If you’re like me, the last few months brought a drastic change of pace. My shuttle duties as a mom have gone down and are probably offset by the amount of time I spend cooking instead! During the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of clients at my auto repair shop are asking about what to do with their car if they’re not planning to use it often.
Is there a proper way to store a car? How do they make sure the battery doesn’t drain? Should they fill it up with fuel before storing the car?
If you can avoid storing your car, that would be best. Vehicles that aren’t driven often actually have more maintenance and repair costs.
Having said that, if you’re driving less or maybe not at all, here are some tips to consider when parking your car for an extended period of time.
Wash the car
Whether you take it for a wash or clean it yourself, it’s always a good idea to give it one last bath before you store it. This might be a great activity to do with your kids on a nice sunny day! If you’re parking the car outside and find bird poop or tree sap on it, be sure to clean that off before it does any damage to the paint! Yikes!
Don’t use it as storage
If you usually drive around with a lot of cargo, now’s a good time to do some spring cleaning for your car. Take larger items (especially heavier ones) out of the vehicle. That way the suspension doesn’t have to hold additional unnecessary weight.
Store the car inside
If possible, park the car in your garage or in another protected space. It doesn’t have to be formally climate controlled, but the shelter will protect it from the elements. It’s also a good way to keep rodents away from your car and creating nests, destroying electrical wiring, or storing food in your car. Remember that rodents are persistent and there's no guarantee to keeping them away from your car. If you need to keep the vehicle outside, move it often even if it's just from one side of the driveway to the other. Depending on how aggressive you want to be, you can also put traps or similar deterrents around the vehicle (just remember you have them there before you move the car!). A common area for rodents to have access to is the air filter, where they'll chew it up to make a nest. Have your auto technician install a wire mesh in front of the air intake duct to prevent the rodents from getting in.
Fill up the fuel tank
Before you park the car for an extended period of time, fill up the fuel tank. This reduces moisture condensation that will build up inside the tank. Did you know that fuel begins to degrade at around 30 days? If it’s been about that time when you first start driving your car, we recommend that you drive the car and fill up when it’s at ¾ of a tank. Drive it for a bit more, then fill it up again at ¾ of a tank. Repeat a few times. This way, you’ll slowly increase the ratio of fresh fuel. This process doesn’t have to be all done in one day. What we don’t recommend is for you to drive the car until the tank is almost empty and then fill it up with fresh fuel. It isn’t good for the engine to be running on degraded fuel for so long.
Don’t apply the parking brake
Generally speaking, if you don’t use your parking brake system on a regular basis then components will seize and when it comes time to apply it in an emergency, it may not work. For the purposes of storing your car, you don’t want to apply the parking brake at all. When the parking brakes are applied, they put pressure on your brake components like the rotors and drums. If held together with pressure over a long period of time, your brake components will start to warp and you’ll need to replace them sooner than later. If you’re concerned about the car rolling, use wheel chocks.
Inflate tires to the proper specification
Make sure your tires are properly inflated when you’re storing your vehicle. You’ll get the specification for your car’s tire pressures in the placard on the driver side door jamb, or in your owner’s manual. Never follow the maximum tire pressure specification that is imprinted on the tire itself! If your tires are stored flat, the rubber will conform to that shape and you’ll have a distorted tire in the long-term. If you have a tire that is leaking pressure, get that fixed before you store the car!
Take care of the battery
When it comes to making sure the battery doesn’t drain, you have a few options.
Best case scenario, drive the car at least once a week for approximately 30 minutes so that the battery has time to charge back up. This also helps the engine components maintain lubrication as well as prevent other components from seizing. Contrary to popular belief, cars that sit for a long period of time actually have more maintenance requirements.
Many people think that they can leave the car running in their driveway to charge up the battery. While that may work for them, keep in mind that in Ontario there are by-laws against idling. If you’ve kept the insurance valid on your car, take it for a drive.
If you don’t want to go for a run or maybe the car isn’t insured, you can use a battery trickle charger. Just plug it in and clamp the leads to your battery (red is for positive, black is for negative) and the trickle charger will maintain your battery’s charge. Do this once a week for a 24-hour period at a very low amperage, let’s say 1Amp.
Another option is for you to disconnect the negative cable from the battery terminal. Be careful though because some vehicles will require a relearn, calibration, or radio codes when you put the negative cable back on. If you’re unsure about this, stick with the trickle charger option.
How you store the car today will impact its condition when you first drive it after it’s been parked for a while. If you have any questions about car maintenance or repair, leave a comment below!