You may not be driving you vehicle due to lockdowns instituted during the coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore car maintenance.
Many multi-car families are currently limiting their driving trips, which means they may have tucked their extra car into the garage for the foreseeable future. Cars are meant to be driven. Sitting still isn’t healthy for them, but there are a few preventative measures you can take that will help ensure your car is in top condition when you start it next.
1. Start it and move it periodically
If at all possible, start the engine once every other week and move the car around a little. Even if it’s just up and down your driveway followed by a few minutes of idling to get the engine to operating temperature, you’re helping to circulate fluids in the car. A warm engine helps prevent fluids from going bad, and it reduces the risk of various gaskets and rubber parts drying out and failing. Steven Greenspan, an instructor and education manager at Universal Technical Institute as well as an ASE certified mechanic says, "Today’s high-tech vehicles often have multiple computers that are always on and monitoring the car’s systems. These computers do absorb energy, and if a car is sitting and not recharging, the battery can die within two weeks. To avoid a dead battery, it’s recommended that the owner take the car for a short 5-10-minute drive."
Additionally, driving the car a little keeps the drivetrain — those bits underneath that help turn the wheels — from suffering the same consequences, and it helps prevent tires from flattening on the bottom. Tires are a crucial car maintenance item, and flat-spotted tires can be especially expensive to replace.
2. Add a fuel stabilizer and grab a trickle charger
If you have no plan to drive the car whatsoever, at the very least you’ll want to pour some fuel stabilizer into the gas tank and hook the battery up to a trickle charger. Fuel stabilizer helps prevent gas in the tank from going bad. Not doing so will almost certainly mean the fuel system will need to be cleaned, or even that the tank, fuel pump, lines, and injectors will have to be removed and refurbished. That can get very costly, even on a car that has only sat for a few months.
Hooking a trickle charger to the battery ensures that the electrical system doesn’t lose charge. Trickle chargers do require a power outlet near the vehicle, though many will work with an extension cord. Not only can this help ensure that the car will start every time, newer cars can sometimes require very costly reprogramming if their electrical systems are drained entirely.
3. Cover your car up
If your car is parked outside, invest in a good cover to protect the paint, the interior and all the rubber trim. Don’t simply use a tarp, which can quickly scratch paint and trap water underneath, leading to rust. Instead, find a quality soft cover specifically designed to breathe.
Leaving your car out in the sun wreaks havoc on its paint and its rubber trim. An interior that’s left locked up and exposed to sun gets very hot every day, which can quickly lead to damaged upholstery and trim.
4. Perform a few services
Now’s a great time to perform a few services on your car, many of which are easier than you might expect. They’ll also save you time and money when you start driving the vehicle again regularly. Engine air and cabin air filters are easy to change out, and they help both the car and its occupants breathe better.
Next take a look at your maintenance records to see what vital fluids are due for replacement. Flushing the engine oil is easy on most cars, while other fluids such as the transmission and differentials are often overlooked and don’t take a lot of effort to replace. A good service manual — or a quick search for videos online — can help you determine if this work is within your skillset.
If you’d rather let a professional do the maintenance on your car, that’s still an option. Here’s some information on no-contact car service, how it works, and who offers it.
5. Clean up your car
With your car parked and not in use, you may find that you have time to give it a good scrub and detail. Go beyond the simple soap and water by using a clay mitt to strip off any accumulated gunk, followed by a wax or a ceramic coating to keep it looking spiffy. Hit up the interior next with carpet and upholstery cleaner as well as leather cleaner and conditioner.
If your headlights have started to turn yellow, you may be surprised at how effective and easy cleaning with a kit is. Just be sure to coat the lights with a protectant afterward to slow any future yellowing.
Looking for more information relating to you, your vehicle and the COVID-19 pandemic? Check out more of Autotrader’s Coronavirus content.