How Often Should You Start a Sitting Car: Maintaining Vehicle Health in Prolonged Parking

Determining how frequently to start a car that isn’t used regularly is crucial for maintaining its condition. As car owners, we have to balance between keeping our vehicles in top shape and managing the risks associated with long periods of inactivity.

Whether your car is in long-term storage or simply not used daily, starting it periodically is an essential aspect of vehicle maintenance. This not only recharges the battery but also keeps key components like the power steering, transmission, suspension, and braking systems lubricated and functional.

A car sits idle, with keys in the ignition

Choosing the right balance can prevent common issues that may arise from leaving a car sitting for too long, such as battery drainage, tire deflation, and the buildup of moisture which can lead to rust and other forms of corrosion.

To avoid these problems, we need to consider the best practices for hibernation and storage maintenance.

It is often recommended that a car be started and driven around briefly but regularly—at least once a week—to reach its normal operating temperature and ensure that the moving parts aren’t succumbing to the effects of disuse.

Preparing Your Vehicle for Hibernation

When winter arrives, if our vehicle won’t be used for extended periods, it’s critical to prepare it for storage to prevent damage and ensure it’s ready to go when needed.

This preparation involves key measures focused on the battery, the fuel system and other fluids, and the protection of tires and suspension.

Taking Care of the Battery

Battery Maintenance:

  • To avoid dead batteries, use a battery tender or maintainer.
  • A trickle charger can also keep the battery at the correct charge level.

We connect a battery maintainer to the vehicle’s battery, which helps keep the charge without overcharging. It’s essential to keep the battery terminals clean to prevent corrosion.

Fuel System and Fluids Maintenance

Regular engine oil and coolant levels are vital for the car’s smooth start-up post hibernation.

Add a fuel stabilizer to prevent the fuel from deteriorating.

We make sure to top off the brake fluid and check if the power steering and transmission fluids need attention.

It’s usually a good time to consider an oil change, as old oil can contain contaminants that may damage the engine.

Protecting the Tires and Suspension

Proper tire pressure is crucial to avoid flat spots. Here’s what we do:

Aspect Action
Inflate tires to recommended PSI Prevents tire deformation and damage
Position on tire stands Reduces pressure on tires and suspension system

By keeping tires inflated to the recommended pressure level and using tire stands or moving the vehicle slightly periodically, we can protect the tires and suspension from long-term damage.

Storage Tips to Prevent Damage

Proper car storage is essential to prevent costly repairs and maintain your vehicle’s longevity. We’ll guide you through the specifics of choosing a suitable location, preventing rodent damage, and protecting your car’s exterior and interior.

Choosing the Right Location

The ideal storage location for your car is a clean, dry, and well-ventilated garage. This protects your vehicle from the elements and maintains a consistent temperature.

Using jack stands to relieve pressure from tires and suspension is wise.

Rodent and Pest Prevention

Rodents can cause significant damage to upholstery and wiring. It’s important to set traps and use disinfectants to prevent a pest infestation. Seal up any gaps to deny them entry in the first place.

Protecting the Car Exterior and Interior

Aspect Action Required
Paintwork Clean and wax before storage for an extra layer of protection.
Upholstery Use a quality conditioner on leather surfaces to prevent cracking.

Car covers are beneficial for both indoor and outdoor storage settings, guarding against dust and scratches.

Ensure the interior is clean and dry to prevent mold growth and upholstery damage.

Maintaining Your Vehicle While Inactive

When storing your vehicle for an extended period, the primary considerations are ensuring the engine stays healthy and the tires remain in good shape. Here’s how we can achieve that.

Regularly Starting the Engine

Engine Care Tips:

  • Start: Idle the car’s engine every couple of weeks for at least 10-15 minutes to allow it to reach its operating temperature. This heats up the engine oil, circulating and lubricating internal components, which helps prevent seals from drying out. Additionally, reaching operating temperature helps to evaporate any moisture that may have accumulated in the system.
  • Ventilation: It’s essential to start and operate the car in a well-ventilated area to avoid the build-up of harmful gases.

Avoiding Flat Spots and Other Tire Issues

Tire Maintenance:

  • Flat Spots: Regularly rotate the tires to avoid flat spots from prolonged pressure on one area. We recommend moving the vehicle slightly every few weeks if possible.
  • Inflation: Keep the tires properly inflated according to the manufacturer’s specifications to maintain their shape and structure.
  • Moisture: Parking the vehicle on a barrier, like a tarp, can prevent moisture from the ground affecting the tires and wheels.

Reactivating Your Vehicle After Storage

Before we attempt to start a vehicle that has been sitting, we ensure a thorough inspection and the correct jump-starting process. The goal is to revive the systems smoothly without causing additional strain or damage.

Initial Inspection and Checks

Upon returning to a stored vehicle, we first conduct a comprehensive inspection to assess its condition. Here’s what we focus on:

Battery: Check for a dead battery as it’s common with idle cars. If corrosion is present around the terminals, cleaning is necessary.
  • Belts and hoses: We look for cracks or wear. Brittle or damaged parts indicate that it is time to replace them.
  • Fluid levels and leaks: We verify all fluids are at proper levels and inspect underneath the vehicle for any signs of leaks.
  • Tires: The pressure in all tires is checked and adjusted to avoid flat spots or uneven wear.

After the visual and physical checks, using a battery charger to ensure the battery is adequately charged can be more beneficial than attempting to start the car with a weak battery.

If the battery is beyond charging, replacing it might be the only option. We also recommend consulting a mechanic for a professional opinion if there are any signs of severe wear or potential problems.

Effective Jump-Starting Techniques

If we determine the battery is weak but salvageable, we proceed to a jump-start using the following steps:

  1. Prepare both cars: We position the working car close to the one that needs a jump and ensure that both are turned off with keys removed.
  2. Connect the cables:
  3. First, we connect the red jump cable to the positive terminal of the dead battery and the other end to the donor battery’s positive terminal.
  4. Then, we connect one end of the black cable to the donor battery’s negative terminal and the other end to an unpainted metal surface on the engine block of the car with the dead battery.
  5. Start the donor car: We start the working vehicle and let the alternator charge the dead battery for several minutes.
  6. Try to start the other car: We attempt to start the previously dead car. If successful, the alternator should begin charging the battery through regular operation.

It is crucial to remove the cables in the reverse order of how we attached them, ensuring no sparks or short circuits occur. After the vehicle starts, we recommend driving it for at least 30 minutes to allow the alternator to charge the battery fully. If the car doesn’t start after a few attempts, there might be a need for a more in-depth repair, and it’s advisable to call a mechanic.

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