A great many drivers have abandoned the roadways while they are under stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we practice the art of social distancing, our cars, trucks, and SUVs sit dormant for days or weeks at a time. You can see evidence everywhere. Many streets are almost vacant. Oil prices have plummeted to record lows, and gasoline is cheaper than it has been in decades. And a layer of dust has collected on hoods and roofs and trunk lids.
During this unprecedented period, when people are reluctant to leave (or required to stay at) their homes, and memes on social media suggest that frequent walks between the refrigerator and Netflix have become an all-to-common diversion to fill in the gap where schedules were once stuffed with activity, it is highly recommended that we remain physically active. Get out for a walk. Ride a bike. Ramp up your spring cleaning efforts in the yard.
Your vehicle needs activity too. If you allow it to sit idle for too long, problems develop. The battery dies, the tires develop flat spots and lose air, and your engine oil becomes contaminated. Mice and squirrels even make a home of your engine bay. Your car needs attention, even when you are not driving it regularly.
So, if your car is in a state of semi-hibernation while the world is waiting out the coronavirus – or because your child went away to college or the military, or you are waiting for your teen to come of age to drive it, or your aging parent uses it infrequently – make sure to wake it up now and then. Here are some tips to keep maintaining your car, even when it is not in use.
1. Drive around the block
Automotive experts recommend starting the engine on your dormant vehicle weekly to prevent problems from piling up. When you do, let the engine run for at least five minutes so that it can warm up to a normal operating temperature. When an engine sits without running, moisture from condensation collects in the oil. The only way to get rid of the moisture is to either change the oil, or allow the engine to warm up and burn it off. If possible, it is best if you can take it for a short drive. This serves to also get the fluids moving.
2. Tend to your tires
When your car stays too long in one place, your tires begin to develop flat spots where they contact the ground. This leads to a vibration when you are driving and uneven tire wear. Tires ordinarily lose air pressure over time (thus the reason for tire pressure monitoring systems and preventative maintenance schedules), which can exacerbate the problem of flat spots. Take the car for a drive or at least move it around the yard to avoid flat spots. And measure the tire pressure every couple of weeks.
3. Be nice to your battery
Just as it is common for tires to lose air pressure over time, it is likely that your car’s battery will lose power as well. Over time, a car battery will self-discharge and will not have enough power to start your engine. A fully-charged battery should measure 12.6 volts when at rest. It is considered discharged if it drops below 12.4 volts, and it is only at fifty percent capacity at 12.2 volts. Generally, anything under 12V is considered “dead” and needs recharging or replacement. When your car sits without use, the battery drains. The condition is made worse when corrosion of wires and terminals sets in, or the serpentine drive belt that aids in recharging deteriorates, with lack of use. A battery tender (a low amperage charger for use when your battery is dormant) can keep your battery topped off in the extended time between uses.
4. Don’t forget the fuel
Condensation can form inside your engine when it sits; it also develops inside your fuel tank and contaminates the fuel. To avoid this, fill up the tank so it doesn’t sit empty and have room for moist air to condensate. You can even add a fuel stabilizer to extend the life of your fuel, just as you might when you winterize your lawnmower or weed whip.
5. Get rid of the old oil
Oil deteriorates over time, even if it is not being used. Starting your engine and driving your vehicle will actually help preserve the oil. So will using an additive to stabilize it. But the oil and filter need to be changed regularly. Maybe not every three months or three thousand miles, but whenever the vehicle manufacturer recommends it be replaced. And that recommendation covers inactivity as well. Most automakers suggest changing the oil at least once (maybe twice) a year, even when the vehicle is not being used.
6. Don’t abandon the brakes
Sitting still is not good for any part of your car really. Not even for the brake system intended to make it stop and stand still. When your brakes are not used, corrosion (rust) develops on the discs or rotors. Too much build-up and you can damage your brake pads too. If your rotors become corroded, they will likely need to be replaced or resurfaced. But beware of cheap brake service, especially from the shade tree mechanic down the street. Your brakes are the most important safety feature on your car; make sure they receive complete care. And drive your car once in a while to keep them working.
7. Protect the paint
Unless you store your vehicle in a garage or carport, it can be tough to keep it clean when it is dormant. Leaves and twigs, sand and dirt, bird droppings, and other environmental contaminants (not to mention acid rain and hard water) all tend to collect and do damage to the paint and other surfaces of your car. Removing the grime goes a long way toward preventing pitting of the paint and corrosion of the body panels. Cleaning the underside is important too, especially if you live in an area with gravel roads or salt. Car washes are still open in many places, but if they are not open where you live, you might need to wash your car yourself. Just be careful, you can do more good than harm with the wrong wash techniques and materials. Maintaining a coat of wax on the exterior will go a long way toward protecting the paint from contaminants.
Fortunately, auto repair shops are considered “essential” businesses during the COVID-19 lockdown and are available for brake service, oil changes (and 21 point inspection), and other operations. But whatever the cause for parking your car for a season, make sure you continue with routine maintenance.
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright
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