Because the coronavirus pandemic is forcing many Americans to work from home, millions of cars are sitting idle in garages and driveways. Auto insurers are even offering rebates to drivers who are not using their cars as much — or at all — for work. You might assume that you're saving money, lots of it, by not putting so much wear and tear on your car.
However, when you let a car sit for weeks, or worse, months, when you're ready to drive again, you'll be facing a long list of repairs that will cost you far more than the money saved from not driving. Cars are designed to move, not sit idle.
I made this mistake myself with a spare car we had in our driveway. By the time I was ready to sell it, it needed new tires (they had "flat-spotting" from sitting too long), a new battery, a complete brake job ($1,400), and more. I ended up donating the car to a charity, which was certainly a good thing to do but not anything I want to have to do with a car I depend upon.
A good rule of thumb is to not let a car sit for longer than two weeks, especially if you've done nothing to prepare it for a period of idleness. When you're not driving regularly, make a point of taking your car out for a spin for at least 10 miles and some speeds over 50 miles-per-hour to keep the battery charged, the car's fluids moving through their various systems, the gaskets and seals flexible, and the tires from getting flat spots.
Here are six other things you can do to maintain your car when you're not driving that often:
- Keep up with regular maintenance. Just because you're not putting miles on the car doesn't mean you can skip your regular maintenance. The oil and other fluids in your car disintegrate over time, so it's best to keep on top of this by bringing your car in for regular oil changes, fluid checks, and safety inspections.
- Check your tire pressure once a week. Tires lose air over time, and an improper tire pressure can not only reduce vehicle performance and gas mileage, it can lead to serious safety issues. Keep a tire pressure gauge in your glove box — you can find them for under $6 — and check those tires before you drive off.
- Wash your car frequently. Even though you're not driving through salt and water every day, the elements are still doing damage to your car, especially if it's sitting uncovered in your driveway. Also, you may have other substances to contend with, like sap dripping down from a nearby tree or algae growth.
- Clean out the interior thoroughly. Take special care to remove any food items, which will attract rodents. Mice and rats can create serious damage on a car's systems, doing everything from setting up residence under your car's hood to chewing through wires and hoses. You may even want to consider setting some traps around your vehicle to discourage visitors. Also, no one wants to find a forgotten Frappuccino after it has been sitting in a cup holder for several weeks. Yuck!
- Treat your gas tank to a fuel stabilizer. Yes, gasoline does goes bad, and that's not a good thing for your car or the gas tank, which is very expensive to replace. A stabilizing fuel additive will keep your gasoline fresh and discourage any damage to your fuel tank, especially if you let your car sit longer than you expect.
- Prepare your car for a new season. Winter's coming, so make sure your wiper blades are in good working order and that you have a blanket and other survival equipment like a small shovel and some de-icer ready when you need them.
You've invested a lot of money in your car and even though you're not using it as frequently, you need to protect that investment so it continues to perform. A little extra TLC now will keep your car mechanically sound and keep you safe for many years to come.
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