Maintenance tips for a virus-idled car

Stephen Williams, The New York Times

Posted at May 04 2020 10:34 AM

Maintenance tips for a virus-idled car 1
In an undated image provided by DG Classic Cars, a Lancia Fulvia Coupe in Italy. The little blue coupe’s journey shows how ordinary things played out in extraordinary circumstances. DG Classic Cars/The New York Times 

Every January during my early teenage years, my parents would fly to Miami to spend about 6 weeks in the sun. They’d leave the car — usually a Pontiac, one time a Cadillac — in our driveway in Boston, along with some instructions.

“Check the tires every week — make sure they’re not flat,” Dad would say. “Unlock and lock the doors and the trunk once in a while, especially if it snows or freezes, to make sure the locks don’t freeze. Start up the motor occasionally, let it run a couple of minutes, don’t flood the carburetor.” After a moment, he’d say, “You might wash it once or twice, but you won’t.” A postscript invariably followed. “Don’t drive it. I’ll know.”

He knew, but that’s another story.

The other advice, although I may not have followed it to the letter, was sage in retrospect, and worth repeating in these days of shut-ins and lockdowns, when many of us have ignored our vehicles, unloved and untouched, for the past several weeks, or months, or more.

Some of Dad’s tips, updated and amplified, are here, along with advice from experts:

— Tires. “At the end of the day, never forget that the tire is the only part of the vehicle that makes direct contact with the road,” says Pietro Berardi, head of Pirelli North America. “We recommend checking tires visually to see if there are any lumps or deformations caused by the car standing still for a long time, or by the weather conditions. Check also for damage, cuts, abrasions and the tire bulging — and ensure that the valve caps are tight.”

Tires lose air pressure if the car is left standing for a longish time, he added, or may develop flat spots; to prevent the latter, move the car a foot or two forward or backward every few days.

— Gasoline. Time is the enemy of gasoline in the tank, and a tank that’s only partly filled can collect condensation that can dilute the gas with water. Most experts say that even in a full tank, gas will start to deteriorate after about six months, depending on the weather. If it’s not possible to fill up, consider pouring in an additive like Sta-Bil (about $10), which can stabilize the fuel and help prevent condensation.

— Battery. Starting up the engine periodically can help to keep the battery charged, and there shouldn’t be an electricity drainage problem in just a couple of months, unless the car is being stored under extreme temperatures. If you’re planning a more extended stay in the garage, consider hooking up a battery trickle charger, which plugs into house current and maintains the battery, assuming it’s not completely dead to begin with. Before investing, check with your dealer or mechanic to find the appropriate device.

— Wash. “Wash your car regularly,” suggests Ryan Fulkerson, director of New Model Engineering for Nissan North America. “This helps to protect the paint, especially for vehicles parked outdoors.” Another option for protecting the exterior is a car cover; some are weatherproof and resistant to damaging ultraviolet rays.

About those door locks, and remember this for next winter, too: advises drivers to dip the door key in Vaseline, or squirt a bit of WD-40 or some readily available de-icer into the keyhole when the snow starts blowing and temperatures plummet.

While the sales showrooms of most car dealerships in New York are closed for the short term because of the virus, many dealer service bays, identified as “essential” businesses, are open. So for mobility problems that are beyond do-it-yourself fixes, that’s an option.