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How to keep your car healthy during coronavirus lockdown

Published Apr 11th, 2020 2:33PM EDT
coronavirus news
Image: Hans Blossey/imageBROKER/Shutterstock

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  • If your car is sitting due to the coronavirus pandemic, its health might be a concern.
  • Letting your car sit for weeks or months at a time can have devastating effects, and leave you with costly repairs down the road.
  • Drive your car weekly if possible, even if it’s just for a few blocks, and it’ll thank you.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

We’re all focusing on our health more than ever these days as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the globe. We’re sanitizing and distancing and doing everything we should be, but some of the dramatic changes to our daily lives could have consequences we don’t immediately realize.

Take your car, for instance. If you’ve been in work-from-home mode for weeks, your trusty vehicle has probably been sitting idle, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. As a timely post on Reddit points out, there’s a handful of things you should be doing to ensure your car remains in good shape when you’re not driving it daily to and from work.

This might sound incredibly obvious, but cars are made to be driven. Many of their complex systems aren’t designed to sit unused for weeks or months at a time. As you drive, your car maintains itself in many ways, from lubing internal components to ensuring gas lines don’t become stagnant or, worse yet, allow water to form inside the gas tank.

Here are just a few things that can go wrong if you let your car sit for too long without driving it:

  • A dead battery – As you drive, your vehicle’s engine charges the battery via the alternator. When the car sits for too long, the battery can slowly drain, leaving you with a car that won’t start.
  • Poor engine performance – If water condenses inside your fuel tank it will eventually settle at the bottom since it’s heavier than the surrounding fuel. When it’s sucked into the fuel lines, it can make your car chug or stall. This is especially true in cooler climates where condensation inside the tank can happen more easily.
    • Additionally, while your engine should begin to self-lubricate as soon as it fires up, leaving your vehicle sitting for too long can hinder this process. You may be forced to attempt to start the car multiple times before it turns over, and a significant “warm-up” period may be needed before the vehicle runs smoothly again.
  • Tire damage or uneven wear – It takes a long time for a tire to dry rot, so that’s not really a concern over the span of a few weeks or a month. However, that time is still enough for your tires to begin to change shape ever so slightly. Your car’s weight is always pushing down on the tires and after weeks of sitting still, they can develop flat spots, especially if the tires are older. Tires also gradually lose air over time. Upon driving, this can cause the tires to wear unevenly as they begin to return to their regular shape, potentially shortening the overall life of the tires.
  • Component breakdown – Many of your car’s components, from the A/C system to the fuel pump, are built to be used regularly. Fuel pumps are notorious for going bad after sitting unused for too long, and a fuel pump replacement can be incredibly costly.
  • Brake rust – If you’ve ever driven your car immediately after a few days of rain you may have noticed your brakes squeak and squeal for a little while afterward. Brakes rust incredibly quickly, and it’s the job of the brake pads to not only stop your vehicle but to keep the surfaces of the brake pads and rotors nice and clean. Rusty brakes can be dangerous and even cause damage if left to sit for an extended period of time.

What to do?

There are many other things that can potentially cause a problem for a vehicle left sitting for too long, from rodents nibbling on engine wires to insects invading the interior, but the best way to stop all of these problems in their tracks is to drive your car.

We’re all doing our best to socially distance ourselves from one another, but the nice thing about your car is that it can’t get sick from a virus. Occasionally firing up the engine and taking your car for a spin even just around your neighborhood should be enough to get it warmed up and keep it healthy. Make it a weekly habit if you can, and your car will thank you.