- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2020

As stay-at-home orders sideline motorists, automobile experts warn of a variety of problems including rust, flats and vermin that can befall inert vehicles.

Weeks of inactivity can lead to problems down the road, now that many states have begun easing coronavirus restrictions.

Mechanics say the first major remedy is starting and briefly driving vehicles at least once a week. Consumer Reports recommends driving cars at least 20 minutes a week to stave off a variety of ills, most prominently battery failure.

“We’re seeing a 30% increase [between April 2019 and April 2020] in calls in the Washington metro area with battery issues,” said John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for the car owners club AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Not running your car is the worst thing you can do to a car.”

Regular drives — even for short periods — can ensure rust is kept off brake discs, and calipers won’t seize.

“Oxidation [rust] can form on the surface of brake rotors after only a few days, particularly in a humid environment,” said Car and Driver senior editor Joe Lorio, writing for Kelley Blue Book. “The oxidation is not dangerous, but if left unchecked for too long, it can affect brake-pedal feel due to difference in texture between the oxidized sections of the brake disc and those that were under the pad and are therefore free of rust.”

Gasoline, too, needs to be expended, as residue can build up. Moreover, a once-a-week drive for a vehicle can prevent degradation in fluids for brake lines. And keeping oil tanks filled to the brim helps as cars sit over long periods to prevent moisture build-up from infiltrating fuel systems.

But an idle car has other concerns beyond its mechanical parts. Edmunds.com, a car buyer’s guide, recommends drivers monitor tires for flats, which can develop after a month’s time of a car sitting.

“We recommend starting by checking your tire pressure and inflating them to factory specification,” said Will Kaufman, writing for Edmunds.com. “You can find manufacturer recommendations for tire pressures either on the placard attached to the doorsill of the driver’s door or in your car’s manual.”

Another common foe to cars and trucks neglected for weeks can be infestation of mice, squirrels or rats that will chew on wiring, causing trouble to power steering lines or hoses. Car experts encourage popping the hood to look for any frayed belts or wires and keeping an eye out for pockets of fur in wheel wells or engine compartments.

A car stored in a garage, on a street or in a parking lot should be cleaned regularly. In states where winter systems have lingered, removing salt, brine or dirt from a car before storing it for a long time can prevent later damage. Moreover, food or garbage inside a car can be tempting nourishment or shelter for ants and other bugs.

As the World Health Organization has noted that the coronavirus can exist on surfaces for extended periods of time, motorists using a car are also encouraged to wear gloves and a mask. And especially when visiting a service shop, or picking up carryout food, rolling down windows only slightly to pay or speak is suggested. Health experts suggest disinfecting credit cards before putting them away.

Finally, once a car is on the road, motorists are encouraged to be wary of reckless drivers. With fewer motorists, legal authorities are reporting a rash of speeding.

“There’s another pandemic right now,” said Mr. Townsend. “Inveterate speeding. It’s a disturbing trend, and we don’t know what’s causing it.”

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