COVID-19 and your car

Our cars haven’t been getting the usual amount of use over the past few months with so many of us heeding the guidelines to stay at home. They’re working from home or no longer have a job to drive to. Instead of weekly grocery runs, they’re ordering food and just about everything else online. Now, most neighbourhoods are full of parked cars and resemble carparks.

The battery loses its charge

It might come as a surprise, but your car is still working even when you’re not driving it. “Just like your laptop or mobile phone, your car battery is running the computer inside your vehicle at all times,” says Joe Akers, a Nissan director of operations. If you’re not going to be driving your car for a few weeks, Akers recommends placing your vehicle on a trickle charger. “These chargers continue to supply power to a car battery when the vehicle is not in use,” Akers says.

Oh, and don’t forget to remove the phone charger, dash-cam, and any other power-consuming devices plugged into the cigarette lighter port. “These devices slowly seep your juice, too,” notes Jesse Yuvali owner of Jesses’ Garage European Auto Repair.

Tyres get flat spots and lose pressure

Have you ever woken up with one side of your hair flat because you slept on it all night? The same thing happens when tyres ‘sleep’. They develop flat spots when you don’t drive. “The weight of the car constantly putting pressure on the same part of the tyres create a dent,” says Akers. It’s something you’ll definitely feel when you get back in the driver’s seat.

Tyres lose pressure when they sit too – about one to two PSI per month. “A quick spin around the block once a week will help avoid this problem,” Akers adds. Use a tyre pressure gauge to check the pressure before you drive it again. You don’t have to worry about making it to the petrol station to get air when you have a portable compressor at home.

Ants move in

The French fries scattered under the seat and almost-empty smoothie cup are secretly sending out invites to ants. “Remove all garbage, particularly drink cans, food, and sugary snacks as they will attract ants that will find a way to get inside,” says Yuvali. While you’re at it, take out your running shoes and gym clothes. If you don’t, the contents will slowly and quietly brew a stink fest for your return.

Fluids and oils go stale

The fluids in your car are essential for many components. For example, brake fluid is pressurised and gives you the power needed to brake. Without power steering fluid, it would take a lot of muscle just to turn the steering wheel. When a car sits for a long time, fluids get stale and can pool in certain areas. “Older oil won’t lubricate as fresh oil would,” says Yuvali.

The oil keeps the metal components lubricated, so you don’t get that ticking noise of metal hitting metal, or worse, the engine overheating. Run the engine every two weeks for about 10 minutes (or take a short drive) to keep things under the hood lubricated.

Seals dry up

Yuvali notes the air conditioning seals can dry out when you don’t drive your car, which leads to integrity issues, and you can lose freon. No freon means hot and sweaty car rides in the future. “If you rely on your AC system, it needs lubrication, which you can achieve by turning the vehicle and the AC on for ten minutes,” he says.

Consider your petrol tank

Petrol is a fickle thing in your tank. “If you leave the fuel tank near empty, it builds up moisture, which isn’t ideal,” Yuvali says. “However, if you fill up to the brim before parking it long-term, it will overflow if the weather gets warmer and the petrol tank expands. Additionally, petrol goes bad after a short time.”

If it’s sitting with half a tank, fill it up with fresh petrol when you start driving again. Or add an enzyme fuel stabilizer to the petrol to prevent it from going stale; think of it as a probiotic for your petrol tank.

Damage from tree sap

Autumn brings the arrival of leaves and tree sap. A very sticky substance released naturally from trees. If your car is parked in the street or a driveway under certain gum trees, you could find a sticky mess on your vehicle when you drive it again.

Gum sap is extremely sticky and difficult to remove. It can also be problematic when it comes to the paint, particularly if the clear coat is damaged already, Yuvali says. Remove it with a tree sap cleaner as soon as you notice it, because as temperatures warm up, the sap heats up, causing more paint damage.

Damage from bird poop

A weekly carwash removes bird poop before it can cause any deterioration on car paint, but when your car is parked under trees or where birds regularly perch, like power lines, a splattering of bird poop builds up quickly to an unsightly mess. Bird poo consists of uric acids, and that’s not water-soluble, which means it’s a nightmare to remove one spot, let alone dozens. Like tree sap, bird poop can penetrate the clear coat – the car’s protective layer.

Wash it off as soon as possible with car wash soap, not dish soap, which isn’t formulated for cars.

You still need car insurance

Yep, even if you’re not driving your car very much or not at all. The good news is some car insurance companies are promising discounts, rebates and deferrals. While each insurance company is responding differently to COVID-19, you can also expect providers waiving non-sufficient funds and extending the length of coverage as well.