How to Maintain a Seldom-Used Vehicle
Performing maintenance is a task that often goes hand-in-hand with owning a vehicle. But what about vehicles you only use once in a while or store part of the year? It may seem like a car that isn’t used frequently wouldn’t require upkeep like your everyday vehicle – but that isn’t always the case. Before storing your vehicle for a month or more, remember these recommended car maintenance tips:
If you have a vehicle you store at your vacation home or a spare car you only drive every so often, there are some steps you should take before leaving it for an extended period of time. According to Cars.com, start by cleaning your vehicle from top to bottom, including washing, polishing and waxing the outside. Chicago Tribune columnist and mechanic Bob Weber adds that the underside of the car should also be cleaned, as anything stuck on the bottom can hold moisture and cause rust.
When your vehicle is looking good as new again, fill up your gas tank if you will be storing the car longer than 30 days, says Edmunds. In addition, Cars.com recommends adding a fuel stabilizer to the tank when it’s almost full for longer storage times, as the shelf life of standard fuels is only about three months. If your vehicle won’t be used within a few months, Cars.com says the stabilizer will help keep the fuel lines and engine from corroding.
The next step in preparing a car for storage is to check tire inflation. If your car is sitting for a long period of time, the temperature may change and the tires can slowly lose pressure, says Cars.com. For this reason, the website recommends inflating your tires to near the top of the recommended air pressure range, but advises not to exceed the maximum.
Finally, Cars.com suggests that before you leave your car dormant for an extended period of time, top off your vehicle’s fluids including brake fluid, engine coolant, power steering fluid (if applicable), transmission fluid and windshield wiper fluid. Also, consider changing the oil before you let your vehicle sit in storage.
While in Storage
Protecting your car while not in use can be very important. Cars.com suggests getting a quality cover that securely fits your vehicle, keeps out moisture and allows for air flow. This will protect the exterior from bumps and scratches as well as keep it clean. It also may be a good idea to put steel wool in the air cleaner intake and exhaust pipe to keep small animals from using your vehicle as shelter, says Weber.
Don’t forget the vehicle’s power source: the battery. The battery can either be removed or remain in the vehicle. Either way, Cars.com suggests connecting the battery to a trickle charger or battery tender with an automatic shut-off feature or float mode. This will ensure the battery doesn’t get overcharged.
There’s a common belief that you should start your vehicle periodically, but Cars.com says it isn’t necessary if you prepare your car properly for storage. But, if you want to start your car every so often, after you disconnect the trickle charger, Cars.com notes it’s important to leave it running long enough (typically around 30 seconds, even in cold temperatures, says The Department of Energy) to let it heat up to operating temperature so the oil has a chance to lubricate the system.
When Ready to Use
Before driving away, remember to undo all of the storage prep you did originally (specifically, that regarding the battery, steel wool, etc.). It can be helpful to use a simple checklist like the one below while you’re prepping the vehicle for storage, so you can refer to the list when you’re ready to take it back out onto the road. Cars.com adds that it’s important to remember to return the air pressure in your tires to the level suggested by the manufacturer and note any loss of pressure that could indicate a leak.
Even though you may not use your spare car every day, you probably want to make sure it runs reliably when you do need it. If you follow these steps, you may get more out of your rarely used vehicle.