Keeping my car in good shape over the winter
November 1, 2010 2:39 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to keep my 1991 Honda Accord in good shape this winter? It'll be parked on the NYC street, and only needs to be moved once a week.

I don't drive it regularly and parking in my neighborhood is a pain. But if I must lose a parking space to keep it running I will. FWIW, the car is in great shape and was recently serviced.
posted by ranunculus to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have heard to keep the gas tank full, and that it helps protect if from very cold weather.

Did you know there are two different kinds of wiper fluid? That was a very distressing and surprising discovery for me. Make sure you get winter formula, which is chock full of alcohol or water so it doesn't freeze up in the morning on your windshield, blinding you as the sun rises.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:13 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you not just buy concentrate & dilute as appropriate to the season Terrible Llama? Generally cheaper all round...

IIRC being told that it's a good idea to take a car for a good run every couple of weeks, but I don't know how much of that is cargo cult learning told down the years since the 50s and how much is real!

Supposedly engine oil is hygroscopic & if you leave it standing a long time then it absorbs water from the air and degrades. Taking the car out for a run heats up the oil & drives out the water. It also keeps the battery well charged.
posted by pharm at 4:04 PM on November 1, 2010

I have a similar situation: I'm not yet willing to give up my car, but I need to move it only twice a week (alternate side parking for street cleaning!). I had been turning it on, moving it (which usually meant I didn't even drive it around the block, just maneuvered across the street) and then turning it off again.

Yeah... not a good idea: the past three weeks, I've been dealing with a dead/very weak battery.

Now, instead of just moving the car from one side to the other, I take it for a spin down to the local grocery, pick up the stuff that would normally melt on the way home, and go back home. That seems to be doing the trick - I haven't bought a new battery yet.

It also seems to be helping the tires - no more flat spots from sitting too long in one place.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 4:46 PM on November 1, 2010

You are better off leaving your car sit for a month at a time than to start it up each day for 5 minutes. Short run cycles that don't allow the engine to get up to full operating temperature -- say 15 minutes or less -- cause more wear on the engine. There's no harm done by letting a car sit for weeks at a time. The battery will discharge itself at a rate of about 10% per month so you really don't need to start it very often. You can get a cheap battery trickle charger for less than 20 bucks and charge it over night once a month and you will be fine.
posted by JackFlash at 5:27 PM on November 1, 2010

The following is my free advice. Nota bene: I live in the south and park in a barn, but hey, some things are equal the world over.

#1: Give it a good vacuuming. God knows what mold spores are hiding in there, Get 'em out, or else your car will smell like an old gym sock come spring. While you're at it, drop a few cedar cachets in the glove box and trunk, it'll keep bugs out.

2: Give it a fresh tank of gas, AV gas is ideal, for a multitude of reasons (no moisture, no ethanol, high octane) but if you can't swing that (it's kinda pricey), get the marine grade Sta-Bil (only the green marine grade, mind you) and dump some of that in your tank. Can't find that? Use SeaFoam. Can't find that? Just buy the best gas you can afford. Anything else is as bad as doing nothing. Now drive around for 15 miles or so and make sure you've got the new stuff in the fuel system, not just sitting in the tank. You don't want a lot of gas varnish gumming up the works on that bright march day when your 4 cylinders fire up and you motor off into the wild blue yonder.

3: Bring your battery inside and hook it to a battery tender. Granted, you should know if your radio has a theft code and it'll disable your car alarm (if you have one) and you'll have to to haul it out and hook it up every two weeks when you move from one side of the street to the other, but hooking it up to even a cheap 1.5 amp tender will make sure it's ready to provide every one of those amps to your forgotten starter motor when the birds sing true. Also: no battery, no theft. No one's gonna steal a car they can't drive. No battery is the quickest way to make sure they can't just start it up and drive off.

4: Little piddly crap: make sure your tires are well inflated and all your fluids are full up. This may or may not help, but hey, it's always a good idea and you won't have to think about it later.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 5:28 PM on November 1, 2010

JackFlash -- the car must be moved at least once a week so the street sweeper can pass. Otherwise, OP will be ticketed.

In addition to any mechanical considerations, be sure to walk past your car every day or so, even if you only need to move it once a week. If someone busts your window to steal your pocket change, you don't want to wait until five days of cold rain to find out.
posted by hhc5 at 6:15 PM on November 1, 2010

If you have any doubts about the condition of your battery, get a new one and clean the terminals really well. Borderline batteries tend to crap out at the first bad cold snap or heat wave.
Put some fresh washer fluid in the reservoir. Most decent brands will display the freeze point on the label. Over-inflate the tires a little bit, no more than 38 or 40 psi. Overinflation helps prevent flat-spotting and the cracking dry rot that occurs as the tire sags from being flat. Also, as the temperature drops, the tire pressure will drop correspondingly. If you set your tires to the usual 32psi and the temperature drops 15 degF overnight, you'll find the tires looking substantially lower.

And, fyi, the engine oil isn't really hygroscopic in the same sense as say brake fluid or sugar. Here's what happens:
There's some air inside the engine, in the parts of the casing not occupied by oil or moving parts. When the engine starts, that air will heat up much quicker than the iron or aluminum engine block. If you take a short trip, the moisture in the air will condense on the cold metal in the engine. The moisture, combustion blow-by gasses, and the oil can then combine to make what's called sludge or gel. What's also dangerous about short, cold trips is that the engine runs substantially richer (more fuel) when the ambient temps and engine temps are lower. That extra fuel really makes for nasty blow-by gasses and accelerates the sludge problem. When the engine is run up to operating temperature, that condensation isn't taking place, most of the rich-running fuel contamination evaporates out of the oil, and the crankcase ventilation system can effectively remove the harmful vapors.

So, long story short, if you're not going to drive the car until it's hot, you're probably better off not running it. Driving once a week should be fine as long as you drive for about a half-hour. Also, make sure to brake aggressively to scrub off the corrosion that inevitably builds up from sitting stationary in the winter weather. Exercise that brake hardware and clean up the rotors. They can get pretty nasty when they sit around.
posted by Jon-o at 6:23 PM on November 1, 2010

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