During the viral pandemic, we are all driving less than normal. Many of us are simply home all the time now. With our vehicles sitting unused, the batteries will eventually die. However, we all want those vehicles to be ready in an emergency. There are four practical ways to manage this situation.
Those who own special use cars, like racecars and vehicles they drive only a few times per year, already know these methods. As do snowbirds who leave a home in the North and then spend half of the year in the South. These are all practical methods that require very or no little mechanical ability.
Short-Term Battery Maintenance – Drive The Car Weekly
For those of us planning to return to normal life in the coming month or two, simply taking the vehicle out for a drive will keep the battery charged. Drive the car for 20 minutes or more. You can let it idle for half that time if you prefer. This will help keep the battery charged and the fluids healthy and happy.
Medium Term Battery Maintenance – Battery Tender or Charger
Some of us are being strongly advised against even casual drives. We may need to let the car sit two, three, or more weeks at a time. There are machines that can hold your battery at a charge for three weeks or more. They are called battery tenders. You plug them in, and they connect to the car’s battery. These keep the battery healthy and happy. To drive the vehicle, you simply disconnect the machine from the car and off you go. Under two minutes would be required to take the car out.
A battery charger works differently. This is basically a jump-starter. They help in cases where you expect the battery to be dead, or worry it might be. These battery jump starters are pretty easy to operate. They are also inexpensive and compact. You can store it away and if the car does not start, you can jump-start it in under 10 minutes.
Long-Term Battery Maintenance
If you plan to put the car away for a month to six months, as many snowbird retirees do, there is a simple and easy way to get the car to restart. All these people do is disconnect the negative (black) terminal. If you have a conventional car like an Accord, this is super easy. Slide a glove over the cable you removed so it does not accidentally contact metal. You can reconnect it after a month or more and the car will very likely start. We know this works from first-hand experience. We have been doing it for a decade and the car always restarts. A battery can hold a charge over winter without any maintenance in many cases. If it fails to restart, you can jump-start the car using AAA or via a jump-starter tool like we described above.
Whenever you plan to work on any car, remove any rings, bracelets, or necklaces you wear. Don’t wear loose-fitting shirts or ties. We suggest wearing safety glasses whenever messing with batteries. Follow all of the safety instructions on any machine you employ, and always check your owners’ manual. We also suggest not jump-starting from vehicle to vehicle. There is a risk of damage.
If you have any other tips, please post them in the comments below. Your experience may help a fellow car owner.
John Goreham is a life-long car nut and recovering engineer. John's focus areas are technology, safety, and green vehicles. In the 1990s, he was part of a team that built a solar-electric vehicle from scratch. His was the role of battery thermal control designer. For 20 years he applied his engineering and sales talents in the high tech world and published numerous articles in technical journals such as Chemical Processing Magazine. In 2008 he retired from that career and dedicated himself to chasing his dream of being an auto writer. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin.