How to maintain your car during its COVID-19 vacation

  • If your car has been sitting idle for days at a time during the stay-at-home order, AAA and others have some tips on what you should and should not do to keep it in top shape.

      If your car has been sitting idle for days at a time during the stay-at-home order, AAA and others have some tips on what you should and should not do to keep it in top shape. Jeff Knox | Staff Photographer

Posted5/11/2020 5:33 AM

Amid the seismic churn COVID-19 brings to life, one constant remains: a steady flow of advice from those people who are always right (or think they are).

Like "don't put on the parking brake if your car is sitting in the driveway" for weeks.


Is that so? We asked the professionals for tips on keeping your car in top shape as it hibernates during Illinois' stay-at-home order.

"What could possibly go wrong leaving a vehicle alone for several weeks?" former DuPage County Forest Preserve District fleet manager John Walton asked rhetorically.

"Dead battery," he answered. "Alarms or some electronics with small draws can kill batteries." One easy solution is to take your car on a brief run every few days. "Idling for a couple of minutes will probably not be enough," Walton said.

As to the parking brake conundrum, the answer is: "Don't use the parking brake when storing the vehicle," AAA spokeswoman Molly Hart said. After a long tour of duty, the parking brake could freeze, and that means your regular brake pads "could rust to the rotors." Or even worse, the "brake shoes could distort the drums," she said.

"With an automatic transmission, simply place the vehicle in park. If the car has a manual transmission, put it in first or reverse gear and use wheel chocks to help hold the vehicle in place," Hart added.

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Walton also warned life can get wild for a dormant car.

"The engine compartment, trunk and the interior are great places for mice and other animals to nest (and) eat electric cables. Once I opened the hood of a car that had been in a parking lot for a couple of months and was greeted by an angry raccoon," said Walton, who is chairman of the alternative fuel/vehicle group Chicago Area Clean Cities. He suggests carefully deployed mousetraps.

What else?

• If your car's been sitting for weeks, check the tires, Walton said. "Slow leaks could cause them to go flat; flat tires must be inflated or repaired before you drive on them."

• "Prop up the wiper arms so the blades are off the windshield and won't get stuck to the glass," Hart said.

• "Auto exterior paint can be damaged by tree sap and other things, so wash the car even when not using it," Walton advised.

• And, if your auto is parked for the foreseeable future, consider using a fuel stabilizer, such as STA-BIL, and a battery charger, like Battery Tender, "to keep the battery at a full state of charge and prevent deterioration," Hart suggested.


One more thing

Why is the interchange improvement at Route 41 and Grand Avenue taking forever, reader Ken Yokus of Gurnee wonders. "A shovel has not turned on this project for a long time and this continues to be a traffic hazard/congestion," he said.

It's complicated, IDOT spokeswoman Maria Castaneda said. The interchange fix also requires replacing the Union Pacific Railroad bridge. Engineers tweaked the plan last year, and that meant retrofitting the structural steel, which equals delays. "We estimate, weather permitting, a substantial completion this calendar year," Castaneda said.

Your voice

In response to last week's column on COVID-19 getaways, Carolyn Carlson of Palatine offers some stellar drives to escape cabin fever. Highlights include: the North Shore along the lakefront from Highland Park to Evanston -- mansions and parks on the lakefront; Barrington Hills and South Barrington -- "some truly beautiful homes"; Deer Grove Forest Preserve on Dundee Road -- "driving through in the spring is awesome"; and cruising the streets of Palatine -- "admiring the daffodils, tulips and trees budding out."

Got an escape route or a pandemic car care tip to recommend? Drop an email to

Gridlock alert

Ouch. Northwest Highway (Route 14) in Des Plaines will close between Broadway Street and Western Avenue starting Wednesday through mid-July. Workers are installing new sewer pipes for a pump station at the UP Railroad overpass.

Metra trims Saturday trains

With ridership plunging, Metra is slimming its Saturday schedules. With the exception of the Metra Electric, Metra lines will switch to Sunday schedules on Saturdays. Sunday service typically is every two hours. For more information, go to

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