How to Maintain Your Car When You’re Not Driving It Much (or at All)
These car-care tips will help your ride survive the long-term quarantine.
If you’re like the rest of us, they’re very likely is a car in your garage or driveway that hasn’t moved much for a few weeks now, if at all. Whether by pandemic, seasonal downtime (such as winter for those of you located in the snowy North), or extended travel, there are plenty of ways your car could sit idle for long periods of time. Cars don’t like this. New or old, when your car isn’t racking up miles, it still needs regular maintenance and at least occasional attention to prevent problems from metastasizing later when you return it to the road.
Here are some tips for keeping your parked vehicle in tip-top shape, courtesy of Steven Greenspan, instructor and education manager at Universal Technical Institute, and an ASE certified master technician with an L-1 certification, plus a few from the MotorTrend staff.
Keep Your Tires Healthy: Prevent Flat Spots And Deterioration
Check your tire pressures on a regular basis to make sure they match the manufacturer’s recommendations, Greenspan says. Tires lose air over time, but those filled with nitrogen leak less than those filled with oxygen. Keep in mind that tires can get flat spots if the car hasn’t moved for as little as 30 days, depending on the tire compound and construction, so consider rolling the vehicle slightly fore or aft if you can to resituate its feet. You can also take some weight off the wheels using some appropriate device, like jack stands. If the tires are already older, be especially vigilant for deterioration of the rubberâcracking, flaking, bulging or discoloration caused by age. If the car will be stored outside or somewhere with windows, consider covering the tires to prevent UV damage. Either way, carefully inspect the tires before taking the car out on the road.
When You Should Change Your Oil?
If you’re not driving your car regularly, the oil can deteriorate thanks to fluctuations in temperature. For a car that sits for long stints, you should switch from a mileage-based oil-change interval to a time-based structure. Change the oil every six months, even if you’re well ahead of the manufacturer-stated mileage interval for a regularly scheduled oil change, especially if you’ll be starting the vehicle or driving it occasionally during storage. If the vehicle won’t be started while sitting, it’s a good idea to change the oil before starting it for the first time to get any water condensation out of the oil.
How Long Will Your Fuel Stay Good?
Drivers who plan to keep their car sitting for an extended period of time should fill up the gas tank beforehand. This will help reduce condensation inside the tank caused by weather fluctuations. If the tank is full, gasoline should last about six months, according to Greenspan. Diesel can last six months to a year on a fresh, full tank. E85 degrades faster, especially when it has a higher alcohol content, and typically lasts less than six months if you’re not driving regularly. A storage-focused fuel additive like Sta-Bil is a good idea for short-term storage, but if the vehicle will be stored for a very long time it may be a better idea to drain the tank and the fuel linesâeventually, all fuel goes bad no matter what you add to it. Draining fuel can be dangerous, so make sure you’re using a proper drainage procedure and you’re disposing of or storing the drained fuel properly.
How Long Will Engine Accessory Belts And Rubber Hoses Last?
The engine belt, and any other critical rubber under your car’s hood, will eventually break down, but the timing of this degradation is highly variable. Most belts and hoses are expected to last quite a long time, but as with other vehicular components, disuse can cause problems. While some of this is dependent on the parts’ condition before you park the car, rubber can dry out and crack, causing leaks or weakening belts. We suggest checking these items before parking your car and again before taking it out of storage.
How To Keep Your Battery Happy
As with other things on this list, how to maintain your battery depends on whether you’ll be driving or running the car at all during storage. If you’ll start or drive it periodically, the battery may not need any additional maintenance. A short drive (just long enough to get the oil up to temperature, which evaporates any condensation in the oil) will suffice to keep the battery topped up and the oil in good shape. If that’s not possible, a trickle charger is a great alternative—we recommend microprocessor-controlled units that are able to determine what type of battery you have so it can charge it appropriately. If you have an absorptive glass mat (AGM) or lithium-ion starting battery, you’ll want to be extra sure you’re using an appropriate charger.
It’s usually possible to leave the battery in place, and many trickle chargers have quick-disconnects making it easy to unplug to use the car. You can also remove the battery and charge it in a more convenient location. A quick note on battery removal: Be sure to consult your owner’s manual before starting this task, especially if your vehicle’s audio system has a security code you must input for it to work after losing power. Sure, your battery will be topped off, but who wants to miss out on their tunes because they couldn’t find their radio code ahead of time?
Try Not To Use The Parking Brake
Here’s why: given enough time and humidity, some styles of the parking brake can “freeze”. If you won’t be driving the car for a while, leave the parking brake off and use wheel chocks to prevent this issue. Just make sure that whatever you do, the car is held securely and safely in place.
Keep Critters Away
Rodents love to make nests under the hood of dormant cars. There’s usually cloth-like sound deadening material they can tear up to make a little home. They can drag in nuts and other stuff they like to eat, which makes a mess and possibly causes a fire hazard. And sometimes they chew on the wiring, which can really damage the vehicle. There are several deterrents you can use, but some folks swear by mothballs or peppermint oil. Just don’t leave them near the base of the windshield, where air is drawn into the cabin when you turn on the climate control system, or the car will take on the strong and unpleasant smell.
Consider A Car Cover
A car cover can help keep your paint free of accidental scrapes, abrasive dust, and UV damage to the tires and the interior. They work especially well inside, where you can get by with a lighter cover that’s softer and usually more inexpensive. If you’re storing your car outside, you may want to invest in a more robust cover that is weatherproof and UV resistant. Keep in mind that wind can whip a cover around, which could cause light swirling damage to your paint. Securing it well can help prevent this issue.
Cardboard Is Your Friend
Those of us who own older, potentially more leak-prone cars know this trick well: Laying down a spare broken-down cardboard box under the car is a great way of tracking fluid loss. Some vehicle fluids can be hard to spot on your garage floor; oil is typically visible, but coolant and transmission fluid might be less so. Cardboard is darn near free, and it’ll show drips and—critically—where those drips are coming from. An oil drip pan with kitty litter also does the trick, and there are other more specialized products out there if you have a fancy garage floor covering you want to keep nice.
Can’t Tell How Much Fluid That Cardboard Gathered?
Before taking your car back out on the road after an extended slumber, be sure to check its fluid levels and perhaps change the oil before starting. Get the engine warm, then check the oil level using the dipstick. You can also check your vehicle’s transmission fluid level, as well as the pressure and condition of the tires. Visually inspect the hoses and belts, too.
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Motor Trend – Kelly Lin Apr 2, 2020