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How long can you leave a car without starting it? This is one question I asked myself repeatedly on days when I was too lazy to wake up and rev my car during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The pandemic has shown us that we don’t need our cars as much as we think we do. With our trips to the grocery store limited to going to buy just the essentials, to cutting off our visits to our friends and family, don’t get me started on working from home as many offices have come to realize we don’t need to show up to work to be able to get work done.
This only means that our big boy and girl toys may have to be parked without starting for long periods moving forward because we don’t know when life will go back to what it used to be.
I know for sure that many of us have planned our vacations post Covid-19, this means many cars will still have to sit idly for some months without starting.
Now, how long you leave a car without starting will totally depend on the condition of your car’s battery. Most modern cars with a somewhat healthy battery should be able to last at least 2 weeks. But, of course, there are also other things to consider, which we’ll look at below.
So, let us dive into this topic carefully and learn a thing or two about what happens when a car sits too long.
Why Are You Not Starting/Driving Your Car?
It is easy to blame Covid-19 for every bad thing that happened in 2020; of course, it is the bad guy, but let us objectively talk about this.
Why are you not starting your car?
There are many reasons why people leave their cars without starting it. Let us look at some of these reasons.
1. Vacations/business trips
Many people travel at least once every year for vacations or business leaving their cars parked without starting for long stretches of time. I for one have to go on vacation for at least three weeks in the summer.
2. Getting your car before getting a license
If you belong to this group or were in this group, please indicate in the comment section, we promise not to judge. This can be a reason for leaving a car parked without starting for long. Make sure to pass your driving test before you move that car guys!
People who have gotten in an accident or for one health reason or not may have to have their cars sitting idly for long stretches of time before they can finally get to drive again.
Even worse is the fact that some people may die and leave their cars behind without no one to use them.
Whatever your reason for considering leaving your car or even if you have left the car without starting it for long, continue reading as we have a lot to tell you about how long you can leave your car without starting it.
What Happens When A Car Sits Too Long?
To put succinctly, the car battery will die. And when you finally want to drive the car, you will either be required to recharge the battery or in some cases, you will end up buying a new battery.
Even when a car is turned off, lots of its features will still need the power to function properly, such as keeping the alarm awake, remote control operation, auto-siren function, sensing any collisions, detecting car theft, etc.
All these require the battery to function and when the battery isn’t been charged, they’ll drain it. However, older car models used to have a longer battery life as they don’t have all these bells and whistles.
But with newer models equipped with new gadgets and different interesting features, the battery doesn’t last longer when the car isn’t regularly in use.
But apart from the battery, a lot of things can really go wrong when you let your car sit for too long, some of the issues you may have to deal with include:
- Flat and brittle tires
- Seals and gaskets getting brittle
- Fuel gumming up
- Engine oil deteriorating
Therefore, whether you want to know what happens when a car sits for 2 years or any number of years, the fact is that leaving a car unused for a year and more will definitely affect it in several ways, in most cases.
How Long Can You Leave A Car Without Starting It?
First of all, leaving a car for 2 months or more without starting it will most times get the battery drained as explained earlier.
But there is no particular time span to keep an engine off. I have seen some cars come on after sitting idly for 15 years without starting, and some newly bought cars parked for less than a month refuse to come on.
So, there is no definite answer to the question of how long a car can stay without starting. A well-maintained automobile engine can be left unused for some time. There is no particular timespan to keep an engine off. Car maintenance is the key fact.
Some cars can stay years while others can stay only a few days. it all boils down to how the car wants to respond. It is safe to say that whether a car will start or not start depends on several factors that we’ll be discussing below.
Things That Will Affect Your Car When Left For So Long
Some of these facts below should be considered before leaving your car parked for a long time without driving it.
Type of Car/Model
Some people argue that modern cars with all its features have issues keeping idle for weeks. They claim that newer cars have more battery-draining features than their older counterparts.
These newer cars come with alarms systems and security chips and many other features that run constantly whether the car is in use or not. Other people claim some of these features have little or no effect on how long your car can stay without staring it.
How long have you left your modern car without starting it and did it come on when you tried starting it?
Battery health of the car
The battery of any machine is an important factor to consider at every point.
The health of your car battery greatly determines whether your car will come on when you leave it without starting it for long periods.
Many times, we don’t know that our car batteries have become weak because when the car is constantly in use, a device known as an alternator charges the battery as it is being driven.
When the car is left for a while and the battery isn’t getting charged, it discharges and causes the car not to come on.
The brand, quality, and the number of years a battery has been in use are important factors to consider before leaving your car parked for long periods without starting it.
Before leaving your car for long periods of time, make sure the storage conditions are considered carefully and storage space is as conducive as possible.
The amount of moisture and dust in the environment should be kept at the lowest minimum. Also, beware of car damaging rodents like rats. Be sure to keep them at bay, they can destroy very important things in the car that can take a lot to fix.
It is advised that you take out the battery or disconnect the battery terminals before you leave your car for a long time. If you are to do this, please check in with your mechanic to be sure it is suitable for your kind of car.
The Fuel in your car
The type of fuel a car uses is also to be considered before leaving the car for long. If you think you wouldn’t be starting your car in a while, be sure to drain the petrol or fuel inside the fuel tank completely.
As it may cause a bit of a problem if you let it sit for too long. When I say sit, I don’t mean for three weeks, this only applies if you are to leave the car sitting for up to five or six months.
