How to care for your car while living in isolation

Tips from RACQ’s Technical and Safety team to make sure your car is fit to resume normal service when you are.

While we’re all preparing for the prospect of a period of forced isolation, not too many people will have thought about the implications this will have for their cars.

Batteries discharge over time

A fully charged battery will typically last many weeks with no real issues.  However, most batteries subjected to the stop-start and short trips of typical city traffic won’t be fully charged. This sort of use is hard on the battery and can shorten its life but for most, the first sign of trouble will be that it hasn’t retained sufficient charge to start the car when needed – what most of us know as a “flat battery”.   The solution is what’s called a “smart” or “maintenance” charger.  These will replenish the battery and then switch to a “maintenance” mode to keep it in peak condition. And the best thing about them is they can be left on the car the whole time it’s in storage – a set-and-forget battery maintenance solution.    

Fuel system issues

Most people don’t realise that petrol has a “shelf life”.  It’s typically about three months under ideal storage conditions. Old and degraded fuel will cause hard starting due to the loss of its very carefully formulated volatile components.  In extreme cases, where stale fuel has been left in the tank for a long time, damage to metal and rubber components is also possible.   A car’s petrol tank is not an ideal long-term storage facility so it’s probably a good idea to keep only a small amount in the tank and to top it up with fresh fuel when the car is put back into service. Also consider one of the commercially available fuel stabilisers that claim to lengthen the life of stored fuel. 

Tyres

Given how tyres get treated, they are one of the most durable of a car’s components, and most people don’t give them a thought until they go flat or wear out. But they do need a basic level of care. If storing the car outside, cover the tyres if possible, to reduce the effects of sunlight. And before storing the vehicle inflate them to a pressure slightly higher than the car’s tyre placard recommends.  This will assist in maintaining adequate pressure while stored.  It also isn’t unusual for tyres to develop flat spots while standing, however don’t be too concerned about this as they will quickly resume their proper shape when driven.     

Servicing

Even if you aren’t driving your car, the service clock is still ticking.  Service schedules are based on a combination of time and distance, so even if the car isn’t being used, it will still need to be serviced in accordance with the manufacturer’s requirements. 

Where to store your car

A closed garage offers the best protection, but an open-sided carport is better than no cover at all.  If you must store your car outside, avoid under trees as leaf litter and debris can build up, staining the paint and causing rust.   Car covers are an option, even indoors, as they assist in keeping dust off, but they may not be a great idea outside as movement caused by wind can very quickly cause the cover to wear through paint on panel edges and corners.  If you do decide to use a car cover it’s a good idea to regularly remove it to allow any condensation to dry to prevent rust. 

What about running the engine occasionally?

While this will to some degree keep most things in working order, a better option would be to drive the car every couple of weeks as this “exercises” all working parts rather than just some.  If you do decide to run the engine be aware of the dangers of exhaust gas in enclosed spaces. If it’s a diesel fitted with a Diesel Particulate Filter, running it isn’t a great idea as this sort of use does not provide the right conditions for DPF regeneration when needed and you can be sure you will eventually have problems.