Due to the continuing pandemic, your car is probably seeing a lot less use. You might not have started it in weeks, maybe even months depending on where you live. Problem is, cars are designed to be used, and leaving them to gather dust can permanently damage the complex machinery that makes them function. If you plan on an extended period of not driving your car, there are a number of steps you need to take to ensure that when you want to drive it again, it will work.
Before I go on, the best solution is to drive at least once a week. Take it out for a minimum of fifteen minutes and just drive around. Don’t get out. Listen to some music, maybe a podcast. It’ll help stave off cabin fever too. But if you absolutely need to leave it inoperative for an extended period, follow these instructions.
1.Clean your car, inside and out
It might seem strange to give your car a wash before sticking it into storage. Do it anyway. Bird droppings and other stains on the outside can permanently damage the paint if you leave them to sit. On the inside, you want to make sure there’s nothing edible lurking beneath the seats. Food attracts vermin, and that’s a serious problem we’ll get more into later.
2. Fill ‘er up
Top off your tank. A partially-filled tank can be susceptible to rust, and the seals can dry out. One thing to keep in mind is that gasoline only lasts from three to six months before oxidization renders it useless. So when you want to drive, it’s possible that the gas in your tank won’t get you anywhere. When that happens, you’ll need to drain your tank (carefully, and in a well-ventilated area), and fill it with fresh gas.
3. What to do about the oil
Get an oil change and engine flush. Change every filter you can. You’re going to need another oil change when you return the car to operation.
The battery should not be connected, but you have some options. You can remove the whole thing, which is the safest bet. If you’re not comfortable doing that, the minimum you can do is disconnect the battery’s negative cable. You’re trying to keep your battery from being drained, which can still happen even when the car is turned off. Incidentally, this isn’t a bad thing to do even when you go on vacation.
5. Take care of the tires
A car left inoperative for a long period can develop flat spots on the tires. The best solution is to put the car up on axle stands or blocks, remove the wheels entirely, and deflate the tires.
If you can’t put your car up on blocks, just be aware that there could be long term damage to the tires. When you park it for the last time, do not engage your parking brake as brake pads can fuse with the rotors. Instead, put bricks or chocks in front of and behind the tires to keep it from rolling away.
6. Keep it out of the weather, one way or the other
Storing your car inside is ideal. If you don’t have a garage at home, it might be worth it to find an indoor lot with long term parking. If you can’t store it inside, get a weatherproof car covering. autoguide.com recommends the Platinum Car Shield from carcovers.com.
In any case, keep the windows cracked in order to prevent condensation from building up inside.
7. Your insurance should be up to date
Many insurance companies will levy penalties on accounts that have gaps in coverage. So while it may save you money in the short term to let your insurance lapse, it’s better in the long term of you pay. In addition, companies will often offer discounts for these inactive periods. Considering you’re paying them for pretty much nothing, it’s the least they can do.
8. And the grossest problem: vermin
Mice and other vermin can find their way into cars, either looking for food or a safe place to hide. The last thing you want is to open up your car and find a nest of rats staring back at you like, “The car is ours now, human. Find another one.”
Remember step one, where you cleaned out the food? I’m bringing it up again. In addition, look for places mice can get in: intakes and the exhaust pipes are two obvious spots. Plug these with some steel wool.
Then get cotton balls or mothballs, and dip them in peppermint oil. Surround your car with these, and refresh them every couple of weeks. If you want, you can bolster the defenses with mousetraps or poison, but in that case you’re going to want to keep a closer eye on the environs. The last thing you want is the smell of decaying animal seeping into your upholstery.
9. Bringing it back
Once this national nightmare ends, you’re going to want to drive again. First, check your car for those vermin we talked about. You really don’t want to be surprised while the car is in motion. Remove the steel wool from wherever you put it too. If you’re as absent minded as I am, it wouldn’t hurt to write down the locations.
Check your wipers. There’s a good chance the rubber will have gone brittle. If so, you’ll need to replace them. Inflate your tires, check the pressure. You might need to put the wheels back on, depending.
Check your brakes for rust. Unless it’s a huge deposit, a little driving should clear it up. If not, take it to a mechanic.
Check your fluids. You’ll need an immediate oil change, and other fluids aren’t a bad idea.
After that, your car should be good to go!