Maintenance Costs To Consider If Your Car Has Been Sitting in the Garage

car parked in garage
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The virus transformed legions of office workers into telecommuters and kept many more at home and off the road most of the time even if they weren’t working. America’s roads and highways in 2020 reflected the country as a whole — semi-abandoned and often dangerous. The percentage of fatal accidents skyrocketed even as motor vehicle traffic dropped to historic lows. As America’s roads emptied, there were fewer police patrols and drivers drove faster. The most risk-averse drivers, seniors, were mostly out of the equation and all of this took place during a large and well-documented increase in drug and alcohol use.

Related: What To Spend On Your Car To Make It Last Another Year

If you’re just now taking an unused car out of storage, congratulations — you might have saved it and yourself from trouble by keeping it off the road this whole time. But long periods of idleness are not good for cars, and you might be in for a few unpleasant surprises and equally unpleasant expenses.  

Be Aware: The 29 Biggest Car Mistakes That Will Cost You

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Taking Cars Out of Hibernation Is Mostly Free and Easy

There’s a checklist of things you’re supposed to do to prepare a car for a long period of inactivity. If you didn’t do that because the virus didn’t exactly give you time to prepare, don’t worry. In most cases, waking up your car, truck or SUV won’t require much work or expense. Start with the free, easy stuff: 

  • Open the windows and doors to air it out. Your car will be musty even after a stint in well-ventilated storage.
  • Check your tire pressure and inflate if necessary. 
  • Check your fluids and top them off if required. 
  • Open the hood and check for visible damage and for droppings, nesting materials or other signs of animal activity. 
  • Get it washed, both for aesthetics and the car’s health and resale value. Expensive detailing isn’t necessary, but pay extra if you must to have the vulnerable undercarriage cleaned well.

Read More: Why 2021 Is a Perfect Year To Buy a New Car

Most Likely, Any Issues Will Be Electrical

Test your battery before you try to start the car. You can get a good tester on Amazon for less than $20. Even if it’s OK, your battery might need a jump after all that time spent in storage. You might consider buying a jump box because it’s a great investment for your car emergency kit anyway. Good ones start at about $60. If your battery can’t hold a charge, replace it or you’ll eventually kill your alternator. Batteries, too, start at around $60 but quickly go into the hundreds depending on your vehicle. Advance Auto Parts and similar chain stores will install a new battery for free if you buy it from them.

Did You Know: The Most Expensive Cars Coming Out This Year From Around the World

Malleable Materials, Especially Old Ones, Can Degrade in Storage

Rubbery materials like windshield wiper blades can dry out, crack and fail after long periods of stagnation. In rarer cases, you might need to replace a hose, a repair with an average cost of $149-$170, according to RepairPal. Belts, too, can succumb to long stretches in storage, and they can be much more costly to replace — $551-$685 for a timing belt, for example.

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Find Out: 25 Things You Should Always Do Before Buying a Used Car

Don’t panic. If your car was in good shape going in, big repairs are unlikely. If a hose or a belt fails after storage, it was likely due for replacement as part of long-term regular maintenance anyway.  

Keep Reading: How Much a New Car Really Depreciates Over Time

Brace For an Unpleasant Surprise in the Gas Tank

Any time you watch a zombie movie with people still driving around after years of living in the apocalypse, the driving is as fake as the undead monsters. Gasoline can’t be hoarded because it quickly breaks down into an unusable toxic sludge. Regular gas has a shelf life of three months, according to J.D. Power, maybe six. Diesel fuel can stay usable for up to a year. If the gas in your tank turned bad in storage, you’ll have to get your system drained and flushed, which can cost hundreds.

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About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.

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