As a mom of 3 kids, I always try to stay ahead of potential problems. With my educational and career background as an automotive technician, I am skilled in vehicle maintenance.
While we are all faced with many fears and uncertainties during this unprecedented time, don’t let car trouble surprise you when the Stay at Home order ends. Just like there are steps you can take to protect yourself from COVID-19, there are steps you can take to protect your car’s health during this time. These simple vehicle maintenance tips for when your car isn’t being used can save you time and money in the future.
If you are a nonessential worker and find yourself staying home day after day, it makes sense that your car will just be sitting, unused. While this is good for fuel costs, the environment, and public health, it does have the potential to create costly and frustrating problems for you when you actually need your car again. Berlin City Kia is also here if you need a hand maintaining your vehicle.
Here are some vehicle maintenance tips you can take to protect your car when it isn’t being used:
Your battery is used to start the car. Any time a car sits without being used for an extended period, the battery will drain slowly. If you are in a colder climate, it will drain more quickly. If the battery voltage is too low, the car will not start. Driving the car gives the alternator time to recharge the battery. Car batteries are not designed for deep cycling. They are intended to be used frequently, for quick, high current bursts. Letting the battery drain low and not fully recharge can damage the longevity of a car battery. Batteries that are more than 4 years old or batteries that have corroded terminals are more susceptible to drainage and charging issues.
When the vehicle sits, two things happen. The tires lose air. Furthermore, the weight of the vehicle pushes down on the same spot of the tire touching the pavement for an extended period of time. These factors can lead to either one or more completely flat tires, or one or more tires having flat spots on the tread. If you feel comfortable using an air pump at a gas station, you could refill your tires. (Use gloves when using the public air pump, and sanitize your hands as soon as possible.) Typically, a car tire pressure is around 30-35psi. You can find the information specific to your vehicle on the driver’s side door jamb.
The fuel tank
If your tank was not full when the car was parked, it is susceptible to getting moisture in the tank. This can lead to premature corrosion and failure of the tank. You should fill your tank up with gas. Please wear gloves when touching the gas pump and sanitize your hands as soon as possible.
If you don’t absolutely need to, try not to engage the parking brake. If left engaged for an extended period of time, the pads can get stuck to the rotors or drums. This would render the car undrivable. Also, if your car is sitting and gets moisture on the brake rotors, they can quickly rust. Depending on how thick the rust becomes, it may or may not come off with resumed use. Rust will cause brake drag and in the state of VT, rusted rotors will cause you to fail inspection.
Critters in unwanted places
When your car is sitting in a driveway, critters find it a desirable place to build their homes. I have personally found chipmunks, squirrels and a kitten in customers’ engine bays. Mice also like to wreak havoc. These animals can chew up air filters, compromise airflow by bringing debris into the airbox, chew through wiring, and more. Driving your car regularly encourages these animals to find other places to shelter.
With all of these concerns in mind, the generally accepted recommendation is to drive your car about 10 miles every two weeks, at a minimum.
To be clear, this does not mean simply starting the car and letting it run at idle for 10 minutes. There are several advantages to actually driving the car, with reaching varying speeds being even more beneficial. This allows the transmission to run through all the gears, oil to reach all the nooks and crannies within the engine, and all fluids to reach operating temperature. It also wards off all of the issues previously discussed.
You want to keep on top of potential paperwork issues as well.
If you’re like me, all of your cars will be due for registration renewal and inspection right now. (That’s what I get for buying a new car on the same day, 3 years in a row.) Fortunately, I was able to renew all of my cars’ registrations on my state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website. Inspection is more difficult given the current closure of automotive businesses. But per the Vermont Governor, all inspections due in April 2020 will be given a 60-day extension.
Some insurance companies have rolled out programs to give policyholders discounts on upcoming premiums given the significant decrease in claims being paid out during quarantine and stay at home mandates. For instance, USAA has given all policyholders a 20% discount on two months worth of auto insurance premiums. If you haven’t already seen information from your insurance company, keep an eye on your email or mail.
The simple steps for vehicle maintenance when your car isn’t being used are absolutely important. I’ve outlined will give you the best start to post-pandemic life. These are trying times, but your car doesn’t need to add to your troubles.