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Car care for vacation home owners
Old 12-03-2018, 10:34 AM   #1
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Car care for vacation home owners

We're about 5-10 years away from FIREing, depending on the economy and how we feel about our respective work situations, so we're starting to look at places to retire, either year-round or part time. We've talked about spending summers in MN, as my partner has family there and will inherit a share of property there. But we're also looking at a lot of other locations.

If you keep vehicles at more than one home/condo/etc, you're gone for at least six months a year from one of them. What do you do with the vehicles? Do you replace the batteries preemptively on a schedule? Add anything to the gas tank? Pay someone (or ask a favor from someone) to start them and run them once every week/month?

I'm curious how we might need to budget and otherwise plan for this, if we decide to "snowbird" it.
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Old 12-03-2018, 10:48 AM   #2
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While I don't have any vehicles at a vacation home, I do have vehicles that set for four to six months with out being started.

I don't add fuel stabilizer and I don't run trickle chargers on the batteries because of the fire risk.

I do make sure the sun visors are down so mice can't use them as a platform to chew the headliner. On some of my vehicles, the tires will have flat spots from setting, but this disappears in 5 or 10 miles of driving. Been doing this for over thirty years and never an issue, even with today's fuels which contain alcohol.
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Old 12-03-2018, 10:54 AM   #3
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Basic suggestions: fill gas tank to minimize condensation, fresh oil change before leaving, ensure tires have full air pressure, disconnect battery. Other than that no real special care needed. Especially if vehicle is left inside a garage, lot less potential problems. Have a battery charger and charge battery before starting is a good idea, although a good battery should hold charge for 6 months if not connected.
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Old 12-03-2018, 10:56 AM   #4
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There is a battery-maintenance product called a "float charger" that will maintain a battery charge if it starts to drop but will stop charging if the battery is at full charge. A popular brand is the Battery Tender.
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Old 12-03-2018, 11:03 AM   #5
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All I do is to disconnect the negative terminal from the battery so it doesn't drain over the off-season. Then I reconnect and it starts up every time. I often have to put some air in the tires, but that is about it. Never had a problem... today's cars are pretty good.

If I happen to think of it I'll put some fuel stabilizer in the tank and let it idle for 5-10 minutes, but I often forget and have never had a problem.
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Old 12-03-2018, 11:09 AM   #6
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I have a service come once a month to our snowbird condo. She starts the car as part of her tasks. Even with monthly starting, the car rarely starts after sitting in a hot garage all summer. When I get there in October/November, I call AAA. They jump start it, give me a diagnostic battery printout, and then I take the battery to the auto parts store for a warranty replacement.

This process went on for a few years. Now I drive the car back to Illinois for the summer. Last winter was the first time I put my truck in Illinois on a battery tender. Worked fine, but I donít know if Iíll do it again do to fire concerns.

Havenít had any mouse problems, but I put dryer sheets in the vehicles. Heard this works but Iím not sure. Also put stabil in the gas tanks for the winter.
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Old 12-03-2018, 11:22 AM   #7
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You might want to consider having someone house sit for you. DW & I travel for extended periods - most recently we were away for 9 months. We had a very nice couple that house sat our place for the entire duration. They agreed to drive our vehicle 1X/week when running errands, kept our yard tidy and generally looked after things for us while we were away. This past summer, there was a violent thunderstorm that took out a very large chunk of a tree in the backyard. Our house sitters reached out to inform us and took care of arranging for a tree service to take care of removal and clean-up. We arrived home after our 9 month travels to a home that was immaculately clean.

Typically, house sitters will exchange free accommodation for their services (as ours did). Long-term house sitting opportunities like yours would attract many interested applicants for you to choose from.
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Old 12-03-2018, 11:30 AM   #8
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Lots of great information, thanks! I like the idea of the Battery Tender because I get annoyed when I have to redo any settings in my car after a battery replacement, like reprogramming all the preset radio stations!
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Old 12-03-2018, 11:44 AM   #9
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I have multiple cars that I use infrequently - classic cars are a hobby.

Basic suggestions, from what I've found works:

- definitely get a Battery Tender - left plugged in for months, will cost you pennies for electricity

- Stabil brand fuel stabilizer is good, but filling the tank with Ethanol free gas gives you even more of an edge. A Google search can find stations in your area selling it. It's pricey but well worth it. Modern gas with ethanol breaks down in a couple months, which can destroy your fuel lines.

- Beware of mice. Setup traps around the car/garage.

- Leave your parking brake OFF! You otherwise run the risk of it sticking on, as the slightest condensation can turn to rust over that timeframe.

- When you do restart the car after a long sit, let the key sit at the ACC position for a good ten seconds to build oil pressure before engaging the starter, and then drive it for at least 20 minutes, if possible, to burn off all the condensation.

- Even when stored in a garage, a car cover is a good idea. If stored outside, a car cover can be a really bad idea, as winds can rub it against the paint, rain can result in moisture and condensation trapped underneath, etc. A car stored outdoors for long periods with a car cover can result in a ruined finish.
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Old 12-03-2018, 11:53 AM   #10
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On a similar note... do people take collision and liability insurance off your vehicle while it sits unused? My mom has for years and I plan to this year. I do tape a large 8 1/2 x 11 note on the steering wheel reminding me or anyone else who might use the vehicle to call the insurance company at xxx-xxxx and reinstate the collision and liability insurance before driving. (One year my DS borrowed my truck for a couple days while his car was in the shop but luckily I hadn't suspended the insurance that year.)

