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My daily commute changed from 9 miles to 9 feet when I started working remotely. That means I very rarely drive my car much. After a particularly hectic month, I didn't drive for about 4 weeks and the car's battery had died the next time I came to drive it.

So, what should I do to keep the car in good, running condition?

  • What can keep the battery charged? Are trickle chargers recommended?
  • How about oil? Should I make sure I take the car for a reasonable drive every week? Two weeks?
  • What other aspects of the car should I keep in mind?

Edit: Thanks to all who've answered to date. I've upvoted everyone, and am accepting Patrick's answer as the most informative.

Edit 2: Also of interest to this topic:

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They now make solar chargers for use to keep the battery up - like on and Rec vehicle etc. and not too expensive. –  Mark Schultheiss Mar 14 '11 at 20:54

5 Answers 5

up vote 29 down vote accepted

Rule(s) of thumb:

  1. Drive the car once a week, long enough to get the engine to normal operating temperature.
  2. Change the oil every 3,000 miles, or since you are not driving much, every 3 months.
  3. If your car stays stationary for very long times you need to be concerned about dry rot or the rubber on the tires, but if you follow #1, you won't need to worry about this.
  4. About once a month drive the car for an extended time (>30 minutes), there can be water accumulation on sensors and exhaust as well as rust on brake rotors. You want to heat up the entire car including engine & exhaust system to evaporate any condensation to prevent rust buildup and clean the brake rotors to maintain the ability to stop.
  5. If the gas in the tank will be there for more than a month you need to put a gas stabilizer in the tank (à la STA-BIL) so that the gas does not degrade.
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also avoid short trips. when you take a short trip, moisture condenses on things and doesn't have an opportunity to burn/boil off. –  dave thieben Mar 7 '11 at 22:22
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Thanks for the list! –  Peter K. Mar 8 '11 at 1:56

A trickle charger is a good idea. It maintains the battery so it doesn't go through large charge/discharge cycles, which damages the battery.

Also change the oil at six months whether the mileage is over your limit or not.

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A trickle-charger is highly recommended. Lead-acid batteries don't hold up very well to draining to low levels and jump-starting.

It's a good idea to drive it every couple of weeks if you can. The biggest problem is all of the rubber seals depend on staying wet with oil to hold up over time. If they dry out, they will leak. That being said, modern materials have come a long way, and this probably isn't as big of a deal as it used to be.

Keep an eye on your tires. The rubber will wear quickly for the same reason above.

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Make sure you get the correct type of charger for the installed battery. AGM/Gell batteries have different requirements. –  Mark Johnson Apr 1 '12 at 4:09

I can only answer definetively about the battery, most batteries lose some charge when not in use, but in order to minimize that you might have a circuit breaker (switch) installed that enables you to disconnect the battery from the car's electrical system when the car is not in use. When the car is not in use for any period the electrical system is still running, kepping clocks and such up to date, so disconnecting the battery should keep the charge a bit better.

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Newer vehicles do have more electronics that draw even with the key off. Older vehicles can develop a parasitic draw for various reasons. –  Mark Johnson Apr 1 '12 at 4:05

Another option with the battery is disconnecting the ground cable. This should prevent charge loss and may be easier and simpler than the trickle charge method.

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I disagree. Lead-Acid batteries will still lose charge when disconnected, and many modern cars require the battery to be on all the time to keep stereos, alarms, immobilisers etc running, so it is usually better to leave it connected and trickle charge it. Solar chargers can make this very easy. –  Nick C Sep 25 '11 at 21:34
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@Nick C Trickle charging is ideal, but disconnecting is preferable to letting parasitic drain destroy a battery. –  Mark Johnson Apr 1 '12 at 4:07

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