May 11

What to Do If Your Car Sits for A While

Auto Repair, Car Maintenance


Mark: Hi, it's Mark from Top Local. We're here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. Vancouver's best auto service experience. 22 time winners of Best Auto Repair in Vancouver and as voted by their customers. We're going to talk about what to do if your car sits for a while since that's happening a lot these days with COVID-19 shutdown in the world, essentially. So what happens when a car sits too long, Bernie?

Bernie: Well, a lot of times it won't start for one. Things tend to deteriorate. There's certain things you should do with your car to keep it going. I mean, keeping it running every once in awhile is a good thing for a car. There's no doubt about it. Running and driving is critical.

And you know, it may not make sense. You may have owned two cars and you don't need to drive one of them. You're paying money for insurance. You need to take that off. So the question is like, yeah what are the best things to do? And we're going to talk about that in this episode. 

Mark: Alright, you mentioned it might not start, so what's the best way to keep your battery charged if you're not driving the car?

Bernie: Well it's very dependent on where you live. So if you live in a house with a garage or somewhere, you can plug a battery charger in, the ideal thing to have would actually be a trickle charger that you keep on the battery all the time. A trickle charger, something that it'll put one or two amps of a current into the battery continuously and that's a good thing. Probably the best option. If you don't have that ability, of course say you live in an apartment with an underground parking lot with no plugs or outlets, probably, the best thing to do would be to actually start the car, run it, and take it for a little drive every once in a while.

And we can talk about that a little further down the podcast, but you kind of need to get creative. Ideally a charger's a good thing. If you don't have a trickle charger, maybe you have something that's got a little more power and maybe once a week you put it on for a day or so, or a few hours. Those are the options, but the key is to try to keep your battery charged.

Mark: So you mentioned driving the car, kind of obviously, cars are meant to move. Why is that so important? 

Bernie: Well, what happens is when a car sits, and especially if it sits outside, disc brakes tend to get rusted, because it's basically bare metal and moisture will get on it. Now, again, if you live in the Arizona desert, you probably won't get so much rust. If you live in Vancouver, where we are, it tends to rain a lot. Brakes tend to rust up. And again, you want to be driving it will wear that rust coat off the brakes. But also if left long enough tires actually will develop flat spots on the tires. Now this has to be left for quite a long time.

It's a good idea for the fluids to be circulated through the engine, through the transmission and moved around. So in an ideal scenario, if you could actually start your car up once a week. Drive it around, you know, warm the engine up, drive it around the block a couple of times. That would be the ideal thing to do. Now, of course, if you don't have insurance on the car, how are you going to deal with that? Maybe just starting it and running it, you know, moving it back and forth a little bit. It was a good thing. But let the engine warm up. Let it run for a little while. So the energy is actually restored back into the battery from starting. And whatever's been depleted from sitting. 

Mark: So what about the gas tank? How long can you let your car sit and not have a problem with your gas?

Bernie: Well, gas does deteriorate over time. And again, if you know that you're going to put your car, say, Hey, I'm going to store this thing for a year, the best thing to do is go fill the gas tank up. And there's an item called a fuel stabilizer. It's a good idea to add that to the gas because that'll prevent the gas from breaking down.

Gasoline only lasts for a certain amount of time and kind of tends to go rotten after a while. It stinks and smells bad. I was in a Volkswagen once, I don't know how long this thing sat, but the actual gasoline in the tank turned to tar and it basically made the vehicle useless. Again, that's an extreme condition. But if you know you're going to let it sit for, even maybe six months, fill the tank up full it. That also prevents moisture from building up inside the tank, and that can create a number of other problems. You don't want moisture in your fuel.

Especially modern vehicles don't have fuel filters like they used to in the past. Like there's a filter in the tank with the fuel pump, but it's not quite as sophisticated as it used to be at one time. So keeping clean fuel is really critical. 

Mark: And that moisture buildup is just from the temperature variation of nighttime to daytime that causes the air to condense liquid into whatever. Even on my brakes in the vehicle in the garage, I still get rust on my brakes.

Bernie: Well, exactly. And the other thing too, of course, is whenever you fill your vehicle up, I mean, I see this, you know, again, Vancouver, it rains a lot, but sometimes you pull into a gas station, it's not covered and you open the gas filler and you're filling it up. And I go, well, how many drops of rain are you actually getting into this gas tank? You think over a period of like five or 10 years is there's a bit of moisture that's going to end up building up inside the tank. So not a lot, but you know, it's enough that can cause a problem. 

Now, you know, gas tanks can rust out, but a lot of cars are plastic gas tanks nowadays. So, you know, rusting out might be an issue for your car and it may not be, but again, keeping the gas tank full, if you do have a metal tank, will prevent that rusting from occurring too.

Mark: You mentioned flat spots on tires, so should we check our tire pressure? Like what's going on with tires, that that's important? 

Bernie: So first thing about tires is that tires do loose pressure over time. The general sort of rule of thumb is you'll lose a pound a month. So if your tire is inflated to say 32 pounds, that's a factory pressure and you actually park it. And you leave it for six months, by the time six months has gone by, you'll probably have about 26 pounds of pressure in your tire.

And of course, when you go to drive it, that's actually getting kind of low. If you leave it for longer, the tire will get even flatter. So if you know you're going to store the car for awhile, it would be a good idea to have the tires inflated. And probably even overinflated would be a good idea because as time goes by, the pressure will drop.

