Is it bad to let your vehicle sit in the driveway during the pandemic?

By | April 8, 2020

TORONTO — As Canadians hunker down indoors and wait out the pandemic, their vehicles may be at risk of having problems down the road if they’re left sitting idle for too long.

While it may seem like a good idea to leave the car in the driveway if there’s nowhere to go and to save money on gas, experts say that could be a recipe for a malfunctioning vehicle when the time comes to take it out again.

Kristine D’Arbelles, senior manager of public affairs for the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), says that people should aim to take their vehicle out for a drive at least once a week.

However, for motorists who have an older vehicle she said it may be a good idea to take it for a spin even more often than that.

“You’ll have to kind of understand in what state your vehicle is, particularly the battery, because that’s the toughest part right now and that’s the thing that could go especially in older cars,” she told CTVNews.ca during a telephone interview from Ottawa on Wednesday.

D’Arbelles explained that if left unused for too long, the vehicle’s battery could die.

“You actually need to go around for a drive and drive it for 20 to 30 minutes for the battery to go back to its full charge,” she said.

While the Canadian government hasn’t banned driving or publicly released any sort of guideline as to when it is acceptable to drive during the pandemic, the overriding message from top government officials has been to stay indoors and practise physical distancing.

Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Kerry Schmidt was more direct in a recent interview with CTVNews.ca, saying it’s not OK for people to leave the house for an aimless drive.

John Wilson, the general manager and lead technician for the Toronto auto repair shop McDermott Motors Tirecraft, said that because people are only supposed to leave their homes to buy groceries or visit the pharmacy, they’re likely not driving their vehicles for long enough to recharge its battery.

“If you’re doing these short journeys, it’s going to kill the battery,” he said.

To avoid this, Wilson suggested that people go out and idle their vehicles in its parking spot for 15 minutes, at the very least. He also said batteries tend to last five to six years so people with vehicles that have older batteries should take extra care to make sure they are charged.

“The more you charge it, the longer it will last,” he said.

While Wilson said it was OK to turn on the vehicle in its parking space to charge it, D’Arbelles said that it’s better to take it for a longer drive around the neighbourhood to ensure the battery is fully charged.

“If you think about the amount of stuff in some of the modern vehicles, it’s not just like a clock and a radio anymore. It’s a clock, it’s the radio, it’s the infotainment system, it’s every tiny little sensor that you have in your vehicle,” she said. “They all draw from the battery.”

D’Arbelles also explained that moving the vehicle every week will ensure the tires don’t lose air and develop flat spots if they’re left unmoved for a long time.

“If you think about how heavy a vehicle is, it’s not light at all and if it’s sitting on concrete, you’ve got the full weight of the entire car and it’s left in one stationary position. Your tires can become deflated, they can get flat, they can warp you can get bubbles and all that kind of stuff,” she said.

For those who do notice bubbles or flat spots in their tires, D’Arbelles warned against driving the vehicle and said to have it towed to a repair shop instead.

“If you are noticing any imperfections on your tires, your best bet is to have that tire replaced,” she said. “Don’t drive it because you can burst your tire and that can be really dangerous.”

Another way to maintain a vehicle that’s being used less is to wash it regularly, Wilson said. He said that if the vehicle is dirty, especially if there’s still leftover salt from the winter on it, drivers should make sure to clean that off to avoid rust.

Finally, D’Arbelles said moving the vehicle on a regular basis may act as a deterrent to unwanted inhabitants, such as rats or squirrels, they may take up residence in the vehicle’s hood or engine if it’s left abandoned for too long.

“Take a quick peek under the hood, that tends to be the most likely place that a rodent would want to make their warm little nest, or underneath the vehicle,” she advised.

Wilson said rodents can leave quite a mess because they like to chew through the coating on the wires so he suggested spraying a mouse or rat repellent around the car as an extra precaution.

With files from Jennifer Ferreira

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