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Laid-up company cars to present risk management issues

Fleets will need to ensure that unused company cars are carefully inspected in a risk management context to ensure drivers are safe when they return to the roads and vehicles aren’t in danger of breaking down.

Unused cars are at risk of issues from tyres that have lost pressure to flat batteries to seized brakes and more, according to Meridian

Even if the lockdown only lasts for a few more weeks, many cars will have not moved at all or only covered a handful of miles in line with government advice to only make essential journeys – putting them at risk of issues from tyres that have lost pressure to flat batteries to seized brakes and more, according to Meridian Vehicle Solutions.

Managing director Phil Jerome said: “This creates a risk management issue. The standard walkaround checks carried out by fleets are not really designed for vehicles that have been laid up for long periods of time. What we really need is detailed guidance for drivers so that they can check their vehicles regularly during the lockdown and also more information when it starts to be lifted.”

Jerome also warned that breakdowns could be widespread when the lockdown lifts, bringing increased downtime for fleets whose vehicles are among them.

“Also, it is reasonable to expect that on the days when drivers start heading back onto the roads in number, there will be a sudden and considerable demand on breakdown recovery services as drivers find that neglected cars have developed problems.

“A few simple checks carried out over time could stop you being among those people. Certainly, we will be providing advice to drivers of our cars where it is required.”

Goodyear has also warned that unused vehicles could suffer tyre issues and be unsafe to return to the road.

To avoid this, the company says motorists need to keep a careful eye on their tyres’ air pressure, tread depth and overall condition.

Ideally, the vehicle would be raised so that the tyres are no longer supporting its weight, avoiding flat spots. Although this may not be practical for many, motorists should completely unload the car so that the tyres are, at least, carrying minimum weight. They should also move the car every three months in order to avoid issues, or every 30 days for vehicles equipped with high performance tyres though.

If the tyres have been properly cared for during their prolonged storage, any flat spots will usually disappear after around 25 miles of driving. Regular movement will also help to prevent cracking in the sidewall.

Drivers are also being reminded that although vehicle owners have been granted a six-month exemption from MOT testing, the law governing the minimum legal tread depth of 1.6mm has not been suspended. Any drivers found by the police with tyres below this face a fine of up to £2,500 and three penalty points – per tyre.

Drivers should check how close a tyre’s tread is to the legal limit by carrying out the 20p test. If he tyre is close to the legal limit, it should be checked carefully with an accurate gauge.

Goodyear has also said that drives should pay careful attention to their tyre pressures. To keep tyres at their best, they can be temporarily inflated to the manufacturer’s maximum recommended pressure, which can be found in the form of a PSI number on the tyre’s sidewall. When the vehicle returns to regular use, the pressure should be adjusted to the recommended standard inflation.

It adds that motorists should use an accurate pressure gauge, paying attention to the need to adjust between heavy and light loads. Drivers should also check that their tyre doesn’t have any lumps, cracks or objects lodged in the tread. If any of these are present, the tyre should be considered unsafe to use until checked by a professional.

Electric vehicles must be unplugged in lockdown

The issues at stake are even broader for electric vehicles, which need to be unplugged during the lockdown to reduce the risk of battery damage.

In fact, Arval UK has warned that leaving an EV permanently on charge while the vehicle was hardly being used could cause battery degradation issues; something that less experienced EV users might not be aware of.

David Watts, consultant at the fleet management and leasing company, said: “General manufacturer advice is that if 100% battery range is not required for your journey, you should routinely charge to no more than 80% to reduce battery degradation and maintain its efficiency over time.

“Therefore, it is recommended that if the EV is unused for an extended period – as is likely to happen during the lockdown – it is not left plugged in and charging continuously to keep it at 100%. This has the potential to damage the battery.”

He added that while some EVs would stop charging automatically if left plugged in, others needed to be left unplugged and manually monitored, normally once a week.

Watts added that it remained important to keep an eye on the current state of charge of your EV to make sure it doesn’t drop too low either.

“It is normally recommended that any EV should be kept at between 50-80% charge. This means unnecessary battery degradation by charging to nearer 100% will not occur but also, at the other end of the scale, 50% is high enough to prevent damage due to over-discharge. It’s worth remembering that fully discharging the battery can also cause damage.”

Kia however has said that its fully electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles should be left in a fully charged state; showing the need to check on carmakers’ specific requirements for EVs.

And while Kia has said that petrol and diesel cars should be charged at regular intervals if suitable battery charging equipment is available, it’s warned that its Niro hybrids should never have a charger, jump pack or jump leads attached and instead asked drivers to start the engine at least every two weeks. Drivers should let the hybrid idle for 20 minutes, with all unnecessary electrical items switched off and while being monitored.

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.