5 Problems When Parking Your Vehicle a Week or Longer (and How To Prevent Them)
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If you're not putting as many miles on your car as you used to, take steps to avoid these car troubles that can befall undriven vehicles.
Whether you’re working from home or leaving the car in the driveway for an extra long vacation, you need to think about what infrequent usage will mean for your vehicle. Driving less means thinking more about keeping your car in good running order for those necessary trips to the supermarket, the drugstore or your favorite takeout place. Here are some tips learned during 30 years of maintaining and storing cars through northern winters. Whether your car is five years old or 50, keep an eye out for these common pitfalls if you’re parking it at home for multiple weeks or months.
Probably the most common problem when parking a vehicle for a week or more is coming back to a dead battery. It could be your battery was already depleted and failed due to natural battery self-discharge. Over time, a parasitic draw from something like a dome light left on, or by the added demands of cold-weather starting, can weaken the battery.
Driving your car even just a few miles every few days can keep the charge topped off. If you know you’ll be parking the car for long periods, hook up a smart charger, like the Battery Tender Junior. Plug it into a garage outlet to automatically maintain a healthy charge for your battery.
If your battery is dead, or if you keep finding it dead when you’re parked for a week or two, you may need to do some troubleshooting to determine if your battery or something else needs to be replaced; a healthy system should be fine for at least a couple of weeks. Also, note that lead acid batteries can be permanently damaged by discharging below about 80 percent (generally, low enough that your car won’t start). It can die if that happens a lot.
Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) is a different type of battery that’s made to handle more discharges without damage. They can be a nice upgrade, but are more expensive, and not a full solution if you have other problems causing battery depletion.
A week parked in wet conditions can leave brakes a little rusty or even stuck. To avoid this, move the vehicle periodically, or park in a garage where the car is protected from the elements.
If rust develops over a couple of weeks, it’s likely just a little surface rust on the brakes. You might notice a little grinding noise at first; in most cases, it will wear off after you make a couple of stops. Don’t worry — over short periods like this it’s not likely to cause permanent damage.
But in extremely rainy/wet conditions over a couple of weeks, I’ve seen a few cases where the corrosion actually stopped the car from moving with the foot off the brake in Drive. I fixed that by giving it a little gas until the corrosion let loose (just be ready to control the vehicle if it moves suddenly!), then worked through a few rounds of stopping until the brakes cleaned themselves up.
If you’re going two months or more without using up a full tank of gas, take some precautions to avoid potential engine issues like efficiency loss, rough running or even non-starting.
First, if you know your car will be sitting for a while, treat your tank of gas with a preservative, like Sta-Bil or Seafoam. (The same applies to gas stored in a can.) Buy a bottle at your local auto parts store or gas station and dump it into the tank according to the instructions. Preservatives can’t restore gas once it’s gone stale, so treat it early if you can.
Second, keep the tank closer to full rather than letting it run low. This decreases the amount of air space in the tank for fuel-degrading oxygen, and lowers the risk of corrosion from condensation. Plus, you get bonus safety points for keeping your tank on the fuller side in case of emergencies, like being stranded in extreme temperatures.
If a vehicle is parked for three months or longer, tires can develop flat spots, especially if they have low pressure. Watch for this in cold weather months particularly, because lower temperatures cause tire pressure to drop about one pound per square inch (PSI) per 10 degrees F.
The onset of your local cold season is a good time to check your tire pressure anyway, as low pressure can be a safety and efficiency detriment when driving. If you’re parking your car for a long period, move it periodically so it sits on a different point on the tires. Slightly overinflate the tires (five to 10 PSI) or put it up on jacks to prevent flat-spotting.
Mice and other rodents can do permanent (or at least demoralizing) damage to vehicles by eating fabric, chewing through wires or soiling the interior. They tend to like dark, quiet places. You can lower the risk of mice taking up residence if your car is parked in a garage that’s used daily, has sunlight exposure, or has lights turned on regularly.
Remove any potential food source that could be attractive to rodents, and eliminate the pests with your trap or bait of choice. For added defense, put steel wool in tailpipes and air duct openings (be sure to remove before driving the car); leave the hood and trunk open (unplug lights or fuses to avoid battery drain); and keep the vehicle uncovered.
Finally, let me share some home remedies for pest control in vehicles you should skip — maybe it’ll save you some time and experimentation. In vehicle-storage circles (especially classic car and RV owners), there’s debate about whether scented Bounce dryer sheets and bars of Irish Spring soap actually work. Mice may not like the scent of dryer sheets, but that dissipates after a week or two, making it a limited-return investment. And I’ve personally seen chunks of Irish Spring bar soap eaten away by mice, so I’d pass on that one, too.