By: JOHN LATNER (Manager, GM Technical Training)
With shelter-in-place orders enacted across the country, people are driving less (or not at all) and only using their vehicles for essential outings. However, once things return to the “new normal,” vehicles need to be ready to transport drivers and passengers wherever they need to go, especially as people look to reunite with loved ones.
To help keep vehicles in running condition, what can you do to help reduce the impact of not driving your vehicle for an extended period?
Even though we’re only using our vehicles for crucial trips now, we need to make sure we’re doing what we can to keep them up and running. These steps can help ensure your vehicle will be ready when it’s time to get back behind the wheel and experience life outside your home.
Start up the car
A parked car today can result in future problems. Once drivers are back on the road and in the “new normal,” they will want their vehicles to run as well as they did before.
A quick and easy way to sustain a vehicle is to start it for just a few minutes. Even if there’s no destination in mind, drivers should take their vehicles for short drives to help keep everything running smoothly.
This helps maintain a vehicle’s engine, brakes, fluids and more. Starting a vehicle now can help ensure there will not be a dead battery later.
Maintain the vehicle battery
Vehicles that are not being used for an extended period of time are more likely to have a dead battery. This may also result in other permanent damage that occurs when batteries stand discharged for extended periods.
If a vehicle’s battery does discharge, it may be slow to start when a driver turns on the vehicle again later – or it may not start at all. Other consequences could include flickering display screens, dim interior and exterior lighting, and driving and vehicle performance concerns.
To ensure this doesn’t happen, drivers should take their vehicles for a short drive every couple of weeks and unplug any cell phone or tablet chargers. If drivers’ vehicles are parked in the garage, it is also recommended that they do not leave the key in the ignition or the key fob within 15 feet of the vehicle to help prevent battery drain.
Mitigate any brake issues
Extended time in outdoor storage may increase the corrosion and debris that builds up on a vehicle’s brake components. This can result in noise issues and, in extreme cases, premature brake wear. At times, more extensive corrosion can cause vibration or pulsation in the brake system due to brake rotor thickness variation. This usually happens when the vehicle is parked for long periods of time in humid conditions.
It’s good practice to drive around the block or neighborhood every couple of weeks and to apply the brakes several times. This practice not only eliminates the opportunity for rust to build up on the rotors, but also can help eliminate noise and premature brake wear. When vehicles have brake issues, drivers may hear squeaks, groaning and growling noises when brakes are applied, but this will likely diminish with driving. Other possible signs of brake issues include pulsation in the brake pedal when applied, momentary brake drag or brakes not releasing.
While driving, note any concerns with feel or noise. If brake noise or pulsation continues when the brake pedal is not applied or after driving a few miles, drivers should schedule maintenance at a local certified dealer.
Check the tire pressure
When a vehicle isn’t used for long periods of time, the tire pressure can decrease and result in flat-spotting. Flat-spotting occurs when a tire has been stationary under the weight of a vehicle for a long period. This can result in vibration issues while driving.
To mitigate potential flat-spotting issues, drivers should park vehicles on a soft surface, like grass or dirt. Before taking the vehicle out on the road, check the tire pressure to confirm it’s not too low. The vehicle’s owner’s manual will include the optimal tire pressure numbers for the specific vehicle.
If tire pressure adjustment isn’t practical, it is recommended that vehicles are driven every few weeks for a minimum of 10 minutes to warm the tires and help remove any flat-spotting. Drivers will know if they have flat-spotting if they experience a thumping noise, vibration in the steering wheel and brake pedal, or if the low tire pressure warning light turns on. If the vibration continues, drivers should schedule a service appointment with a local dealer to have the vehicle looked at and the tires balanced.
Go over vehicle’s fluids
While checking tire pressure, drivers should look at general fluids, including engine oil, windshield wiper, antifreeze and brake fluids. When vehicles remain parked for extended periods of time, the potential for fueling issues increases as well. However, gas-powered vehicles should not encounter any fuel-related issues if using top-tier fuel while being stored.
Before returning to normal vehicle use, it is recommended that drivers inspect under the vehicle for any signs of fluid leaks. Check washer solvent, transmission fluid (if possible), brake fluid, engine oil and antifreeze to ensure all fluids are at the recommended level.
Keep in mind, engine oil change service intervals remain based on time and mileage regardless of whether the vehicle has been stationary or driven regularly. As always, check your owner’s manual for crucial vehicle fluid information.
John Latner is Manager, GM Technical Training