With the COVID-19 pandemic looming large, most everyone’s attention is focused squarely on keeping their families and themselves healthy and safe. Many are also concerned with their financial well-being, while still others wonder, how in the world are they going to survive weeks or even months in lockdown.
Nobody would blame you if vehicle maintenance wasn’t at the top of your “To Do” list. But the reality is, maintaining your vehicle now is as important as ever. Here are a few simple ways to ensure your vehicle remains healthy over the upcoming weeks and months of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.
Drive your vehicle. Your vehicle likes – and needs – to be driven. Not driving it for weeks on end can cause unexpected damage and large repair bills. Hop in and take your vehicle out for a drive for about 20 minutes at least once or twice a week to keep the battery charged, the moving parts lubricated and to help avoid getting flat spots in the tires. If you’re unable to drive your vehicle, at least start the engine once a week and let it idle for 15-20 minutes in a well-ventilated area or outdoors. That will charge the battery and circulate the engine oil. While idling is not as effective as driving at freeway speeds, it’s better than not starting the engine at all. Here are a few important reasons to drive your vehicle at least once a week…
- Battery - Over time a vehicle’s battery will discharge. If left in a discharged state for too long, the battery may lose its ability to be recharged, which means you’ll need to buy a new one. Driving the vehicle or letting it idle at least once a week can keep your battery charged. In colder weather, leaving a trickle charger connected to your battery is also a good way to keep it charged between start-ups. Keep the battery terminals clean and free of corrosion to ensure the battery is getting fully charged.
- Lubricate Parts – If a vehicle sits for too long, oil protection on vital parts begins to thin out, fluids start separating, condensation builds up and seals start to dry out. Taking your vehicle for a short drive, especially on the freeway, helps to keep fluids circulating and ensures all the moving parts in your engine, transmission, differential, cooling system and brakes stay well lubricated. Driving at freeway speeds helps ensure that any condensation in the oil evaporates.
- Tire Flat Spots – All tires lose pressure over time, and if a car sits for too long, the weight of the vehicle can increase the chance of flat spots developing where the tire tread meets the parking surface. A tire with a flat spot feels like an unbalanced tire, which can cause vibration in the seats or steering wheel. Flat spots are usually temporary and will usually disappear once the tires warm up after traveling at freeway speed. Unfortunately, tires with permanent flat spots should be replaced.
Top off your gas tank. There are a few important benefits to topping off your gas tank before parking your vehicle for an extended period. Topping off the tank helps prevent condensation from accumulating inside the tank. Water in your gas tank can damage fuel system components like fuel pumps and injectors. A full tank also helps to eliminate excessive and hazardous gasoline fumes from building up in your vapor canister, which could lead to hard starting issues. Plus, it’s good to know that if you have an emergency, you have a full tank of gas to get you safely to your destination.
Avoid using the parking brake. It’s a good habit to set the parking brake when you park your vehicle but leaving the parking brake on for an extended period can cause parking brake pads or shoes to stick. While it’s not always an issue, it can be in highly humid climates. If you drive a manual transmission, consider parking on a flat surface and leaving the transmission in first gear or reverse.
If you absolutely need to use the parking brake, release and reapply the brake numerous times a week. To reduce the chance of stickling, apply the foot brake, let the vehicle roll back slightly to reposition the brakes before reapplying the parking brake again.
NOTE: A common issue during high humidity or rainy conditions is the possibility of your brake rotors or drums developing surface rust. It’s typically not a problem and with remedy itself when you drive the vehicle and apply the brakes. Just take it easy on your first few stops.
Park wisely. If your vehicle is going to be parked for a long time, it is best to park on a paved surface. Parking in a garage is ideal, but if you must park outside, avoid parking over grass or dirt. Those surfaces tend to quickly transfer moisture up to your vehicle’s undercarriage, causing rust and mold issues. Parking over grass or dirt areas also increase the possibility of critters and insects taking up residence in your vehicle. If you can’t park on pavement then gravel is the next best surface.
Avoid being towed by paying attention to what the signs say in the area where you’re going to park. Choose a safe location and don’t leave any valuable items in the vehicle.
Look up. Are you parked under a tree? Some trees drip sap, that especially on a hot day, can wreak havoc on your vehicle’s paint job – not to mention the acid-infused bird droppings that can ruin your vehicle’s paint within hours. If you must park outside, protect your vehicle from the elements with a good quality car cover that not only protects your paint and rubber trim but the interior and tires as well.
Keep up on basic maintenance
Check fluid levels – Leaks can reduce the amount of fluids in the engine, transmission, power steering, cooling system or other components while your vehicle is just sitting. Look for fluid leaks underneath the vehicle. Check and correct low fluid levels per the instructions in your owner’s manual before you drive the vehicle. If a leak is bad, fix it yourself or take the vehicle to a shop. NOTE: If you have been running the A/C, expect to see a water puddle under the right center of the vehicle. This is normal and a good sign that the A/C evaporator drain is open.
Engine oil - Even though you’re not driving as often, don’t assume that just because you’ve only put a couple of hundred miles on your vehicle over the last few months that the engine oil doesn’t need to be changed. Moisture from the air collects inside your engine’s crankcase whether you drive it or not. That moisture affects the viscosity and the oil’s ability to effectively lubricate vital internal engine parts.
If the engine oil is low, you can top it off yourself. Oil is available just about anywhere but be sure to use the oil recommended by the vehicle’s manufacturer.
You can also consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual for oil change intervals and procedures. If you would prefer not to leave the house and don’t want to change your oil yourself, there are mobile technicians you can find online in your area who will perform this service at a reasonable price.
Check tire pressure – Like I mentioned before, all tires loose air over time, especially when the vehicle sits for extended periods. Check tire pressure often, and more importantly, before you get out on the road. Low tire pressure can cause all types of problems: poor handling, overheating (which could lead to a blow-out), sidewall cracking and flat spots. Have a good quality tire pressure gauge on hand. A digital gauge is the easiest to use, is very accurate and available at any auto parts store for around $12. A quick reference for your vehicle’s tire pressure specifications are typically found on a sticker located inside the driver’s door opening.
Wash, wax and vacuum. And finally, whether your vehicle in sitting in the garage or parked outside, it’s a good idea to regularly wash your vehicle and apply a coat of wax to keep your paint safe from moisture and environmental contaminants. If you haven’t washed your vehicle’s undercarriage since winter, give it a thorough washing. Coin-operated car washes have high pressure sprayers that are great for knocking off salt and road grime.
Make sure the interior is clean and free from any debris and leftover food that may mold or attract rodents and bugs. Vacuum the interior and use a vinyl/leather conditioner to help protect the dash, seats and plastic parts from sun and moisture damage. Remember to vacuum cloth seats and the trunk or hatch areas too.
Running the A/C on the highest setting for 5 to 10 minutes with the windows rolled up will pull excess moisture out of the vehicle and help eliminate moisture and bacteria. NOTE: A cabin air filter (if your vehicle is equipped with one) is like your car’s face mask filter. Changing it will help eliminate bacteria, germs, mold, dust and pollen that may have been trapped by it. Cabin air filters are typically located behind the glove box.