Stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic greatly restricted the movement of people, and drastically reduced how often they drove their car. The question now is whether the reduction in car travel will be a permanent one, especially if we get another wave of the coronavirus. Will we ever go back to pre-pandemic driving levels?
“It is still early to measure the long-term impact of COVID-19 on miles driven,” says J.F. Champagne, president of the Automotive Industries Association of Canada, in an interview. “We expect more people to work from home and no longer commute to work.”
It is likely that more cars will be sitting idly on driveways or in parking garages for longer stretches of time, interrupted by sessions of activity. If a vehicle isn’t driven regularly that will ultimately impact its performance and reliability, says Jamie Levin, vice-president of corporate communications of TBC Corporation, which owns Midas, in an interview.
Here are the parts of your vehicle that could be damaged if you’re not driving it for longer periods:
Today’s vehicles have computers that are always operating. If a car sits idle for too long, the battery might die.
If the fuel tank sits half full, that could lead to condensation in the tank. That can cause damage if water is pumped through the fuel system and could lead to rust through the system and in the engine.
If a car sits for too long, the oil can deteriorate. Don’t wait too long between oil changes. Replacing your engine oil and oil filter at least two times per year is best, says Rui Silvestre, Master Mechanic High Park in Toronto, in an interview.
Rust can start to form on the brake rotors if a car sits idle. That will affect its braking performance. It can also lead to premature wear of other brake components, says Silvestre. That’s especially true if it’s parked outside.
Vehicles that sit too long can develop flat spots on the tires. Maintaining proper tire pressure helps improve vehicle performance and gas mileage, so you should check that on a weekly basis. Silvestre recommends purchasing a hand-held tire pressure gauge.
Exterior and interior
Rust can form if grime and dirt builds up on the car’s exterior over time. Watch for rodents making your vehicle their home, especially during the colder months. Common areas for nests are in the air filter box, the cabin air filter box and under the engine covers. Make sure the interior is clean and free of food debris.
So, what’s the best advice to keep your car in tip-top shape? Silvestre says a vehicle be started at least once every seven days and it should be driven for at least 15 to 20 minutes.
“Starting your vehicle is simply not enough,” he says.
Just that short drive – ideally at higher speeds although it’s not a must – will help protect your car from damage. It will help prevent flat spots on the tires and it will recharge the battery. Lubricants will flow throughout the major components and brakes will continue to operate safely.
Even if you don’t have a particular destination, go for a brief drive at least once a week. Your car will thank you.