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Car question -- how often to start in winter?
Old 11-06-2012, 06:57 PM   #1
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Car question -- how often to start in winter?

I now bicycle commute to work, and most of my evening/weekend activities are within walking/biking distance, which means that I can go 10-14 days without needing to use my car.

I don't have a garage currently, so it sits outside year-round. As winter is approaching (I am in the upper Midwest) I am starting to worry about the battery, etc.

How frequently do I need to start my car to make sure that it remains functional? Do I just need to let it run for 5 minutes or so, or do I need to drive it around?

My car is 11 years old and not in the greatest condition, if that matters at all.

Any help would be much appreciated!
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Old 11-06-2012, 07:09 PM   #2
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Starting it and allowing it to idle is not the best approach. I'd suggest driving it for 20 minutes or so every couple of weeks. I'd also suggest using a 'battery minder' to make sure the battery doesn't discharge completely and freeze.
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Old 11-06-2012, 07:18 PM   #3
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I would start and drive it at least twice a week for 20 minutes or so, maybe more depending on outside temps.
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Old 11-06-2012, 07:55 PM   #4
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I'm with the others. It takes a while for the car to charge the battery after the big drain from starting. You also want to get the engine up to operating temperature to remove any lingering moisture.
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Old 11-06-2012, 07:56 PM   #5
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I live in Wisconsin and I was unemployed last winter. I often drove only once every 7-10 days to get groceries(5 minutes) and I had no problem with my 8 year old car.

Once the snow starts to fall you won't be able to ride your bike will you?
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Old 11-06-2012, 08:01 PM   #6
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In the winter I would drive the car around at least a few miles every few days.

A couple of other things to consider is 1) how old is the battery? Is it close to the battery estimated life time. 2) Are you comfortable using one of thse battery jumpers that you can store in the trunk just in case the battery dies?
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Old 11-06-2012, 08:01 PM   #7
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Thanks all! I had never heard of a battery minder before. Will definitely get one since I have had trouble with the battery in the past (suspect a design flaw in my car.) And also make sure to drive at least 20 minutes two times a week.

I am planning to bicycle commute all year round (I'm also in Wisconsin.) Apparently they plow the bike path I take to work and it's only 2.5 miles each way. I just need to get fenders on my bike to stop the slush from getting my business professional clothes dirty!

I am actually more concerned about commuting in the summer, as I don't want to be a sweaty mess by the time I get to work. This past summer I hadn't fixed my bike yet, so took the bus.
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Old 11-06-2012, 08:13 PM   #8
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I live in western Canada where -40F is common. I drive my truck during the winter but take the (8 year, 50K mile) car out about once every 4-6 weeks. You want to get it up to operating temperature and keep it there for a while, maybe 20 minutes.

If it's warm enough to ride a bike, I wouldn't worry too much about the car.
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Old 11-06-2012, 10:29 PM   #9
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I've had good luck with these Harbor Freight battery float chargers. They are usually on sale for $4.99 with coupon at our local HF store.

Automatic Battery Charger - 12V
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Old 11-06-2012, 10:33 PM   #10
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I have a friend who has several vehicles and some of them might sit for months over the winter without being started. He uses a product called battery tender that apparently will keep the battery charged without over charging and can be left hooked up for months if needed. I know he has enough of the units that all his vehicles are hooked up when not being driven. I asked him if he's had any problems and he says no.
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Old 11-07-2012, 12:19 AM   #11
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Marathoner, do you have an engine heater that you can plug in?
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Old 11-07-2012, 06:20 AM   #12
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Agreed with the others that running the engine at idle for 5 minutes is not a good idea. It won't reach full operating temperature to evaporate the moisture that is a normal part of combustion.

