Checking the air pressure in your vehicle's tires is a good idea if it's been parked for a while. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

If the pandemic has you working from home, shopping more online and drastically reducing any other travel, it might be time for you to think about the last time you drove your car. The fact is, a car left parked for three weeks or longer needs attention just as much as one driven on a more regular basis.

According to the Maine Department of Transportation, there was a 30 percent drop in vehicle miles traveled in the state in the early months of the pandemic. Traffic since then has picked up, but at the end of December, it was still between 6 and 9 percent lower than the same weeks in 2019.

Here are a few things you should do if you find yourself not using your car for weeks at a time.

Don’t park on empty

According to Josh Reardon, owner of Reardon’s Automotive and Diagnostics in Bangor, if you know you won’t be driving for several weeks, top off your gas tank before parking your car.

“The more fuel you have in your tank the better,” Reardon said. “That’s because when the temperatures change like they do in Maine, the lower the level of fuel in your tank, the more moisture is going to collect in your tank.”

Reardon described it as the same sort of condensation that happens on the side of a cold glass when it warms up. Drops of water form and, in the case of your car’s gas tank, those drops will slide down and into whatever gas is there.

If water does get into your gas, it can decrease the performance level of your car’s engine and create some expensive repair issues.

Check the fluids

Your car has all sorts of fluids in its systems that help it function properly. Reardon recommends checking the oil level and the level of windshield washer fluid in any car that has not run for several weeks.

“When you are checking the oil, check your maintenance records at the same time,” Reardon said. “It may be time or past time for an oil change.”

Inspect the outside

If your car is parked outside, make sure that fallen leaves, tree sap or other pieces of detritus have not become lodged against your windshield wipers. If they have, clean them off. The last thing you want is to be driving down the road, turn your wipers on and have them leave a smear trail across your field of vision.

Check the wiper blades themselves to make sure they are not cracked, torn or worn to the point they can’t completely clear your windshield if needed. If they are, have them replaced.

Check the tires

Reardon said he always looks at his tires before getting into a car to drive.

“I want to make sure the air pressure is up,” he said. “I also check the tread is good and they are not cracked.”

If a car is parked for more than 30 days, the tires can start to get what is known as a “flat spot.” This happens when the tire starts to slowly lose air, especially when parked in cold weather. When the weather is warm or when the tires heat up in colder weather when they are driven on, the rubber softens and tightens the tire’s seal to the rim. When that seal gets cold and hard, it can allow air to escape.

Check for unwanted passengers

Parked cars, especially ones left outside for long periods of time, can be attractive homes for mice and rodents.

“If you get in and see a pair of eyes looking back at you, you want to address that,” Reardon said. “I can’t tell you how many mice and mouse nests I have vacuumed out of cars.”

Rodents can create a host of problems in a car. They can chew electrical wires that control safety features, block air filters with stored food or nesting materials and make a mess of a car’s interior by leaving droppings and urine on upholstery.

Look at your instrument panel

If you have not driven your car for several weeks, it could be trying to tell you something when you start it. Check the indicator lights for issues like low tire pressure or other maintenance issues. Also, avoid parking your car for periods of time with low fuel levels. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

When you turn the ignition on, check if any indicator lights are blinking on our instrument panel. At the same time, check to make sure your headlights, turn signals, back up lights and license plate lights are all working properly.

Take it for a spin

At the very least, Reardon recommends starting your car and letting it run for an hour once a week. He said that will help remove any moisture that has built up in the exhaust system, which can cause those components to rot.

Reardon also said it can be easy to let regulatory things associated with your car slip your mind if you are not using it. So he suggests checking the status of the car’s inspection sticker and registration before taking it out on the road.

The good news, according to Reardon, is that cars built after 2005 are pretty durable and can take some periods of inactivity.

“Just make sure it sounds okay,” Reardon said. “Better yet, take it for a ride and see how it feels because the more RPMs you can give it, the better. So if you can take it out for a drive and go get yourself a coffee or hot cocoa, absolutely do that.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.