Life after lockdown – the most common car faults as customers get on the move again

With millions of cars across Europe being driven more regularly after months of inactivity, workshops can be ready with the right parts and advice to deal with the issues that arise

Alternative Lay Out Landscape 5Mm Hybridwiperblade RgbLockdowns are slowly easing across Europe and vehicles are on the move once again. Data provided by TomTom indicates that traffic levels have recovered globally – in London, for example, congestion was down 76% year-on-year at the height of lockdown, but was just 24% down at the start of August. Meanwhile, requirements for vehicle testing and certification – which were temporarily suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic in some countries, such as the UK – are being reimposed. This means workshops and wholesalers are preparing for demand to rise for parts – but it’s important to recognise that demand may not be equal across the board. Certain parts and repair jobs will be needed far more than others within the next few weeks.

Specific vehicle parts are more likely to fail or experience issues when a car is left idle and not driven for a long time. Workshops that stock up on key parts can ready themselves for post-lockdown repair work and take advantage of pent-up demand for vehicle servicing.

By notifying customers about the issues below, workshops can generate new business and save car owners from expensive failures at the exact time when they need their cars to be working again.

Leaking air-conditioning

AirconParticularly during a viral pandemic when the quality of ventilation is considered so important to health, having a vehicle’s air conditioning system fail could be a major concern for motorists. While air conditioning systems remain inactive, they receive no lubrication, which can cause the seals to dry out.

In many cases, simply turning on the air conditioning when the car is running will be enough to avoid serious issues. However, workshops should ensure they have stocked up on hoses, sensors, compressors and condensers for air conditioning units that have developed leaks and are in need of repair.

Don’t forget: DENSO is running a series of webinars on air conditioning management and replacement this summer. Check our Training Calendar to find out the date of the next one.

Faulty wiper blades

Wiper BladeSince the recommended lifespan of wiper blades is around 12 months, many will be due replacement as Europe-wide lockdowns come to an end.

If ageing blades are no longer making proper contact with the windscreen, they won’t remove visual obstructions effectively. The most obvious sign of this is squeaking wipers. Customers may view this simply as an irritation but it could also be a major safety issue if visibility is affected. Offering a replacement at the first sign of poor wiper performance is considered best practice. All DENSO Wiper Blades offer truly advanced, OE specification wiping technology, providing outstanding, streak-free results. Made from robust, superior quality materials, DENSO Wiper Blades provide durability and long lifespan.

Insufficient battery charge

AlternatorFlat batteries are the most well-known problem associated with leaving a car unused. Despite this, issues could still take owners by surprise as there are misconceptions about how alternators work and the best way to recharge a car battery.

The alternator needs time to charge the battery sufficiently when the engine is on; if the car is used exclusively for short journeys, this is likely to be ineffective in replenishing the battery. This means that after lockdown, when a car has probably only been used for essential trips, problems may arise more quickly. Drivers should be advised to run their engines for longer – especially if they have older or weaker batteries.

Starting the car and letting the engine run in idle for over 20 minutes is a better solution. Replacing the part is best of all.

Spark plug failure

Spark PlugsWith the engine running idle, it is also one of the best times to detect spark plug problems. If the engine idles ‘roughly’, this may indicate that the combustion process is suffering because of spark plug failure.

Of course, there are a host of other symptoms that result from faulty spark plugs, such as engine misfiring, poor fuel economy and weak acceleration. All these signs may indicate that a customer requires spark plug replacement.

Fuel and oil degradation

Fuel And OilFuel left in a tank for a long time will oxidize, reduce in quality and – in extreme cases – lead to engine damage from the accumulation of impurities.

If there is only a small amount of stale fuel in the tank, the issue may be minor. But drivers who have left more than half a tank unused for three months should be advised to have the fuel drained before refilling.

Petrol is more prone to oxidization than diesel. However, diesel car drivers should also be urged to have their diesel particulate filter (DPF) checked, since it could easily have become clogged.

Meanwhile, engine oil levels should also be checked, as the oil could have drained into the sump during lockdown. Vehicles that do not have the right level of oil can experience ignition problems, potentially resulting in damage to rods, piston rings and cylinders. In addition, vehicles low on oil may also experience a general drop in performance. Offering a quick oil check as part of any routine servicing work can alert motorists to any potential problems.

Last but not least

There are a host of minor issues that car owners could experience as they drive for the first time since lockdown restrictions were imposed. Though some may be addressed by the driver individually, they can all be offered as part of an all-encompassing service – and customers can be advised that these problems could be occurring without them even noticing, so it’s best to get a full professional check to ensure they catch everything early.

  • Most drivers are used to periodically checking their tyre pressure, but this is imperative before the first time a car is used after lockdown, since slow punctures can take effect over a period of weeks. Tyre walls should also be checked for cracks.
  • It is important to check that brakes are working properly before cars are used for the first time in months. Brake discs may have rusted during lockdown, particularly in countries with wetter climates. Squeaking brakes could be the first signal of a potential problem.
  • Finally, an issue that is one of the most noticeable for customers is cleanliness. Many cars will be dirty, on both the exterior and interior, after a period of disuse – which gives garages a chance to upsell by adding a valet service to their maintenance work, if possible. Be aware that customers will also be concerned about hygiene and shared surfaces; consider adding a safe servicing guarantee to your offering. Several garages have taken to using anti-bacterial wipes to clean vehicles following servicing and maintenance work; this is becoming increasingly common throughout Europe.