11 Things to Do to Maintain Your Car While You're Not Driving It

Idle Action


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Cars Parked Driveway

Idle Action

The coronavirus crisis and the self-quarantining orders it led to are changing the way Americans live — and it's certainly taking a lot of miles off their cars. For drivers, less wear and tear on their vehicles and less money spent on gas might be welcome changes, but just because you're not using your car doesn't mean you can forget about it altogether. It needs to be maintained, and these steps can be important parts of that.

Related: 18 Car Expenses That Are Really Worth the Money 

Keep it Covered …

Keep It Covered …

The best thing you can do for a car that's sitting unused is to store it in a closed and protected garage or under a carport. If that's not an option, an inexpensive car cover is a perfectly acceptable alternative that will go a long way toward protecting it from damaging debris and the elements. The OxGord Executive Storm-Proof Car Cover is highly rated (and $70 from Amazon).

… and Keep it Covered

… and Keep It Covered

In this case, coverage is more figurative than literal, but it's important not to let your insurance lapse. If you do, you might find when you unfreeze your policy that your premiums have been raised. Also, if you have comprehensive insurance that you cancel in the interim, you won't be covered in the event of vandalism, theft, or damage from the elements such as flooding.

Related: 10 Things You May Not Realize Car Insurance Covers 

Drive It Once

Drive It, or at Least Start It, Once in a While

Whenever you can, start the engine and let it run for a few minutes or, if possible, it's even better to drive around the block a few times. This will keep your battery charged — if it sits cold too long it will eventually die — and circulate oil to lubricate all the critical systems. 

Fill 'Er Up
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Fill 'Er Up

It might feel counterintuitive to top off a car you don't plan to drive, but a full tank of gas can prevent destructive moisture from building up in your tank. It will also keep the gaskets and seals from getting dry and brittle.

Consider a Fuel Stabilizer
Keep it Clean

Keep It Clean

If you let your idle car get caked with dirt, grime, bird droppings, and everything else the world throws at it, it can degrade the paint and expose the vulnerable metal underneath. If you're about to store the car — even in a garage — get it cleaned first. If you're leaving it outside, wash it periodically.

Change the Oil
Waranya Sawasdee/istockphoto

Change the Oil

This one applies only to medium- to long-term storage, but if you're planning to keep your car in storage for three months or more, change the oil first. If your oil is old, it's filled with dirt, sludge, and contaminants that can damage parts and critical systems.

Related: This Spring Car Care Checklist Could Save You Hundreds 

Keep Out Unwelcome Guests

Keep Out Unwelcome Guests

This, too, applies only to long-term storage of three months or more, but if your car will sit unused for a while, plug up your exhaust pipe and air intake with steel wool. This will keep shelter-seeking rodents and other pests from setting up shop inside your vehicle. If you take this step, it's absolutely crucial to remove the blockage before you start it again.

Fill the Tires
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Don't Use the Parking Brake
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Don't Use the Parking Brake

If you're storing a car for a long time — more than one month, for example — don't engage the parking brake. It's possible for the brake pads to fuse to the rotors, which is bad news. If it's necessary, get a set of cheap tire stoppers instead ($19 from Amazon).

Run a Quick Checklist Before You Hit the Road

Run a Quick Checklist Before You Hit the Road

Once it is time to put your wheels back into action, follow a few steps before you hit the road. Check the tire pressure and inflate or deflate tires to the proper PSI. Make sure the windshield wipers aren't dried out or cracked, check your fluids, and wash the car one more time. Finally, open the hood, look for rust, frayed or disconnected cables, and any evidence of rodent or pest damage.