I even read some article that suggested put 10 extra pounds pressure in the tire to keep them overly inflated, which will prevent flat spots. I don't know if that works or not, but it's an interesting idea. But the only tires I've really ever seen that are, you know, like where you can actually drive the car and you can feel thumping from flat spots or cars that have been sitting for five or 10 years where, you know, the rubber just, it's completely worn out. But again, make sure you have air in the tires. If you have a car that has a tire pressure monitoring system, of course, if your tire is low, it'll tell you and you should keep the pressure up. You certainly don't want the tire to go flat while while it's sitting, because that will definitely damage it.

Mark: Well, it happens in minus 30 as well. 

Bernie: Yeah, absolutely. So yeah, you want it again, you know, keep the air pressure up in the tires for sure. 

Mark: Is that more important with some of the high efficiency tires that are like on my, Honda, they're 44 pounds of pressure in the tire is the recommendation. So do they lose pressure, maybe more air loss per month? 

Bernie: You know, I really don't know. I'd have to kind of look at it and, you know, they say this rule of thumb of a pound a month, I mean, some tires will probably lose a little more and some will lose less. So, I would say, you know, the only thing I can comment to that is just make sure you have your 44 PSR, maybe even put 50, if you're going to let it sit. And, it will lose some over time. 

Mark: So one of the things I know you've said and we've talked about before, is that, you know, washing your car always seems to make it run better. You crazy person, you know, so, but why is that important when the car is sitting? 

Bernie: Absolutely. So if you parked your car clean and you're in an underground parking lot somewhere or in a garage, you know, where it's just going to get maybe a little light layer of dust, that's probably okay. But if you're parking outside where you know, you might get some tree droppings like SAP or fruit, like say a cherry tree or leaves dropping or bird crap.

Essential to wash that off. So keeping a car washed is really important and keep it clean. So again, it depends on where you're parking, but don't decide, Hey, I'm going to park my car, and Oh yeah, bird crapped on it you know, yesterday, don't leave that on. You're going to come back and find when you go to wash it, your paint is never going to be the same again. So those kinds of things are very hard on car paint. So it's essential again, to park your car clean and keep it clean. 

Mark: What about oil? We talked about gas. Does oil go bad sitting in an engine for a long time? 

Bernie: No not particularly. But you will get moisture buildup inside the engine. So if it's been sitting for a long period of time, it's probably a good idea to, and again, I don't have an exact timeframe, but it's probably a good idea to change the oil if the vehicle has been sitting for a while. Maybe run it for a while, you warm it up and then change it. But it isn't going to deteriorate like gasoline. Like oil doesn't go bad in the same way gasoline does. So the oil itself will be fine. It's just any moisture buildup in the engine that might be caught up in the oil could necessitate changing it a little earlier than usual.

Mark: Yeah. It's just not as volatile. Oil isn't as nowhere near as volatile as gasoline is. 

Bernie: No, not at all. And I guess while we're talking about that diesel fuel, I mean, diesel fuel again, is more of an oil than a, it's not, doesn't vaporize. So, but diesel fuel does deteriorate too, and you can actually get fungal growth in diesel. So you gotta be, again with diesel, you gotta be careful too, that some strange stuff can happen to the fuel in a diesel. But again fill the tank and take the precautions there with the diesel. But you know, with oil, no worries. 

Mark: So we mentioned that, you know, starting might be an issue, like what happens, how long, you know, if I'm just leaving my car for a week, is that an issue that with it starting or what's the timeframe? What are the kind of hidden parameters, phantom drains or things that we might not know about, that we might find out from sitting. 

Bernie: Yeah, well and again, you don't really know some of these things because if you drive your car every day, you may have a, you know, a larger parasitic drain than usual. And if you leave the car for a week, all of a sudden it's dead. Or it might reveal things about your car that you didn't know, like that battery that you thought was good and maybe isn't quite as good as you thought. 

I mean, I think like in any car where everything's in good condition, you should be able to leave it for two weeks to a month and it should just start up just fine. But in the real world, it's hard to know. But if you're leaving your car for a week between running it, that's perfectly fine. It's not an issue, even a couple of weeks. But you know, if you leave it sitting for a couple of weeks, again, like a good warmup and a good run with it would be a really good thing to do.

Mark: Okay. These all sound like really good ideas. Any further thoughts about how to take care of your car if it has to sit for a while. 

Bernie: You know, I think we've covered pretty much everything. If it sits for a very long period of time, best to get an inspection done on it because things like certain brake components can start leaking. So this is more than just, you know, the COVID-19 short shut down. This is like, if you're storing a car for a long period of time, then a really thorough inspection is definitely something that needs to be done. But the key is, you know, if you can get your car out, drive at, warm it up, run it for a bit, that's going to be the best thing you can do.

Mark: So there you go. If you need to look after your vehicle and you want reliable mechanics who are experts, world renowned now, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. You can reach them at (604) 327-7112 to book your appointment. You have to call and book ahead. They're always busy. Or check out the website, YouTube channel, Pawlik Auto Repair. Thanks for much for watching. We really appreciate it. Thank you, Bernie. 

Bernie: Thank you, Mark. Thanks for watching.

About the author 

Bernie Pawlik

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