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Why Quarantine Could Be Bad News for Your Car

Don't ignore your car just because you aren't going anywhere.

by Chaya Milchtein
May 8, 2020 | Living

This article is part of Rewire's Coronavirus: Information You Can Use series.

Maintaining your car during a health crisis likely isn't at the top of your list. But not doing some of the basics now could cost you later — all for repairs that could have easily been avoided.

You'd think a car that isn't driven much would have fewer problems, but having worked in repair shops for years, I can tell you that's not the case.

Cars are made to be driven and used. When they sit, rust builds up, batteries drain, fluids don't function the way they should and the repairs needed once you start driving can be expensive.

Even if you are driving your car because you're an essential worker, some basics that have always been important are even more crucial now as you need your car to get to work on a regular basis. 

If your car doesn’t start

Dead batteries are one the most common problems I’ve been addressing recently.

If you're doing a good job staying put at home, you may find your car battery dead when you actually do need to go somewhere. Batteries can drain from sitting and they can also just go bad with age.

When your car doesn’t start, refresh your memory on how to jump start your car to make sure you're doing it correctly. It's likely been awhile since you've done it last. If you swap the cables or put them on in the wrong order, you can make a small annoyance into an expensive problem.  

Thankfully, batteries are fairly simple to replace and available for curbside pick-up from most major part stores. Do your research and learn how to replace yours if your battery might be on its way out.  

Hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius or Kia Niro hybrid actually have two batteries, the hybrid one and the traditional battery. Much like your standard 12v battery, hybrid batteries also need to “be charged” to remain properly operational.

“We are certainly concerned that more of our customers will experience future premature hybrid battery pack failure if their hybrid vehicles are left to sit long term,” said Shelbert Smith, a technician at Luscious Garage which specializes in hybrid repair. 

While traditional batteries aren't too expensive, hybrid batteries cost upwards of a thousand dollars. That makes it that much more important to properly maintain them during this shelter at home period. 

“The simplest thing a hybrid owner can do to ensure the health of their battery pack is to make sure they run their car once a week. This will make sure the battery has a chance to charge and does not fully dissipate," Smith said.

Even if work means you're still driving your car regularly, note that extreme heat can be just as bad for a battery as cold. As we move into heat waves season, don't disregard your battery as the possible cause of your car troubles.

DIY?

If you aren’t frequently driving your car right now, you can probably put off that oil change or other scheduled maintenance.

But make sure to still check your oil level. This is critical to your car's long term health. If your oil level gets too low you'll end up in the repair shop with an engine problem. 

Proper tire pressure is another important thing check that you can easily do yourself.

Tires that aren't properly inflated can wear down the tread faster, lower your gas mileage and decrease your car's maneuverability. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 700 people die every year in tire-related accidents.

Make sure you fill your tires to the recommended tire pressure indicated on the information label inside the driver's door or in your owner's manual.

If you are working from home or sheltering in place, proper tire pressure can also prevent those flat spots from developing on your tires.

Sanitize your car

Reports on the length of time that COVID-19 remains active on surfaces vary but the general consensus suggests it lasts for some length of time. Whether you're just using your car to go to the grocery store or you’re an essential worker going to work each day, sanitize your car often.

All high touch surfaces should be sanitized every time you get into your car. You enter your car by grabbing the outer handle, touch your steering wheel, window control, radio dials and maybe even seat adjustments.

A wet rag and Lysol spray or Clorox wipes — if you have access to them — should do the trick. 

Sanitize your car before and after any repairs are done, too. Before, to protect the employees that are handling the car. After, to protect yourself. 

Take care of your investment

If you read this article and get only one take away from it, let it be this. Drive your car at least once a week for 30 minutes or more, if local laws allow it. Even if it’s just driving another 10 minutes on your weekly grocery store run, you’ll be doing your car a favor.

If you have a good relationship with your mechanic don’t hesitate to call them if you are unsure of something that is happening with your car.

They will advise you on whether to bring the car in to have it checked out or if it could wait. They are in the business of protecting you and your car.

If not, don’t let the pandemic be a time that you stop taking care of your car the way you know you should. It’s more important now than ever to do the small maintenance you can do on your own. It’s worth the hassle. 

Chaya Milchtein
Chaya Milchtein writes about cars, culture and queer life. She empowers people to do the impossible and be authentically themselves. Follow her @mechanicfemme.
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