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I need to travel to the east coast and work from there for a duration of 5 months. I can leave my car in covered parking here and ask a friend to start the car for a few minutes every week.

What possible issues could I face with the car maintenance when I return? Or what issues can arise since the car will not have been driven for a long period?

The car is a Honda Civic 2008 in good condition.

Also, I have the option of shipping the car to east coast - but it would cost me anywhere from 850 - 1000 dollars.

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The two biggest things here is 1) that the battery is going to be useless when you return and 2) your wheel bearings would have pitted slightly from the weight of the car pressing down on them without any motion. #2 is a problem mobile home owners encounter a lot. Have your friend drive it once a week at least. –  Juann Strauss Oct 29 '13 at 8:41
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6 Answers 6

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Like @Alex said, ideally, drive it at least half hour each time. Less than that and you won't have enough heat/time to burn off all the condensation in the engine (you'll get a yellow gooey substance under your oil filler cap to let you know if that's the case). You'd want to have it driven at least once a week to keep oil on the cylinder walls (to prevent the beginning of corrosion/pitting).

That of course is the ideal. Realistically, many people do just fine by giving it a good hour long drive, topping off the tank, and then parking it with a trickle charger on the battery for the Winter...

Starting it up for just a few minutes every few weeks will do more harm than good.

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Would disconnecting the battery and leaving the gas tank near empty be an option? This would mean that the car does not run at all for the 5 months. Is that something I should consider at all? –  Vivek Aseeja Nov 8 '11 at 16:59
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I definitely wouldn't empty the gas tank. Should be full for storage (to minimize condensation problems). Shelf life of gas is pretty good these days, but most people that store them put some Sta-Bil in just to make sure. Disconnecting the battery will remove all the parasitic draws (of which there may not be much at all), however, the battery will still lose charge over time (it's in the nature of rechargeables to do so). Best to trickle charge it. May still be enough left to start the car after 5 months, but then you're beating up the alternator to recharge it. –  Brian Knoblauch Nov 8 '11 at 19:50
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Brian: Filling up the tank has also one big other advantage. It prevents rust. Your remarks about shelf life are right, but I'd rather drain the tank and fill it up again when I start using the car again, just to be sure. –  Alex Nov 9 '11 at 7:29
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It would be interesting to find out if anyone has ever had trouble with old gas. My chemical engineer friend (worked for Marathon) said that it should be stable for 5-10 years (not sure how long they store it before gas stations get it though). I've used gas that was sitting in cans for a couple years just fine. A friend of mine had his own barrel of race gas that he used for many years with no issue. It would be nice to find a study done on it as all I have is anecdotal evidence that it's OK. –  Brian Knoblauch Nov 9 '11 at 13:09
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Running it for a few minutes is way to short. It will kill the battery and the oil will degrade. It's better to take it for a half hour drive every few weeks to recharge the battery, avoid 'square' tyres and to keep the oil and hoses in good condition.

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Storing a car for 5 months shouldn't be a problem, and you're probably going to be better off NOT starting it. I just parked my car, and it's going to sit until April - and I've been doing that for about the last 10 years with no adverse affects.

To prepare, fill the tank with gas, add some gas stabilizer, and drive it for a few miles. You do not want to leave the tank empty, as that will encourage moisture to condense in the tank. Change the oil & filter, and disconnect the battery. You could put a trickle charger on the battery if you're so inclined.

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Leaving a car for several months is quite common amongst classic car owners over here, quite a few of whom take their classics off the road during the winter (although I prefer to use mine all year round).

The best approach, as mentioned in the other answers is to get someone to give it a good drive every couple of weeks, but failing that, I believe the usual recommendation is to fill the tank, top up the oil & coolant, then jack the car up (to keep the weight off the tyres) and put the battery on trickle charge.

It is wise to put a few silica gel sachets or similar in the car if you live in a damp atmosphere, otherwise you could get mildew forming. Some people also recommend fillnig the engine right up with oil, but if you do that you must not start it until it has been emptied back to the normal level.

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I like the silica gel idea. Reminds me of something else. Aircraft engines that are stored over the Winter often use silica gel spark plug replacements to keep the inside of the engine dry. Wonder if anyone makes ones that fit cars? I'm not a big fan of jacking up the car. Yes, it keeps the tires from going square, but unless the tires are dryrotted anyways, going square won't hurt them. It just makes for a bumpy first few miles when you drive the car. Leaving a car jacked up for a long time leaves the suspension dangling and loaded in a way its not meant to be for long periods of time. –  Brian Knoblauch Nov 9 '11 at 13:13
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I used to take my 1986 CJ-7 off the road 6 months each year when I was in college during the winter. My grandfather, who was a mechanic in the Marines, had me do the following each time:

  1. Fill the gas tank, put in gas stabilizer and run the engine for ~10 minutes.
  2. Drain & replace the oil, replace the filter.
  3. Disconnect the battery and bring it in the house
  4. Since this was pre-fuel injectors, we sprayed starting fluid into the carburetor
  5. Spray WD-40 on brakes
  6. Store it in the garage.
  7. Lube the undercarriage

If you can, jack it up so the tires aren't on the ground. I never did but I had newer tires. You can get #2 & 7 done at the same time at any garage

When I put it back on the road we sprayed starting fluid in the carburetor and ran the car for a long time to burn through the gas. I never had any significant problems.

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I store my Camaro every winter (for the past 8 years). Each year my car starts with no issues.

I'd look into places that store classic cars, and I would not start the car during those five months (moisture can build in the exhaust). My advice is similar to the above.

  1. Buy fuel stabilizer (I buy Stabil, though any brand will likely do the trick) and pour some in your tank and then fill your car up after. I don't like the idea of filling up first then pouring it on top, as it may not mix correctly. Let the car run for a bit (10-15 minutes) or take it for a run down the street.

  2. Wash and spray wax (or use quick detailer) your paint. If water spots form from sitting on your paint, they can be a pain to remove. Some can be so bad that wetsanding is needed. The previous owner of my Camaro did this. Paste/Liquid wax isn't necessary since your car will be out of the elements, I suggest spray wax just because it's faster.

  3. Roll down windows a crack to allow circulation. I also put dryer sheets through the interior to deter mice (some argue it's effectiveness, I've yet to encounter mice however)

  4. Disconnect your battery. Assuming your battery is healthy, there should be all kinds of juice when you go to start your car.

EDIT:

I almost forgot! Get a garage to check your coolant effectiveness. Last thing you want is a cracked engine block.

Some change their oil before and after storage, I don't think it's necessary to change it before you store your car. I change my oil usually within the first week of getting my car out. I've never encountered flat spots on my tires for winter storage either.

My Camaro is a 1995, and it starts up no troubles every year.

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