How Often Should You Start a Car When it Is Stored?by Chris Weis
Storing your car? Product guidelines and vehicle manufacturer's recommendations won't always help you understand what to do -- you also need to consider why, and for how long, you're storing it. You might be storing a vehicle briefly for a school semester. Or a car may sit idle for a year at a time at your vacation home. Preserving the longevity of a classic could involve extended storage. And how often you crank up the car can depend on the initial steps you took to put your "baby" to bed.
A car that is to be out of service for a few months may only require minimal preparations for the brief nap. Fuel stabilizer added to the tank should prevent any need for an alternative fuel source, fuel system cleanings or calibrations. Some means of maintaining the battery's state of charge can sustain its state of readiness for months at a time. Starting a car stored in this manner requires little effort, and intervals of two or three weeks may be the optimum time frame to prevent any spoilage. The car should be run long enough to achieve operating temperature and the engine should be revved lightly before shutdown. The temperature increase can help to dry condensation from the fuel system and crankcase, while the light revs drive errant moisture from exhaust components.
A car that awaits a vacation visits might be idle for a half of a year or more. For these longer stays, consider emptying the fuel system and removing the battery. The battery may be charged and installed, when needed. However, the acid level must be correct, or replenished with distilled water, before charging. Fresh fuel, possibly enhanced with a fuel system cleaner, can allow for full function after a few cranking attempts. The car should be run and test driven hours before any intended trips. Brakes and fluid levels should also be confirmed previous to travel of any distance. The car may benefit from a professional inspection and an oil change, if no specific provisions were made before bedtime.
Long-term storage may be required when there is no notion of when a car might be put into service again. The spark plugs may have been removed from the engine to add oil to the top of the cylinders. The fuel system, including the tank, may have sat empty for an extended period. A new battery might be necessary to provide sufficient engine cranking power, once the plugs are replaced and the fuel lines are checked for leaks. Flushing and filling the cooling system are best done with a running engine, but should be done as soon as reliable function is restored. Gearbox oils and brake fluids could need to be flushed and refilled as well, when rousing some slumbering steeds.
Cars, like humans, fall into disrepair when left dormant for too long. Condensation can form in crankcases and gearboxes, altering the chemical compositions of the derelict lubricants. Synthetic oils may prevent any serious harm to some submerged parts, but without circulation, offer no protection to higher and dryer surfaces. Rubber parts can become distorted and weakened from drying out over time. Suspension parts and tires can settle into a deformed version of the former selves when neglected. Occasionally starting the engine may forestall some failures, but a car needs to be driven regularly -- at least twice a month -- to keep these parts from drying out and crumbling, like stale toast.
- Basic car Care Illustrated, 2nd Edition; William Flerx et al
Chris Weis is a freelance writer with hands-on experience in accident investigation, emergency vehicle operation and maintenance. He began his writing career writing curriculum and lectures in automotive mechanics at New York Technical Institute. Weis has contributed to "Florida" magazine and written procedure and safety guidelines for transportation concerns.