It looks like it will save me a couple hundred $$.
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Old 12-03-2018, 11:59 AM   #11
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We have a Home Watch service at our condo in Florida which comes every other week (required by insurance). Part of his service is to start your car and drive it around the parking lot for a minute.

We donít have a car there yet as Iím not retiring until March. I have a 2013 C300 Sport 4matic with only 31k miles Iím thinking of driving down and leaving next year. My Home Watch guy charges $30.00 per month for the home inspection and car service.

Funny story...well kind of. My neighbor in Florida asked neighbor who lives there full time if he would start his car once a week and drive it around the parking lot once in a while during the summer. He lives in NY and only comes down Jan-April. It was a 2016 S class. $75,000 car. Well, the neighbor got in an accident with it. In ORLANDO! We are in Fort Myers! Come to find out he had been driving it all the time! How stupid, he would have known by the miles that he was taking advantage.
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Old 12-03-2018, 12:01 PM   #12
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I wonder if it ever crossed the neighbor's mind that something like that could happen... after all there are so few accidents in Florida because all drivers are young and have cat-like reflexes and are super attentive and not at all distracted. Living here six months a year make NY and MA drivers look very good IME.
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Old 12-03-2018, 02:22 PM   #13
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I disconnect the negative terminal of the battery and keep the stored car inside. Bought a battery tender, but don't like how warm it gets after 24 hours. Batteries down in SoCal desert area don't do well over a 6 month sit.
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Old 12-03-2018, 02:30 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by The Cosmic Avenger View Post
If you keep vehicles at more than one home/condo/etc, you're gone for at least six months a year from one of them. What do you do with the vehicles? Do you replace the batteries preemptively on a schedule? Add anything to the gas tank? Pay someone (or ask a favor from someone) to start them and run them once every week/month?
Several of my neighbors are snowbirds.

In addition to checking their homes weekly and making sure any snow is taken care of appropriately, I start their cars and run them for a few minutes each week. They don't add anything to their gas tanks.

Finding a neighbor to help you out is likely your best bet.
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Old 12-03-2018, 02:36 PM   #15
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There is a battery-maintenance product called a "float charger" that will maintain a battery charge if it starts to drop but will stop charging if the battery is at full charge. A popular brand is the Battery Tender.
Iíve heard that called a trickle charger. As my auto mechanic explained , car batteries should stay fully charged, a cycle of losing charge and being recharged shortens their lifespan. A trickle charger keeps the battery fully charged. As I found out with our 2013 Subaru, there are a number of electronic devices in the car that continue to function and consume charge while the car sits idle, and afte 4-6 weeks the battery doesnít have enough charge to start.

The first time this happened to me the folks at Subaru recharged but made it clear, if it happened again they would consider the battery warranty invalid due to lack of use.
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Old 12-03-2018, 02:43 PM   #16
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Several of my neighbors are snowbirds.
...
They don't add anything to their gas tanks.
Seriously? I've used Sta-Bil for many years in gas that was going to sit in a tank for a long time. Every mechanic I've talked to has agreed it's wise. Seems like good insurance for a few bucks.
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Old 12-03-2018, 03:28 PM   #17
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Seriously? I've used Sta-Bil for many years in gas that was going to sit in a tank for a long time. Every mechanic I've talked to has agreed it's wise. Seems like good insurance for a few bucks.
Maybe the need for it varies by climate? As someone else said, if you have ethanol in your gasoline, using a stabilizer during long idle periods is more important.
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Old 12-03-2018, 03:36 PM   #18
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On a similar note... do people take collision and liability insurance off your vehicle while it sits unused? My mom has for years and I plan to this year. I do tape a large 8 1/2 x 11 note on the steering wheel reminding me or anyone else who might use the vehicle to call the insurance company at xxx-xxxx and reinstate the collision and liability insurance before driving. (One year my DS borrowed my truck for a couple days while his car was in the shop but luckily I hadn't suspended the insurance that year.)

It looks like it will save me a couple hundred $$.
I do when I won't be using the car for over a long period. My agent sets up her reminder for reinstatement and I also set up my own reminder on my calendar.
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Old 12-03-2018, 03:39 PM   #19
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- When you do restart the car after a long sit, let the key sit at the ACC position for a good ten seconds to build oil pressure before engaging the starter
You sure about that? My fuel pump runs when I turn the key to "on" but not the oil pump. The car has to be running for the oil pump to run and build oil pressure.

I'm sure one of our automotive experts will chime in.
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Old 12-03-2018, 03:40 PM   #20
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All I do is to disconnect the negative terminal from the battery so it doesn't drain over the off-season. Then I reconnect and it starts up every time. I often have to put some air in the tires, but that is about it. Never had a problem... today's cars are pretty good.

If I happen to think of it I'll put some fuel stabilizer in the tank and let it idle for 5-10 minutes, but I often forget and have never had a problem.
I keep the battery connected. So far it has not drained in the 6 years I have been doing this. The first and last time I disconnected the battery years ago, the car failed (OBD Not Ready) the emission test.
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