Best to run it at highway speeds for at least 20 minutes, preferably a bit longer at least once a week, not only for the battery but for the other components as well. This will help keep seals from drying out and other accelerated aging effects from happening. Might also put some Stabil in the fuel tank if that is going to sit for a while or at least make sure to keep the tank full. That will help reduce condensate moisture in the fuel by reducing empty air space in the fuel tank.
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Old 11-07-2012, 06:26 AM   #13
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It's also bad for the tires to sit for a long time (any time of year).
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Old 11-07-2012, 06:39 AM   #14
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My folks start our cars every 10 days while we are in Japan, and idle them for about 10-15 minutes each. We drive them when we go on home leave, several times a year for a week to two weeks at a time. Our car is garaged, and the truck is parked outside and is re-positioned by my dad every time he goes to our place to start the cars and knock down the weeds. We have had no problems with this, but our place is in central california, not in a cold northern climate.

Just another data point...

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Old 11-07-2012, 08:39 AM   #15
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I think you have received lots of good advice about the car. We take our car out 7 to 10 days for the 20 minute ride. I am in Milwaukee and bike year around. I am glad to see that you Bike Winter. Winter biking is not a problem except when it snows and the streets get 'narrow'. It is not the snow that is a problem, just the lack of room on the street. Good luck and don't over dress. You'll get warm riding.
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Old 11-07-2012, 08:42 AM   #16
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Can only give my own experience... not recommending.
When we go to FL for the winter, one car stays in the garage, (probably low of 28 degrees), and one stays outside... (wherever Ill temps go.) Disconnect positive terminal of batteries. When we get back, put a slow charge on batteries, even if they don't show discharge. Tires bump a bit for the first one or two miles. No Problem.
My three cars '96, '96 and '98 are now getting a wee bit old, but haven't had a problem with winter.
BTW... the batteries are 3 to 5 years old.
...but, as they say... YMMV.
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Old 11-07-2012, 09:10 AM   #17
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It is best to drive the car long enough to get the oil above 212 degrees to drive off the water vapor. Also important to move it to avoid flat spotting tires and to exercise other parts. I used to park my SUV for weeks and the brake calipers started to hang up on the slider pins, ruining the brake pads and rotor. Agree with the float charger recommendation, as batteries self discharge from sitting, then freeze, which ruins the battery.

Sitting is harder on a vehicle than driving it, as they are designed to be driven, not parked for extended periods.
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Old 11-07-2012, 09:32 AM   #18
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If your battery is older than 5 years, why not bring it in to a place that sells batteries and have them check the cold cranking amps (CCA). They have a meter that checks if the battery is still good. I had my old Sears battery checked when it still had some warranty time left. Many auto stores will probably check this for free if they have the meter to test CCA's. Also, if you do oil changes at Car-X, Midas, etc, they'll do a free CCA check as part of the overall maintenance check. When my battery was dying, I was nursing it with a trickle charge overnight waiting for a new battery shipment to arrive at Costco, brought the car in for an oil change at Car-X and they told me the battery CCA was bad and it needed to be replaced. They parked the car in front for me to take it out, turned off the engine and it wouldn't start. They gave me a jump so I could leave the lot. I was able to get the battery from Costco two days later.
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Old 11-07-2012, 11:22 AM   #19
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One of the better long term purchases is a car battery load tester. Sells for $25 to $40 and lasts forever... no moving parts. A volt or amp meter is not sufficient to test a battery yourself. The load tester essentially "shorts" the battery, putting a load on it, in the way a starter does. The built in meter, tells the state of the battery. It's an absolute necessity for golf carts, as it gives early warning that a battery is weakening so one battery can be replaced without putting a strain on the good batteries. Saves the trip to the dealer or garage, and gives a chance to look around for best deal.
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Old 11-07-2012, 05:33 PM   #20
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I store my Mustang in my unheated garage. The double garage is part of the raised ranch structure.
I faithfully start it once a week, run the AC and heater for approx 10 minutes each, and do a 3 point turn in my driveway so the tires will be in a different position when I return it to the garage. Overall run time is approx 30 minutes. I do not take it out on the road because of the huge volume of salt they use here.

A guy friend told me to put heavy duty corrugated cardboard on the cement floor underneath the tires, completely covering the floor under the car. His claim was the moisture from the cement would cause oxidation damage to the underside of the car. The idea was for the cardboard to absorb excess moisture and would dry out periodically when the humidity was lower.
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