Natural occurring factors such as weather can also affect how long a car can stay without being used. For instance, it is advised to start your car more often during the winter than in the summer. Guess cars get cold too.
I kid, we talked about keeping moisture at a minimum when storing your car earlier. There is a lot of moisture during winter for obvious reasons.
Car maintenance pre-parking
A well-maintained car or engine can be left unused for a long time, more than three months in many cases. The way you handle your car pre-leaving it will play a major role in how it will respond when you finally decide to use the car.
Make sure you take your car for regular checks, change the oils when due, and be sure everything is in perfect condition before you leave the car. An illness left untreated becomes worse, the same applies to your car.
How To Prepare Your Car For Storage
We have looked at what can happen when you let your car sit for long without starting it and also a few things that might affect the car’s performance.
But we won’t stop there, we’ll also discuss some of the necessary precautions you could take to protect your vehicle and keep it working perfectly fine after it’s been parked for months – and even years.
Keep your battery charged
One of the best ways to protect a car battery from dying is to hook it up to the right charger when not in use. Now, there are basically two types of battery chargers — one is meant to maintain a charged battery and keep it running, while the other is meant to bring a dead battery back to life.
I’d suggest you buy a trickle charger or battery maintainer, which are chargers you can plug in and connect to your car the entire time it’s parked. They can be purchased at any auto parts shop, hardware store, or Amazon.
The chargers are designed to send a slow, steady stream of power to the battery in order to maintain its charge.
Add new fluids
If you intend to leave your car longer than a few months, it’ll be wise to change the fluids. This is primarily because used engine oil, power steering fluid, and brake fluid trap some contaminants that could eventually cause problems to your vehicle.
But when you add brand new fluids to the car before parking it, your auto will have a better chance of avoiding any future damages.
Add fuel stabilizer
Adding a chemical fuel stabilizer to your gas tank will help keep your gasoline from denigrating. We recommend products like STA-BIL, which is designed to keep your fuel fresh for up to two years. You can get it from Amazon or any auto parts shop near you.
Ensure to measure the correct amount of stabilizer as shown in the instruction manual. Then pour it in your fuel tank and top up the tank with petrol.
Remember to read and follow the instructions on the fuel stabilizer container.
Park it in a good environment
We highly advise you to leave your vehicle in a controlled environment like your garage if you plan to park it for a long period of time.
You can also purchase a car cover to prevent dirt and moisture from staining your car if you don’t have a garage. You also want to avoid parking on grass as the excess moisture beneath the car can stimulate rust.
Protect the tires
To prevent flat and brittle tires, consider putting your car on top of blocks. This can be achieved by jacking the vehicle up, supporting it with jack stands, and putting blocks underneath it afterward.
The idea is to take the weight off your tires in order to avoid tire deformation and damage.
Wash your car
Give your baby a good wash before parking it. This is because getting rid of all the dirt and other contaminants, such as road salt and dust, will help prevent paint damage and rust.
And if you’re in an environment with a high tendency of rust, you may also wish to apply a vehicle undercoating or any other rust-protection product.
Mouse-proof your car
It’s also a good idea to add some mouse repellent products inside and under your car to keep rodents away.
Some of our recommended options are mousetraps, electronic sound deterrents, and scent deterrents.
Don’t engage the parking brake
While it’s always advisable to use your car parking brake whenever your vehicle is parked, it’s not a good idea to apply it when leaving your car for an extended period.
This is because the parking brake shoe can fuse with the rotor or drum due to rust, leaving you stuck and frustrated when you finally want to move the car. If your vehicle is parked where it could roll back or front, simply use a block or wheel chock behind your tires to prevent it from rolling.
How To Save Your Car Battery When Not in Use
It is advised that you disconnect the car battery, apply gel on battery terminals, and keep it in a safe and clean place. I have stated the need to check with your mechanic before disconnecting your car battery as this can cause some issues for some cars.
Make sure to check that your car battery is properly fitted and all the cables are in order before you start the car when you finally decide to. Improper cell connection can result in a short circuit that damages the battery.
But like I mentioned earlier, the best way to maintain your battery life when your car is parked for long is to get a trickle charger which keeps your battery regularly charged even when not in use if you are not big on disconnection.
How Often Should You Start a Parked Car?
Most people believe that regularly starting an engine can protect the car battery from dying and the entire car from deteriorating while parked for long. But the truth is, it makes no much difference.
Starting your car without driving it, or just taking a driving it a little around the neighborhood won’t give the vehicle its full operating temperature. This will consequently leave condensation and oil in the exhaust pipe, which won’t be burned off and can lead to serious damage over time.
Generally, it’s better to drive your car than parking it for long. But if you want to drive it a few times a month, endeavor to drive for up to 10-15 miles each time and reach over 50 mph speed.
How long can a car stay without starting? As much as it’s not in our place to decide for a machine, we can do our part in helping it by keeping all the factors listed in check.
We have talked about how the model of car, storage, pre-parking maintenance, and the battery can affect whether your car will start after leaving it idle for a while.
Keep in mind that batteries do not store well, fuel systems can cause problems when stored for any length of time unless well prepared. Mice and rodents always find their way into cars parked for some time. Make sure to clean out any food items that may attract them to your car.
If you leave your car parked for a long time without using it for any reason, make sure to check it properly before using it again to avoid any issues will driving. Be sure to check out the brake system, wipers, headlights and taillights, and other essential parts of the car that can put you and other road users in harm’s way.