How To Maintain Your Car When You’re Barely Driving It

During the winter, our powerful, pleasurable, indestructible Patreon donors voted for DIY car maintenance in one of our Patreon exclusive content polls. And I decided to sit on it, because spring is the ideal time for a lot of routine car maintenance. I thought I would be topical when it comes to how to maintain your car.

Well, now it’s become either entirely too topical… or not topical at all? Perhaps both at the same time. On the one hand, I have never driven less than I have over the last month. In the last two weeks, I’ve driven just once: to the local grocery store and back, a round-trip of less than one mile.

On the other hand…

I drove my car so infrequently it broke down.

Yep. My nine-year-old car battery finally up and died! So as usual, the moral of the story is don’t be like me!

In retrospect, it’s obvious that trying to be a good girl and go on as few trips as possible would obviously backfire and create the need for more trips! I hadn’t planned on going to an auto supply store during a pandemic, but my new minimalist bike-everywhere lifestyle successfully murdered my geriatric car battery. Cause of death: involuntary Mustachianism?

I had to leave my car idling and unlocked in the parking lot of the closest AutoZone because I was afraid it wouldn’t start again, but I refused to let my asthmatic partner join me on any errands while Rona’s out there, causing havoc.

I was able to get a new car battery. Between myself, my partner, a set of imperial wrenches that didn’t quite match our metric nuts, and the living catalogue of human knowledge that is YouTube, we were able to replace the battery ourselves. But this got me to thinking about car maintenance for people who rarely drive.

Right now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, that basically includes… <checks notes> everyone. But it’s not exactly a niche topic, either. Many frugal people, minimalists, and environmentalists own a car out of necessity, but are interested in driving as little as possible.

So today we’re going to discuss how to maintain your car when you barely drive it at all.

Park wisely

If you have a garage, good for you! Park there. (Assuming it has space for a car between the towering mountains of old crap your parents are saving for mysterious and unknowable reasons.)

If not, you need to find a solid spot to park. If at all possible, you want a legal parking spot somewhere on firm, level pavement or gravel that isn’t directly underneath a tree.

The legal part is obvious. No one needs a garnish of parking tickets on top of their steaming entrée of fresh hell. And this is not the time to be blocking any space an ambulance might need.

Level is best because engaging your parking brake for too long can make it sticky, especially if you initiated the parking brake when wet. If you go long enough without driving, the brake pad could even fuse to the rotor. No bueno.

Grass and dirt isn’t the ideal footing, for a few reasons. It makes your undercarriage hot and wet. (Wow, that’s the first time I’ve used that phrase about anything other than pussy! I have HAD IT with this quarantine sapping all my joys.) That will cause rust. If you live somewhere with very muddy spring weather, you don’t want to end up stuck in a muddy rut. Finally, grass underneath makes your car a more appealing place for varmints to hide underneath—and inside.

Finally, you want to avoid parking underneath a tree for cosmetic reasons (bird shit and tree sap can fuck up your paint job) as well as risk-aversion reasons (spring is the windiest season, and you don’t want to find a tree limb jutting out through the pile of tempered glass that was once your windshield). When cars and trees fight, cars usually lose.

Clean the interior

Hot maintenance tip: a clean interior serves three purposes.

For one, you shouldn’t store anything valuable inside your car to avoid theft. You may have to work to stretch your personal definition of what’s “valuable.” Have you ever had to pay $200 to repair a car window someone smashed to steal a GPS unit that was probably worth less than $8 to a pawn shop? Because I have! And I cannot recommend the experience. Two out of five stars, if I’m being honest.

Two, you don’t want anything perishable sitting in your car. Food crumbs and old wrappers will attract rodents, who love to fuck up cars by chewing through wires and building nests inside engine blocks, the sneaky fucks…

Finally, it just feels psychologically good to sit in a clean space. And now is a fine time to grasp at anything that helps you feel psychologically good.

Clean the exterior

Here’s where vehicle maintenance gets easiest. If you live in an area that gets snow in winter, take a hose and spray the underside of your car. The road salt that’s spread on roads, sidewalks, and parking lots damages your car’s delicate guts. Spritzing it off will prolong your car’s lifespan and help you maintain your car the whole year round.

If you’re stir crazy and would love to get outside for an hour or two, consider washing and waxing your car as well. The wax creates a seal that protects you car’s paint job.

Go for a drive

This is our most important advice. So don’t skip it!

Take your car out for a 20- to 30-minute drive at least once per week.

And yes, it has to be driving—you can’t just start the car and let it idle. This is important for several reasons.

Your car battery charges every time you drive it. If you drive it very infrequently, or only on very short trips, you aren’t giving it enough time and power to get its full charge back. And the older your battery is, the less total charge of which it’s capable. That’s how you’ll end up in a situation like mine: an old, dead battery during the one time you can’t knock on your friendly neighbor’s door for help with a jump start.

This is especially true it you live in colder climates, as cold weather wears batteries down faster.

