A friend who doesn't drive her car much recently asked us if her car needs any different maintenance than one that is driven regularly.
We reached to Tony Molla, the Vice President of Communications for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, for advice.
According to Tony, "there's actually not a lot different about maintenance on a vehicle that is only driven occasionally. Even a few hundred miles a month is enough driving to keep things like the battery charged and avoid any problems with parasitic energy drains from the accessories."
“Your car is a machine,” Tony says, “and like any machine it needs regular maintenance to run properly. Following your owner’s manual is probably the most important thing you can do to keep your car running well over 200,000 miles.”
He adds, however, there are some things you should do periodically to make sure you avoid some potential problems due to minimal use:
1. Acids, moisture, and other contaminants can build up in the engine oil more quickly if the vehicle isn't driven long enough at normal operating temperature. "You should make sure you change your oil at least twice a year no matter what kind of driving you do," advises Tony.
2. If you do only drive a few hundred miles a month, make sure that when you do, the vehicle is operated for at least 30 minutes at normal temperature to help burn off those contaminants mentioned earlier.
3. Watch your tire pressure: Long periods of inactivity can cause flat spots on tires, particularly if they are low on air pressure. Regardless of whether you drive it daily or leave it parked frequently, it's a good idea to check your tire pressure at least once a month.
4. Check your wiper blades. You may not think of this, but rubber compounds like wiper blades and tires are subject to environmental degradation just sitting there. Things like ozone can attack the rubber, and heat and sunlight also take their toll, says Tony, who recommends you change your wiper blades at least once a year regardless of driving habits.
5. If you're going to be storing the vehicle, or know it won't be used for a month or two, Tony says you might want to consider filling the gas tank and connecting a trickle charger to keep your battery fully charged. "Modern electronic controls always draw a small amount of power to keep their memory," Tony explains. "These parasitic draws can eventually drain the battery. Some modern vehicles have built-in systems to prevent parasitic draw from completely draining the battery, but it's better to be safe than sorry," he adds.
6. Finally, make sure you have your vehicle checked at least twice a year by an ASE-certified technician to give it a once-over. You want to make sure things like drive belts, hoses, and other fluids are checked for signs of wear or degradation that warrants replacement. Doing this will catch small problems before they become large and expensive ones.