Car care during coronavirus Q&A: Should I run my car during lockdown?

March 26, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic reaches its peak and more states are imposing shelter-in-place restrictions, most vehicles are hibernating in garages or on the street. How long can a car sit before it is negatively affected? What sort of exercise should it get? Does it matter?

Most newer vehicles won't need the more extreme measures taken by snowbirds who winterize or store their vehicles for up to four months. Yet there are practices we can borrow from them and steps we can take to make sure cars run when things get back to normal.

We spoke with David Bennett, manager for repair systems at AAA, and tapped into his 33 years of automotive experience to get a handle on what needs to be done.

The Car Connection: What should owners do with vehicles that are sitting during shelter-in-place restrictions?

David Bennett: In the short term, there's not a lot you need to do. But I would hook up a battery tender to stabilize the battery and maintain an equal state of charge so you don't have to jump it later.

TCC: What about keeping the fluids clean?

DB: Gas won't go bad in a few weeks, but if you want to be cautious, you can add fuel stabilizer (like Sta-bil) to a full tank of gas and drive it around a little to mix it in. If you haven't had the oil changed in a while, you can do that. An oil change will get good clean fluid going through so nothing will rust up or get contaminated. That's very rare with today's fluid types, but it could provide peace of mind. 

TCC: Should the vehicle be exercised on the highway, so to speak?

DB: That's not as important as in the carbureted days. Of course, regular running of the vehicle is better than it sitting. Taking a drive once a week around the neighborhood might give you a nice view and it's good practice of social distancing. It wouldn't hurt. Even if you wanted to run it in place for a couple minutes to get everything running that would be OK, too, to be on the cautious side. 

TCC: At what point should owners start taking their cars out?

DBThere’s not really a rule of thumb there. If you know it’s going to be three weeks or greater, then I would put fuel stabilizer in, hook up a battery tender. Something I would do is make sure there is no moisture getting inside. Keep it in a cool or dark location, if you can, and maybe put a desiccant in there to collect moisture so you don't get mold or mildew forming.  

You also may want to wash the exterior to make sure you don't get bugs or anything over time that can do damage to the paint. If you're in a rural area prone to squirrels, chipmunks, or mice making homes in your car, you could use steel wool to cover any accessible inlets like the tailpipe to keep them out.

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