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How to Care for Your Car When You’re Driving Less

May 29, 2020
5 mins
Professional couple in grey vehicle

It doesn’t take long for a car to get a little cranky when it has not been driven for a while. Even as the COVID-19 lockdown begins to ease slightly, many vehicles remain mothballed as Canadians are either off work or working from home. However, even idle cars need regular care.

Whether your vehicle is sitting in the driveway or stored in a garage protected against the elements, it’s not unlike the human body. Endlessly sitting around without much activity can have negative impacts on all its parts and fluids that are used to moving. While you may think you’re giving your vehicle a break from regular wear and tear (and on auto insurance rates) by driving much less than usual, vehicle maintenance is critical to ensure you keep it in good working order.

Keeping the Battery Charged and Ready

The pandemic has drastically reduced the number of people commuting to or running routine errands. If you live in a major urban area, are working from home and leveraging online delivery services, you may not be using your vehicle at all.

Cars are meant to be driven. So even if you don’t have a destination, you should take your vehicle out for a spin at least once a week for close to a half-hour. That keeps your battery humming, and the occasional outing should help you avoid additional battery maintenance, especially as more modern vehicles have onboard computers that continuously draw power as they monitor various systems.

If you have decided to keep one of your vehicles off the road for the foreseeable future, you may need external charging capabilities to get it going again if it sits too long. If you do take your vehicle off of the road, you must not drive it without insurance.

Your Vehicle’s Fluids Need to Be Flowing

A weekly outing keeps fluids moving, including oil and gas, which can deteriorate if left sitting too long. It also provides an opportunity to check to see if any dashboard warning lights are lit up.

A short drive gets the oil up to temperature to evaporate any condensation; oil can be affected by fluctuations in temperature. If the car is sitting for months at a time, you should start changing the oil every six months, rather than based on mileage. If you’re not taking the car out for a weekly drive, you should change the oil before you start using the vehicle again.

Keeping it topped with gas not only means it’s ready to go when you are but will help it last longer. A full tank wards off the condensation that builds up because of fluctuating temperatures and weather. Regular gasoline should last six months in a full tank, but if you’re thinking of mothballing a vehicle for a lot longer, you should drain the tank and fuel lines entirely and carefully.

Slowing Gradual Deterioration

Aside from the battery, oil and gas, other parts of your vehicle can deteriorate if they’re motionless for too long.

Just as a running engine keeps fluids from going bad and lowers the risk of various hoses, gaskets and rubber parts drying out and failing, the occasional drive also keeps the drivetrain from suffering the same fate. That also keeps your tires from flattening on the bottom, so they don’t need to be replaced. But remember, if you have temporarily suspended the insurance coverage on your vehicle, you cannot drive it.

Protecting Your Car’s Exterior

Other parts of the vehicle can suffer too if it’s just sitting in one place for a while, particularly if it’s left outside.

If you can’t keep your car in a garage, covering it will protect the exterior paint and rubber trim as well as the interior upholstery and trim from sun and heat damage. But don’t use any old tarp as water is more likely to be trapped underneath leading to rust, as well as scratch the paint. Instead, buy a purpose-built cover suitable for your type of vehicle. If you can’t cover your car, be mindful of what’s overhead. Bird droppings and tree sap can ruin a paint job.

Be careful of the surface it’s parked on too; if you have the space on your property, you may decide to park it on the grass. However, permeable surfaces like lawns or dirt will allow moisture to get into the undercarriage and cause rust. Park your car on pavement or concrete, or at least gravel. If you’re an urban dweller and must park on the street, make sure you’ve got the right permits and obey any street signage.

Before you store the car, you might want to give it a thorough cleaning, including a wax and seal to protect the paint, and occasionally uncover it to give a quick spot clean, including the lights. It’s also a chance to do an inspection and do any simple maintenance, including checking the brakes, that can prevent major repairs down the road, as well as check for small animals that may consider taking up residence in the undercarriage.

Maintaining Your Vehicle’s Insurance

Some customers are getting a bit of a discount on their auto insurance during the pandemic because they’re only taking the car out for essential errands such as groceries. But while it may be tempting to suspend insurance on a vehicle completely, think again.

Your car can still be damaged while it’s being stored due to a fallen tree or other storm damage, or even another car if it’s parked on the street. Cancelling insurance altogether also creates a gap in your insurance history that can affect your premiums down the road when you decide to reinstate the policy, as well as your standing with your insurance company. Some insurers do offer specialized coverage for vehicles in storage. Otherwise, there are other ways you can reduce your premium temporarily during the pandemic, such as lowering your annual kilometre count.

If you do decide to reduce your car insurance coverage, be sure to notify your insurer or broker when you’re preparing to drive regularly again. Reactivating your coverage and taking preventative maintenance measures will help ensure you and your vehicle are ready to roll when you have to get back on the road.

Gary Hilson

Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has produced thousands of words for print and pixel about business and technology for a variety of publications and corporate clients. When he’s not tapping on the keyboard, Gary collects comic books, attends live theater, constructs Lego, and buys books he always intends to read.

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