Right now most of the country and a good portion of the world are stuck at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. With governments asking people to stay home and not venture out to work, restaurants, visiting friends, taking trips, and doing most types of shopping, there are a lot of cars sitting in driveways, garages, and on the streets. Luckily, this lockdown is only temporary, so the cars are only parked for a short period of time.
Some people might be wondering, are there any drawbacks or problems to parking a car for a longer period of time beyond a few weeks? Maybe you putting your car in storage because you are going away on a long vacation backpacking across Europe or you have a second car you are not using as often. Or maybe you have a motorcycle, boat, or other recreational vehicles that are being parked for the winter months.
Here is what you need to do or watch out for if you are not going to use a car or vehicle for several months.
Prevent Gas From Going Bad
Gasoline starts to go bad after 30 days as it sits around and absorbs air in a process called oxidation. You may have noticed this if you smelled old gas that smells “off”.
Your fuel system is not completely airtight. After a period of time, gas starts to form gummy solid deposits and separate into varnish. These gum deposits can clog up fuel lines, injectors, or the carburetor in older engines or small engines like those on lawnmowers.
Over time, hydrocarbons in the gasoline also start to evaporate, leaving behind a mixture that is harder to ignite. The end result will be difficulty starting, rough idling, stalling, poor acceleration, and engine misfires.
Most of the gas sold in the United States contains ethanol, which is hydrophilic, meaning it attracts water from the environment. Water and ethanol is corrosive, causing damage to fuel lines, aluminum engine parts, and rubber seals.
You can drain your gas tank for long term storage to prevent future problems. I do this with my lawnmower at the end of the season by running the engine until it dies. But for a car or motorcycle, it might be more trouble than it is worth.
There are two really simple things that you can do to prevent gas in your vehicle’s fuel tank from going bad:
Fill your gas tank completely full before you park it. This will reduce the amount of condensation forming inside the empty part of your gas tank.
Use a fuel stabilizer such as Sta-Bil for long term storage. Fuel stabilizer will keep your fuel fresh and prevent gum and varnish buildup. Sta-Bil is advertised to keep your gas from going bad for up to 24 months. I’ve used it when I stored my motorcycle for 6 months while doing some slow traveling.
Using a fuel stabilizer is extremely easy. You pour in the right amount of stabilizer for the size of your gas tank. Then fill up your tank. Run your engine for a few minutes, usually long enough to make it home from the gas station to ensure that the mixture gets circulated throughout the entire fuel system.
Right now gas is extremely cheap because of the drop in demand from everyone staying home. Should you get the bright idea to put a big storage tank in your backyard and stock up on cheap gas, you know what to do.
Air Up Your Tires
The air molecules in your tires are always trying to escape from inside the tire and join their friends in the outside world. Eventually, some of these air molecules succeed and your tires will gradually go flat. There is a car with a for-sale sign in the window at the local Walmart parking lot that has been sitting for so long, it has four flat tires.
Before you park your car for a while, make sure all your tires are aired up to the recommended tire pressure listed on the sticker on the side of the driver’s door. You can even add a little bit more air as long as you don’t go higher than the maximum tire pressure on the side of the tire.
Too little air pressure results in the tire deflecting more from the weight of the car and the ground. When looking at your tires from above, you can see this deflection with the rubber bulging out slightly. The result of this is a flat spot.
Flat spots during short-term parking are temporary. You are more likely to notice them during the winter when a warm, more pliable tire from driving is parked overnight in the cold. The tire retains the memory of the flat spot as it cools. The next time you use the car, the ride is slightly bumpy from the out-of-round tire until it warms back up.
Tires of cars that are parked for many months can become permanently flat-spotted and will need to be replaced unless you like the feel of driving on what feels like square tires.
To prevent permanent flat-spotting, you should move the car occasionally or get the tires off the ground with the help of some jack stands.
When I left my motorcycle in the garage for 6 months, I used a rear stand for the rear tire and a set of jack stands for the front to get the weight of the bike off the tires.
Keep Up With Battery Maintenance
We rarely think about our car’s battery. It’s hidden away under the hood and the only time we think about it is when we turn the key and nothing happens.
