If you don't fall into the "essential employee" classification under your state's stay-at-home order, your car is likely seeing a lot less of you and the road. Although there are some perks to infrequent driving such as saving on gas and a reduced chance of accidents and costly repairs, leaving your car sitting in your driveway for an extended amount of time can cause unexpected damage. When your car is sitting idle for long periods, you risk killing the battery and damaging the engine. Following these simple tips will keep your car in top shape while it awaits your next big road trip.
Drive it at Least 20 Minutes Per Week
According to CNET, modern cars have complex computers constantly monitoring the vehicle's systems which means all it takes is two weeks for an unused car's battery to die. Starting your vehicle up and driving it a couple of times per week is the best way to protect both the battery and the engine. Since most folks still need to head to the grocery store for essentials, this should be an easy item to check off the list. For households with multiple cars, it's important to alternate vehicles so that each one gets some use.
Driving your car for as little as 5 to 10 minutes at a time will help to circulate oils and lubricants around to all the components that require them. This protects your car's engine and prevents issues like a dried-out belt. Braking firmly several times during your drive will help to remove rust from the brake pads and rotors.
Change the Oil and Top Off the Fuel
If you're unable to drive your vehicle on a regular basis as recommended above, and it won't be used for 30 days or more, it's time to take some extra precautions. The oil in an undriven vehicle will last for 6 months and unused oil that does not circulate can cause damage to your vehicle. If it's been several months since your last oil change, you should either change the oil yourself or go into a repair shop (most are open as essential businesses).
Just like the oil, gasoline will last in an undriven car for about 6 months. Keeping a full tank of gas will prevent any condensation from forming inside, so top off your gas tank before putting your vehicle on lockdown and consider adding a fuel stabilizer to extend the life of the gasoline.
Check the Tire Pressure
Keeping an eye on tire pressure is important whether you're driving your car a few days a week or you have it in storage. When your vehicle is sitting unused, a lack of tire pressure can cause flat spots which damage your tires. If you won't be driving your vehicle for 30 days or more, you can inflate your tires slightly over the recommended air pressure (4-5 psi over recommended) but don't exceed the maximum tire pressure listed on your vehicle's door sticker. When you're ready to drive again, make sure all the tires are filled to the recommended psi.
Clean and Cover
Before storing your vehicle, you should give it a thorough cleaning inside and out. On the exterior, focus on removing all the dirt that can damage your vehicle's paint like salt and road debris. It is also a good time to deep clean your car's interior to prepare it for the next time you drive. Clean and disinfect high-touch areas like door handles, steering wheel, shift knob, and climate control, audio, and infotainment buttons. If your car is parked outside without being driven long-term, it will benefit from a waterproof car cover to protect it from the elements.
Leaving your car completely unattended while you shelter-in-place can have some unexpected and undesirable consequences. Luckily, protecting it is as easy as going out for an occasional drive, changing the oil, topping off the gas, checking the tires, and giving it a cleaning. When you're reunited with the wide-open road (or more realistically, traffic on your daily commute) you'll thank yourself for keeping your vehicle in good shape.