Idle car

3 Dos and Don’ts of Restarting Your Car After It Has Been Sitting Idle for Weeks or Months

Cars are designed to be driven periodically, so leaving them sitting for weeks or months at a time is never a good idea. Sometimes, though, it’s unavoidable. With many Americans just getting back to work after weeks or months of facing pandemic-related restrictions, some drivers are preparing to get their vehicles back out on the road. Before putting the key in the ignition and trying to turn the engine over, read on to find out about three important dos and don’ts of restarting cars after they have been sitting idle to avoid common problems.

Dos of Starting a Car That Has Been Sitting Idle

Before discussing common issues and how they can be avoided, let’s take a moment to talk about correct procedures for getting a car started. This won’t be a comprehensive list of best practices, but it should give drivers an idea of what they can do to protect themselves and their vehicles.

1. Do Ensure the Car Is Still Legal to Drive

For drivers unlucky enough to have purchased and registered their vehicles in the spring or early summer, the first step is to make sure all the vehicle’s paperwork is up-to-date. If the registration has lapsed, call the local DMV in advance to find out what to do. The car will need to be up and running before it can be inspected, but drivers can look into affordable car insurance and make plans to renew their registrations before even getting behind the wheel.

2. Do Check All Fluids

Before getting behind the wheel, take a look beneath the car to check for leaks and pop open the hood to check fluid levels. Don’t stop at oil and gas. It’s equally important that the vehicle has adequate levels of brake fluid, coolant, transmission fluid, and power steering fluid. There’s nothing worse than starting up a car that has been sitting for a while with no trouble only to find that the vehicle won’t stop because it has developed a brake fluid leak while sitting.

If the car has been sitting for months, it may also be worth buying fuel additives. Ideally, drivers should add a fuel stabilizer before storing their vehicles for any period of time. Those who failed to take this important precaution can still add Sea Foam or another fuel system cleaner to remove built-up gunk in the fuel lines. Mechanically minded drivers can always drain the fuel lines and replace the gas if they’re concerned about how long it has been sitting.

3. Do Inflate Tires

Tires tend to lose pressure when they sit for prolonged periods of time, which means they often need to be reinflated before the car can be driven safely. Find out the recommended tire pressure for the vehicle and tires, then use a tire pressure gauge to check it against this ideal. If the tires are substantially underinflated or overinflated, they may need to be adjusted before the car can be driven. Use a portable air compressor or call a roadside service for help.

The Don’ts of Starting a Car That Has Been Sitting Idle

Now that this article has covered the most important steps drivers should take before attempting to start their vehicles, it’s time to take a look at some common mistakes. Knowing what to avoid is just as important as knowing the best practices for starting the car, so pay attention.

1. Don’t Drain the Battery

Part of the reason it’s so important to check the fluids and maximize the chances of the engine turning over is that repeated attempts to start a car that has been sitting can drain the battery. Try cranking it over once or twice, but if the car doesn’t start after the second attempt, find out what’s wrong before trying again.

If the battery is already dead or extremely low, the car may need to be jump-started. Use jumper cables to draw power from a running vehicle parked nearby or purchase a jump box. Some cars with low battery power can also be push-started, but this definitely isn’t an ideal solution, especially for drivers who aren’t 100% sure their cars will start as intended.

A good analogy to help you understand this is to imagine a real estate developer that hasn’t built anything in years, and suddenly wants to get back in the game. Instead of forcing his way in and risking being rusty, he would hire any number of construction cost estimating firms to help him with his goals.

2. Don’t Rev a Cold Engine

If the car starts on the first or second attempt, don’t rev the engine. Many drivers assume that this is the best way to kickstart a car that has been sitting, but in reality, it can cause friction to build up in the engine’s internal components. If the oil hasn’t worked its way through the engine fully, this can lead to substantial and costly damage. Instead of revving the engine, let the car warm up for a while at idle before even touching the accelerator.

3. Don’t Forget to Inspect Belts and Electrical Components

While most drivers know how important it is to check fluids before attempting to move a car that has been sitting for weeks or months, the average driver doesn’t think to check the belts and wires. Belts can become slack in cars that are left to sit, so check their tension before even putting the key in the ignition. It’s also important to check electrical wires for signs of rodent damage, as damaged wires can lead to electrical fires when drivers go to start their vehicles.

The Bottom Line

Americans who have been living under lock-downs are understandably excited about getting back out on the open road, but they shouldn’t use their excitement as an excuse for carelessness. Cars that have been sitting for a while need to be coaxed back to life, not forced, so start by giving them the care they need and checking fluids, belts, wiring, and tire pressure. If everything looks solid and there are no leaks, it’s fine to try starting it up without any help once or twice, but drivers should avoid draining their batteries by cranking the engine over repeatedly. A set of jumper cables and a running vehicle or a jump box is all that’s needed to get some juice back in a drained battery and get the car running again.