Car batteries are made to provide power to turn the starter and start the car. With each start, the battery discharges a little and then the alternator takes over and powers the car’s electronics while recharging the battery.
Batteries will naturally discharge over time as they sit. I recently bought a new motorcycle battery from online that had been sitting at the warehouse for 6 months and it read 12.40v or about 75% full on the voltmeter.
When you add in all the electronics in newer cars such as the ECUs, radios, clocks, that flashing light on your dash, anti-theft systems, aftermarket alarm systems, and GPS trackers, you place even more drain on the battery causing it to discharge faster.
Yes, you can jump start a dead battery and get you on your way. But excessively draining a battery or leaving it in a discharged state for a long time can permanently reduce the life of a car battery because lead sulfate crystallizes on the lead plates inside the battery. Once crystallization occurs, there is no way to reverse the process. Too much crystallization and your battery won’t be able to provide enough cranking power to start your engine and it will need to be replaced.
An average car battery can cost you between $70 and $140, and up to $200 for the more expensive ones.
When parking your car for a while, there are a couple of things you can do to keep the battery from dying.
When I left my car sitting for four months, I disconnected the negative terminal on the battery. To keep the loose cable from touching anything and causing a short and burning your car and house down, I wrapped the end in a plastic bag. I had to set my radio presets when I got back, but the car started right up.
The other option is to buy a trickle charger. Also called a float charger or battery maintainer, this device attaches to the battery and plugs into the wall outlet. It will keep the battery level topped up without overcharging the battery and boiling off the acid. One of the most popular brands is the Battery Tender. Once the battery is fully charged, the trickle charger will turn itself off.
Sometimes when you watch shows on car collectors’ garages, you will often see cables for trickle chargers running across the ground into the cars’ engine compartment. By using a trickle charger, the car will start up at the turn of the key no matter how long it was parked.
I use one for my motorcycle when I don’t ride it as often in the winter and because motorcycle batteries are smaller and don’t have as much capacity.
Plus, no one wants to be in a hurry to go somewhere and turn their key only to hear “click”. A little $20 investment can save you a lot of money by extending the life of your expensive lead or AGM battery.
How To Keep Your Car Looking New
When you leave a car parked outside, nature does a number on the paint. The best thing to do is to park your car inside the garage where it is away from the elements. If you can’t do that, consider using a breathable car cover. If neither of those options is possible, maybe because you have too much stuff in the garage, there are a couple of things you can do to preserve your car’s cosmetics.
The first thing you will want to do is wash your car and then apply a coat of car wax. The wax will prevent your car’s paint from fading, oxidizing, and discoloring. which are common effects from the sun and UV rays.
You can consider parking your car in the shade to prevent sun damage, but this then brings up the next problem… bird droppings.
I always try to park under trees to keep my car’s headlights from turning cloudy and to keep the paint looking new. Birds are always pooping on my car. I think it’s maybe because they are jealous they don’t know how to drive.
Bird poop is extremely acidic. It will eat through your clear coat and etch your paint if you don’t clean it off. The longer you leave the droppings on your car and the hotter the temperature is on your car’s surface, the more likely damage will occur. Bird poop also contains sand, gravel, and grit which isn’t good for your car’s finish.
If you see bird droppings on your car, wipe it off as soon as you can. Get a microfiber towel or some bath tissue and some water. You can also use a quick detailer such as Mothers Instant Detailer that can be kept in the trunk. Soak the bird poop a bit to loosen it up, and then gently blot it off to avoid scratching your paint and leaving swirl marks.
Clean Out The Interior
I’m not saying you treat your car like a trash can, but I’ve seen some messy cars. If you have fast-food wrappers and containers, candy, snacks, crumbs, drink cans, old newspapers, and such in your car, clean it out and do some vacuuming first before letting it sit. Food can rot, turn moldy, or attract rodents and bugs, leading to a bunch of issues you will have to deal with later.
You don’t want to come back and open the door to discover a messy, sticky, or smelly situation from everything being closed up for a while.
No matter how long you leave your car sitting at home, if you follow these quick guidelines your car will be much closer to getting back on the road when you get back. Like many things in life, if you plan ahead, you can avoid major costly problems later in the future.
What is the longest you’ve left your car parked? What are some things you’ve done to get your car ready when parking your car for a long time?