road
Before you start a car you haven’t used for a long time:
- Check that the MOT and car tax are still current.
- Taxing the car will cancel any SORN.
- If you need an MOT, you can only drive the car if it’s to a garage for a pre-booked MOT.
- Check tyre pressures.
- Check nothing’s nesting under the bonnet or has chewed through the pipes/hoses.
- Check all fluid levels, before starting the engine.
- Check the brakes, including the handbrake – they may have seized up if the car was left with the handbrake on. Try putting into gear and driving gently.
Arrange a full service once it’s running again if your car’s been standing for a long time.
Laying up a classic car
Owners of classic cars often refer to leaving a car unused as ‘laying up’ – usually done over the winter to avoid corrosion from cold/damp weather and salted roads. Corrosion isn’t a problem in very cold weather, as long as the car's dry and free from road salt.
Things to think about if you’re ‘laying up’ a classic car:
- Spraying unpainted metal parts with WD40 will reduce corrosion.
- Spray under the bonnet, around the battery box, under the wings and the metal in the boot area with WD40 or similar.
- Hose under the wheel arches to remove mud, but make sure the car’s dry before you put it away.
- Check that drain holes in doors, sills and bulkhead/heater aren’t blocked.
- If you’re really keen you could seal the garage and use a dehumidifier, instead of ventilating it. A dehumidifier’s cheaper and probably better than heating but will need a low-temperature shut-off – they can't work below about 4C.
- If you suspect damp, raise or take out the carpets and dry thoroughly.
- Slacken auxiliary drive belts – alternator, power steering, air conditioning, etc. But don't slacken the camshaft drive belt.
- Lift the car onto blocks or stands to raise the wheels clear of the ground, and un-stress the tyres.
- If you can, take off the wheels and store them flat in a cool, dark place.
- Lift wiper arms so the blades don’t lie on the glass.
- Make a note of what you've done to the car and put it in the car, as a reminder when you need to use it again.
Published: 30 March 2016 | Updated: 4 November 2020