How often do I really need to drive my car?
September 11, 2012 10:10 AM   Subscribe

How often do I really need to drive my car? (goal: keeping the battery charged, engine happy, etc.)

I really only need to use my car for (semi-frequent) road trips and the occasional (less than once a month) trip to buy an enormous bag of cat food. Otherwise, I am happy taking the bus and walking. Unfortunately, my battery keeps dying, and I am tired of calling AAA every time I need to buy cat food or want to drive somewhere far away. But driving my car just to drive my car seems a little bit silly, so I'd like to do it as little as possible.

What's the minimum amount of driving I can get away with that will keep my car happy and my battery charged?

I know I'll get lots of conflicting answers because I've already gotten lots of conflicting answers from people in the real world, but apparently I'd like some more. And no, selling the car and renting cars for road trips is not a feasible option, for various reasons like "the cat comes on most of the road trips."

(the black and white cat, not the orange one. and he's older now.)
posted by dizziest to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I recently went on vacation for a couple of weeks and returned to find my car's battery dead. The AAA person advised that I at least start the car and sit in it for 15 minutes twice a week to keep the battery healthy. This doesn't get to the non-battery related part of your question, but for the battery (according to that service guy), you don't actually need to drive it--just sit in the car and listen to three songs on your iPod.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:15 AM on September 11, 2012

I don't know how often you need to drive it, but keep the battery on a trickle charger so it doesn't run down.
posted by desjardins at 10:15 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've always heard that you need to start it and drive it around once a month. If your battery is discharging completely in a shorter amount of time, it might be that you just need a new battery.
posted by pickypicky at 10:15 AM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

It depends on the weather, but I've also been told something like 15 minutes twice a week. In the winter, I try to start it every other day at least during a very cold period.
posted by jeather at 10:25 AM on September 11, 2012

Hullo, mozzies!

Alternatively, a plug in jump charger (random result)?
posted by tilde at 10:31 AM on September 11, 2012

Once every two weeks is enough, provided the drives you do are more than 30 mins or so and your battery is in good nick.

But - if really don't drive your car that much you will get rust on your brakes and you might have other brake issues.. You might end up with flat spots on your tires if they stay in one position for an extended time. Cars really, really don't like being left undriven on a regular basis.

If selling up and renting is not an option then make sure you aren't driving a car that is still depreciating quickly - or else you'll basically be paying good money for it to sit there. If you have to own a car, then a good option is owning one that has done a good chunk of its depreciation - typically cars over 3 years old - still reliable, but half the value of the newer car.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:40 AM on September 11, 2012

Along with nthing the "trickle charger" you can google "vehicle storage precautions" and take note of some of the suggestions you find appropriate.

See here for an example article: here

You may not need to follow all these suggestions as you are driving your car semi-regularly, but depending on your geographic location and whether you are storing your car indoor or outdoors, you may want to look at the oil, spark plug and gasoline suggestions.

If I were in your shoes, I would purchase a new battery, trickle charger, lubricate the spark plugs, double check all the fluid levels, and get an oil change (if you haven't already). If I really wanted to be anal, I would start the car once a week for 15 minutes and then roll it slightly forward or back to prevent flat spots in the tires.

Also, when I drove to get my cat food, I would go make sure that I'm driving the car for a minimum of 1/2 hour before putting it away again for next time, and take it very easy on gas, shifting, and brakes on the way to the store.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:45 AM on September 11, 2012

The last time my battery ran out because I didn't drive my car, it was because I hadnt driven it in 8 weeks. Recently, when I left my car parked for a month, it worked fine when I started it up when I returned.

First, your battery is probably aging and might need to be replaced. Second, it might be worth seeing if it is more economical just to rent a car when you need one.
posted by deanc at 11:01 AM on September 11, 2012

Trickle charger or install a 'quick-release' fitting on the cables(+) going to the battery.
posted by gatsby died at 11:10 AM on September 11, 2012

First, trickle charger. Battery maintenance is the name of the game, and what works for rarely-used motorcycles and lawn mowers works for your car, albeit with adjustments for the larger battery.

Second, strategize on fuel: you don't want to run with a mostly-empty tank, because water can collect, but you don't want to have a tank that doesn't get turned over before the gas goes stale. Do you drive enough that you'll need to refill the tank completely every three months or less? Then you're fine. If not, then you should do research in that area.
posted by davejay at 11:24 AM on September 11, 2012

You need a solar charger. Whether you connect it to your battery or your cigarette lighter will depend on whether your cigarette lighter is active when the car is off.

Try this one. It's more elegant than an extension cord and a normal AC trickle charger.

I have one and it keeps my truck's battery charged, even though I rarely drive it.

Also, seconding davejay on fuel management. Some Sta-Bil might help.
posted by MonsieurBon at 11:27 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

er, sorry, you don't want to STORE with a mostly-empty tank
posted by davejay at 11:29 AM on September 11, 2012

a note on sta-bil that is not relevant to you, but might be to others who read this thread: I used it in a scooter fuel tank as directed, but left the scoot parked for two years, and I ended up needing a full carb rebuild, so went ahead and manually drained the tank/replaced the fuel lines and filter while I was at it. In retrospect, if you're going to store more than, say, six months, skip sta-bil and go through the trouble of cutting off the fuel supply/running the carb dry before storage, keeping the tank mostly full of gas to keep rust away, and draining/refilling the gas tank every year or so.
posted by davejay at 11:31 AM on September 11, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. Selling up and renting is very much not on the table (the car is over ten years old and plenty depreciated, but also much beloved), and I do go through a tank of gas every two months or so (roadtrips!), but the once every few weeks driving to deal with tires/brakes/lube stuff + solar charger seems like the perfect combo.
posted by dizziest at 1:46 PM on September 11, 2012

I think a tank of gas every two months is plenty of turnover to avoid any of the bad things that happens to cars when setting, except for the battery. Regular lead acid batteries really don't like being discharged much at all, they are happiest staying at or near 100% and being used as a short term high load like starting a car with immediate recharge. I would recommend get a an AGM (activiting glass mat) or gel cel like the optima batteries. They cost more but are much more likely to last on you with this type of duty cycle. I have not had good luck with most trickly chargers-they either stop working or overcharge the battery in my experience and no battery deals well with overcharges and lead acid batteries boil over and you get corrosion or actual acid leaking in your engine bay. I would get an optima battery and a quick disconnect (they use them on RV's and boats that park for along time) on the negative cable (or just keep a wrench for the normal battery terminal) and disconnect it between trips. You will have to reset the clock and radio stations but that is easier than new batteries or jump starts all the time.
posted by bartonlong at 3:03 PM on September 11, 2012

I know you've said you don't want to sell your car and rent another...but what about letting OTHER people rent your car? That way it would see more use AND you would get paid. If that sounds like something you'd be interested in, there are quite a few peer-to-peer car sharing sites like Getaround, to start with.
posted by tinymegalo at 4:02 PM on September 11, 2012

Your vehicle doesn't sound exceptional. Some cars have higher power off draws than others, particularly ones with more and complex electronics. My aunt has a vehicle where the battery will be flat in a week if she hasn't driven it. She had a trickle charger installed and that solved her problem.

If you don't want to install a trickle charger you can disconnect the negative terminal of the battery after you're done driving, and hook it back up next time you take the car out. The battery should maintain its charge for many months that way. This is a little more hassle than simply plugging in the trickle charger. The other downside is the clock will lose its time, radio will lose any presets, and some alarms get cranky if the power is removed. But it's free!
posted by 6550 at 7:19 PM on September 11, 2012

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