Has your car been sitting in the garage, on the street, or in the parking lot for the last eight months?
Time to take it out for a ride.
The pandemic has forced millions of Americans to work from home, while many have lost their jobs and still others are trying to stay safe by not hitting the road.
But our vehicles are still aging all the same.
“A car parked for extended periods risks the battery losing charge, tires gaining flat spots, rubber components such as belts and wipers drying out, and critters taking residence in your engine compartment,” according to Consumer Reports.
The bottom line: Don’t assume your ride will be raring to go when you decide to hit the road again.
Here are six key car-maintenance tips during COVID-19:
1. Take a Sunday drive
Consumer Reports recommends driving your vehicle at least once a week for 20 minutes or more to keep the battery charged.
“Over time, your car’s battery can discharge and leave you needing to jump-start your car,” car-research site Edmunds reports. “You can plug your vehicle into a battery tender if you have one. Or if you know your car will be sitting for a long time, you can always disconnect the battery.”
Other vehicle components could also wear out if you don’t use them.
“If you park outside, this will also provide a chance to wear the rust off the brake discs and keep the calipers from seizing by using them,” the magazine says. “Driving is a good solo activity, and frankly, many people probably need to shake off some cabin fever.”
2. Clean the inside of your car
Don’t be surprised if your car starts to smell after months of sitting there all alone. That’s because food, snacks, drinks or used wipes that were forgotten could start to stink.
Vacuuming the carpet is a good idea.
“These steps can reduce the risks of mildew and unpleasant odors from developing,” Consumer Reports says.
3. Check your tires
When your tires are cold for extended periods of time, they can become deflated. Check their inflation to make sure they’re adequately pressurized.
“The biggest concern with tires is flat-spotting, which is when the weight of the vehicle sitting on one spot flattens out a portion of the rubber on the tire,” according to Edmunds. “A month of being stationary might be enough to cause problems. Low tire pressure and very cold weather can both contribute to the development of flat spots.”
Edmunds recommends “starting by checking your tire pressure and inflating them to factory specification. You can find manufacturer recommendations for tire pressures either on the placard attached to the doorsill of the driver’s door or in your car’s manual.”
4. Don’t use the parking brake
Certainly use the parking brake if you need to store the vehicle on an angled surface. But don’t use it for long periods of time on a flat surface.
“When left unused, brake rotors can begin to develop rust on the surface of the rotors,” Edmunds says. “If you leave your parking brake engaged for a long period of time, it can actually cause the brake pads to bind to the rotors. While this shouldn’t be a concern over a few weeks, if you know your car will be parked for a month or more we recommend leaving the parking brake off.”
5. Look out for pests
Vermin have a way of spotting vehicles that have been sitting around for a long time.
“Rats and other pests can cause real trouble for vehicles in long-term storage,” Edmunds reports.
“Take reasonable steps to protect your parking area from common pests, and if your car has been parked for more than a few weeks, we recommend popping the hood and taking a look for any evidence that wires or belts have been chewed on. Also keep an eye out for furry stowaways in your engine compartment and around the top of your tires in your wheel wells.”
6. Visit a repair shop
Repair shops are generally considered essential businesses, so they’re not subject to government-imposed shutdowns.
You should be able to visit safely with a mask and adequate social distancing.
But don’t assume that the repair shop is disinfecting your vehicle before it’s returned to you.
“Ask technicians to disinfect the car while you watch,” AARP recommends.