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How to care for your car during the coronavirus pandemic

Photo by Alamy Stock Photo

If your car is sitting idle, these tips will help to keep it in top condition.

As many—if not most—of us shelter in place, our normal driving routines are disrupted. While we may be driving fewer miles than usual, we still depend on our vehicles for important errands, such as going to the store to buy groceries, visiting doctors, and picking up prescriptions. That’s why you want to make sure your vehicle is in good running condition.

Dave Skaien, the Auto Club’s manager of Approved Auto Repair service in California and Hawaii, has these tips to keep your ride healthy:

If your driving habits haven’t changed

Many automotive service facilities remain open, but they may have reduced their hours during the pandemic. If it’s time for a scheduled service, don’t skip it. Make an appointment with your dealer or independent repair facility so that you can feel confident that your vehicle will serve you well. Furthermore, the technician can inform you of any issues that require attention, such as worn tires or brakes or a failing battery.

It’s also a good idea to do these routine checks yourself:

  • Check the air pressure and condition of your tires at least once a month. Buy a quality gauge at an auto-parts store ($10 or less). The correct air pressure can be found on the driver’s doorjamb, the fuel filler door, or in the glove box. Put air in the tires before driving when the tires are cold or nearly so. Look for bulges, uneven wear, or embedded nails.
  • Consult your car’s owner’s manual for the location of various fluid reservoirs (engine oil, coolant, power-steering fluid, brake fluid, and windshield-washer fluid) and check your fluids every month. Look for signs of fluid leaks under the car.
  • Confirm that all of your lights are working. This applies to your headlights, parking lights, daytime running lights, taillights, and turn signals.
  • Make sure your battery cables are tight and the terminals are clean and free of corrosion. If you have a battery-related issues, the AAA Mobile Battery Service can come to your home to test your battery and, if necessary, replace it.

If you drive your vehicle only every seven to 10 days

  • Try to drive your vehicle at least once a week for at least 30 minutes.
  • If that’s not possible, start the vehicle once a week and let it run for about 20 minutes. This charges the battery and circulates the oil and radiator coolant at operating temperature.

If you drive your vehicle only every two to three weeks

  • Consider using a battery charger (a.k.a. a trickle charger or battery tender) to keep the car’s battery fully charged and prevent deterioration—especially if the battery is 2 or more years old. 
  • Keep the gas tank full to minimize condensation. Add a fuel stabilizer, available at auto-parts stores, to extend the fuel’s life span. Drive the car for 5 to 10 miles to fully circulate the stabilized fuel throughout the system.

If you store the vehicle for a month

  • Add 10 psi of air to each tire to help prevent flat spots that can form on the bottoms of the tires from sitting in one position.
  • If it’s time, change the oil to remove any acids and contaminants.
  • Make sure the battery terminals are clean, tight, and free of corrosion.
  • Leave the parking brake off to prevent it from becoming frozen, the brake pads from rusting to the rotors, or the brake shoes from distorting the drums. For automatic-transmission vehicles, simply put the vehicle in park. For manual transmissions, put the vehicle in first or reverse and, if needed, use wheel chocks to keep the vehicle in place.
  • Prop up the wiper arms so the blades don’t stick to the glass.
  • Keep your vehicle insured to protect against claims due to unforeseen circumstances; this can also prevent a premium increase if there’s a coverage lapse.
  • List everything you did to prep the vehicle for storage. Reverse the steps when it’s time to put the vehicle back on the road. Leave the list in the car so you don’t lose it.

If you store the vehicle for 45 days or more

  • Wash and wax the vehicle’s exterior; vacuum and clean the interior.
  • Place the car on jack stands to prevent flat spots on the bottoms of the tires.
  • Store the vehicle indoors in a cool, dark, dry location. If that’s not possible, consider using a portable parking structure or, at the very least, a quality multilayer car cover that won’t trap moisture.
  • If the vehicle will be exposed to significant moisture, place desiccant packs inside the car to help keep the interior dry.
  • If the car is due for a brake fluid or coolant change, have the work done before placing the vehicle in storage. Deteriorated fluids can lead to rust and corrosion.

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