During these days of social distancing and work-from-home precautions, many people drive significantly less than they once did. If you fall into that group, you might assume that the fewer miles you put on your car, the less you need to worry about maintaining it. In reality, however, long periods of inactivity can do a car more harm than good.
Whether you have aspirations to return to your normal routine soon or you have simply reduced your driving needs substantially, careful upkeep can ensure that your car will be ready for you when you do need it. Here are some vehicle maintenance issues and strategies to keep in mind.
Sedentary Cars and Fluids
Your car may not lose or burn up its various automotive fluids if it mostly sits in a garage, but it can still suffer from fluid-related problems. Engine oil, coolant, and other fluids play a vital role in keeping internal components lubricated. This lubrication not only prevents rust from settling into metal parts but also preserves the integrity of rubber or plastic parts that might otherwise crack or crumble.
Even 20 minutes of sustained driving per week can keep these fluids moving through your car just enough to protect its moving parts, hoses, and gaskets. Between those small trips, keep an eye out for puddles underneath the vehicle and check your fluid levels. Remember that some fluids, such as power steering fluid, have a cold-engine level as well as a warm-engine level.
Sedentary Cars and Battery Drainage
The lead-acid battery that starts your car will naturally drain over time. Interactions between the volatile chemicals in the car will inevitably lead to deterioration, with the average battery lasting about three years under normal driving conditions. A routine of minimal or no driving, however, can leave you with a completely dead battery.
Car batteries naturally drain at a rate of about five percent per month. When you drive your car, the motion of the serpentine belt conveys power to the alternator, which in turn charges the battery. Even idling the car can produce enough electricity to recharge the battery, although the process will take longer. Your auto service technician can check your battery’s charge level with a voltmeter.
If you don’t even have the option of idling your car from time to time, consider investing in a battery tender. This device, also called a float charger, can charge a low or dead battery without any need to start the car. The battery tender attaches directly to the battery terminals at one end, and to an electrical outlet at the other, thus feeding your home’s electricity into the battery.
Prolonged exposure to extreme weather can also cause a battery to die prematurely. Keep your sedentary car in your garage if at all possible, or at least cover it with an insulating cover.
Sedentary Cars and Tire Pressure
Just as batteries tend to lose their charge over time, tires tend to lose a small amount of air pressure, on the order of one to three pounds per square inch every month. After six months, a set of tires may have lost 18 pounds per square inch of pressure, a significant portion of their total capacity. This sets the stage for blowouts or other dangers the next time you drive the car.
Extended disuse in cold weather can cause even more trouble for your tires. Cold temperatures can cause tires to lose air pressure even more rapidly than usual. The combination of low pressure and cold-stiffened rubber can lead to a condition known as flat spotting. When you drive the car, you will experience a rough, noisy ride until the tires warm up. Flat spotting can even become permanent.
Avoid letting your car sit on a cold surface for weeks or months a time without driving it. If you can keep the car garaged, your tires will run less risk of flat spotting. Check the tire pressure once a month and add any necessary air to keep your tires in their proper configuration.
White’s Automotive Center can help you keep your car in optimal shape, whether you drive it regularly or not. Contact us to learn more.