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Car’s Been Sitting and Won’t Start – We Get It

No matter where we live, these are difficult and crazy times. If you are like many of us, you have one or more cars that are not getting as much action as they normally do. In many ways, this is great. Less wear and tear, less need for maintenance, hardly consuming any gas… there are many positives from using it less. But, many drivers could be in for a big surprise when it’s time to start their vehicle. A dead battery. We’ve talked to many friends and family who have run into this issue over the last few weeks. So, we thought we’d touch on a few things to keep in mind when it comes to managing your vehicle and its battery during periods of low or no use.

How many days your specific vehicle can sit and still have enough charge in the battery to start varies based on numerous factors, including the battery’s capacity, its condition, the temperature and whether your vehicle has excessive parasitic drains. You likely have a pretty good sense of just how long it can sit idle without issue. If you haven’t already done so, we suggest disconnecting any non-critical electronics that could place a drain on your system, particularly any devices that are spliced directly into your electrical wiring. These devices might not cause issues when your vehicle is sitting for 2-3 days, but could present a problem when your vehicle is idle for 10-14 days or more.

One solution to the sitting problem is to go out and drive your vehicle for 30-40 minutes every week or so to get a good charge on the battery. For some, this is viable and makes a lot of sense. For others, such a strategy could present problems, such as fear of losing your parking spot or illness that is preventing you from regularly taking your vehicle out for a spin. In addition, you may simply prefer not to go out under the current conditions.

If you have access to an AC outlet where you park your vehicle, you may want to connect it to a battery charger or maintainer to keep the battery from discharging during extended periods of non-use. This will ensure that your vehicle is ready when you need it and prevents your battery from experiencing deep discharge cycles, which have adverse consequences for long term battery health. Our PRO-LOGIX PL2140 6/12V 4 Amp Battery Maintainer is designed specifically for such a task. It has several output options, so that you can choose the one best for you. In most cases, this will be the clamp set, but for some users, connecting the ring terminal adapters to their vehicle will allow for quick and hassle-free connections when the battery isn’t easily accessible.

This is a great time to check your battery for obvious signs of trouble, whether you are connecting a charger or not. Obvious issues like caking corrosion on the terminals are not only unsightly, but also can sap your battery of its starting capacity. If you see signs of corrosion, it is best to clean your battery terminals. Here’s a quick YouTube video that does a pretty good job of covering the basics. Please don’t skip the step of applying battery terminal grease to the terminals and the hardware or you are likely to be back at it in just a few short weeks.

Also, as one commenter pointed out, the video skipped the step of thoroughly cleaning the entire top of the battery case. This is really important, since debris (such as salt-containing particles) or liquid on the top surface of the battery could create a conductive path that causes your battery to drain much more quickly than if it were clean. Also, check to make sure your battery connections are tight and that you do not have any micro (or larger) cracks in your battery case, which are clear indicators of a compromised battery.

If your battery is too discharged to start your vehicle after 2-3 idle days and you have performed a visual check and can’t see any obvious issues, it would be reasonable to suspect that you may have an excessive parasitic drain somewhere in your vehicle’s electrical system. Essentially, what this means is that, instead of shutting down as intended, some electrical or electronic component continues to place an excessive demand on your battery long after the vehicle has been turned off. Parasitic drains can be very difficult to properly diagnose. If you’d like to learn more about this vexing diagnostic dilemma, type the word “parasitic” into the search bar on this blog – you’ll get enough resources on this topic to make your head spin. If you suspect that your vehicle is exhibiting symptoms of a parasitic drain, we’d recommend taking it to a professional technician for a thorough once over. It is well worth it.

Above, we recommended the use of a battery charger or maintainer to keep your battery at full charge during periods of low use. For some, such an option isn’t feasible. Whether you park on the street, in a lot or in a large parking garage, it is very possible you do not have access to an AC outlet. In these situations, a jump starter can be very handy. As many of our customers have pointed out in stories on this blog, owning a jump starter allows them to quickly overcome a dead battery and avoid the time and hassle of waiting for a roadside assistance crew to become available or the difficulty of asking a stranger if you can use their vehicle as a boosting “host.” A jump starter can seem daunting for those who have never used one, but, after a few times, even those who are not mechanically inclined can achieve “old pro” status. Here’s a quick video of the proper jump starting sequence.

We also have a great primer available with tips on things to remember for long jump starter life. 

The current environment has changed our habits and routines in ways expected and unexpected. Based on conversations we have had with several aggravated vehicle owners over the last several weeks, one unexpected area of difficulty is unresponsive vehicles suffering from a lack of activity. There are many ways to improve this situation through preventive maintenance and the use of tools designed to avoid or overcome experiencing a dead battery. We hope that this article is useful and that it helps eliminate one area of hassle in your busy life. Have you had a vehicle issue due to reduced usage patterns? We’d love to hear about it. Please drop a note in the comments.

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4 Comments

  1. All great suggestions, especially using a battery charger/maintainer to fully recharge the battery and to prevent a gradual accumulation of sulfation. I would add that taking the vehicle out for a 30-40 minute spin will be most effective if it is highway driving as shown the article’s photo. This will increase the RPM of the alternator; thus, applying more current to charge the battery.

    • Bill – Great point. Higher speeds will allow the vehicle to charge the battery more effectively and more quickly. Thanks, Jim from Clore Automotive

  2. Another great article but I just want to clarify that is not dielectric grease that was used but a battery corrosion preventative spray. You do not want to use dielectric (non conductive) grease on battery terminals before connecting it is an insulating grease to prevent current losses to outside of connection. Once firmly connected it can be used to coat the outside of terminals for protection. If corrosion keeps occurring I would also look at where the vent is and try venting away from the battery area.

    • Thanks Paul for your comment and for adding to the discussion. I edited the story to correct our suggestion accordingly. Also, great point about the venting. That can be very helpful as well. Thanks again, Jim from Clore Automotive

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