Your car’s moving parts—like MAH PUSSAY—are also designed to be highly lubricated. (Sorry, sorry, it’s my Space Madness, it’s really getting to me today!) If the car sits unused, those moving parts dry out. The fluids that keep them lubricated can crystalize, separate, and evaporate.

Each tire on your car is also designed to be in constant motion. If a tire sits for too long in one position, it can develop flat spots. Once the flat spots develop, there’s no fixing them. And a new set of tires will set you back several hundred buckeroos. Again, more bills right now are about as useful as an asshole right here. (And with “here,” I gestured to literally any part of my body that wasn’t between my butt cheeks.)

Driving around is also a great way to get out of your house and soak up some vitamin D without breaking social distancing rules. I’ve found long drives very relaxing, especially when you use the opportunity to scream-sing cathartic songs that are just outside your vocal range!

Top off your tank

At the time I’m writing this, oil prices are cheap. So cheap that fossil fuel companies are crying about it while saying “wah wah” and shaking their big cartoon rattles as they sit in their filthy, polluted, gigantic diapers. Thoughts and prayers!

So there’s no time like the present to fill your fuel tank to the brim! A full tank of gas prevents condensation, which keeps nasty fumes from building up inside your car. And since you’re following our advice to drive it, the gasoline won’t be sitting so long that the gasoline goes stale.

Mostly, this is one of those peace-of-mind aspects of how to maintain your car. If some kind of emergency rears its head, you don’t want to have to stop for gas. Be as the boy scouts and/or fascist lions say: be prepared!

Just remember to wash or sanitize your hands immediately after pumping gas. Many dirty hands have touched that same pump.

More of our wholesome wisdom on buying, owning, and using cars:

That’s all for today, my kittens! Thanks again to our amazing Patreon donors for choosing the question of how to maintain your car in our content poll. If you’d like a say on which topics we cover, head on over to Patreon to join the rest of the Bitch Nation. There you can also get videos, answers to direct questions, free merch, and many more pert and perky perks!

So how’s everyone’s cars doing today? Please rate them on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being “too Mustachian to start,” and 10 being “Alyssa Edwards versus Tatianna lip-syncing Shut Up And Drive.”

8 thoughts to “How To Maintain Your Car When You’re Barely Driving It”

    1. Also, the garage owner (Patrice Banks) has published a book on car care literacy. I bought three copies – one for me and one for each of my kids. Lots of good info in plain language. She assumes the reader may know nothing about cars and the book is a good non-judgmental, non-condescending start on remedying that situation.

    2. Not until I read the words “female-owned and run garage” did I realize the essential business that I’ve been desperately in need of all my life.

  1. Having already had to play this game over a flat battery, just check what the rules are in your jurisdiction about “taking the car for a drive”. In mine, it’s not something you are allowed to do unless you are leaving the house for one of a limited set of legally permitted reasons. People have been fined for “going for a drive” without having a proper purpose, which is rather a high price to pay to maintain a vehicle!

    So to get my car jumped, I ended up doing it on the same day that I was going to donate blood (a legally permitted reason), and I also ended up tacking on a freeway drive to drop off some supplies for my mother, who is a healthcare worker (visiting parents/children in another household for care purposes). The car battery got the recharge it needed, and I had a solid reason to defend why I was driving my car.

    Some time this week I’m taking the car out to fill it up with petrol and to go grocery shopping (instead of walking to my local shops). That will cover the reasons why I left the house.

  2. One really worthwhile purchase I made in consideration of my geriatric battery is one of the portable battery jumper packs. It was about $60, and is amazing at replacing the neighbor when you can’t knock on their door. You should charge it (mine is via USB) every couple months, which is a good reminder for me to do a quick check on the rest of the car’s “oh shit kit.”

  3. Yup, a vehicle that sits will develop problems. A few thoughts in addition to the excellent advice above:

    1. Use hi-test gas if you can. Regular gas has all sorts of low-grade components that separate out over time and gum up the fuel system horribly (and expensively).
    2. Add a fuel stabilizer to reduce fuel separation. It works.
    3. Modern cars are constantly sipping battery power. A solar battery maintainer is surprisingly cheap and effective (but check if your car disables the cigarette lighter socket when the ignition is turned off). A physical battery disconnect switch can be installed also.
    3. Quiz your independent mechanic. You DO have an independent mechanic, don’t you? If you rely on a dealership, give yourself a nice big mustachian face punch. Dealerships view female car owners as an unlimited ATM and profit centre. Ka-ching! Absolutely shameless.

    Love the blog BTW. Nice fresh angle. Always an entertaining read.

  4. Well drat, apparently I can’t count to four. What is this, a Monty Python sketch? Next time I will use my fingers, if they’re not busy dragging on the ground. Sheesh.

  5. I recently read an article on some car rental tips and it helped me a lot. It turns out that choosing the right rental company and carefully reading the terms and conditions can save a lot of time and money. It is also important to take into account all the details and recommendations regarding insurance and terms of use of the car.

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