Home Insights & Advice Beware of cost cutting drivers who are risking lives

Beware of cost cutting drivers who are risking lives

by John Saunders
17th Nov 21 3:09 pm

Following on from lockdown restrictions and working from home it is fair to say that people’s driving habits have changed over the last couple of years.

As drivers return to a more regular routine a number of issues have arisen that need to be addressed.

One often associates high mileages with adding wear and tear to a car, but there is a plethora of issues and problems that can crop up when a car is infrequently used.

Interestingly, TorqueCars has told us that motorists are increasingly cutting costs and this is putting lives at risk.

With more people working from home the general pattern over the last year is that cars are being used less and less. There are a number of surprising issues motorists are facing due to covering lower mileages and this, combined with economic pressures, has led many to cut corners when it comes to car maintenance.

Examples of issues that need to be addressed

Brake disks are prone to rust when they are sitting unused, and if a car is not covering many miles this layer of rust is not being cleared off.

A cursory walk around an average supermarket car park reveals that many cars’ rear brake disks suffer from pitting, scoring and rust, effectively reducing the braking surface and effectiveness by up to 30%.

The degradation will be exacerbated as drivers continue to skip servicing, assuming that because they are not covering as many miles the wear and tear are lower. An annual MOT inspection is often the only opportunity to catch these serious brake defects and for some motorists, the next one can be many months away.

Tyre pressures are also generally lower, as motorists are not checking and topping them up as often. When a tyre sits with lower pressure they are more prone to cracking and other structural problems. Using a car with low tyre pressures further degrades the tyres’ integrity and accelerates wear and tear.

The legal minimum tread depth in the UK is 1.6mm, with many motorists assuming this is the point at which they need replacing. In reality, a tread depth of 2.5mm offers substantially less grip than a new tyre, especially in wet conditions.

Considering the cost of the fuel a driver uses in a year, the cost of a set of tyres pales into insignificance, yet a driver will often baulk at the price when it comes to replacing them.

The additional stress and anxiety of returning to busy roads combined with the rusty driving skills from not driving as much can dramatically degrade a driver’s ability to cope with driving hazards. It would not be surprising to see accident rates going up as more and more drivers return to their former pattern of car usage but lack the practice and good habits they once had.

Most service schedules for cars stipulate both a period of time and mileage with the service being triggered by whichever comes sooner. The reticence to spend money leads many to assume it doesn’t matter so much and so they wait for the mileage to add up.

Cam belt changes, oil changes and safety inspections are important things, even if a car is not being used very much, still need to be carried out.

Elastomers tend to degrade over time, so even if a car is not covering many miles these items will still need replacing, especially cam belts.

Relays, switches and actuators can also stop working if they are not used, so this can cause starter motor problems or issues with electric windows and other components that rely on them.

Cut down short journeys!

Suspension components can lose lubrication over time, causing creaking suspension, this is especially true of a car that has been just sitting there for some time.

If suspension movement is restricted or impaired, it follows that the cars handling is compromised.

Shorter duration journeys put a lot of wear on the engine oil, as it accumulates more moisture and acids from the combustion process than it would on a hot engine. Cars equipped with particulate filters and catalysts (most cars made from 1992) will generally experience more issues if they are restricted to shorter journeys.

One defence against most of this additional wear and tear is simply to use the car more often, run it for a long journey (30 minutes at around 50mph) at least once a week at moderate to high RPM ranges (after letting the engine warm up first).

It may cost a little in fuel but it keeps everything else moving, prevents ceasing up and keeps everything properly lubricated and in good condition. It is also a good idea to ensure the windows and doors are used, to prevent them from ceasing up.

Drivers are also urged to keep up with routine servicing and maintenance, following the manufacturer’s guidelines, even if a car hasn’t covered many miles.

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