If you're parking it, protect it

Take precautions with the vehicle you're leaving here before you go off for a long summer trip
2013-05-09T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T16:50:13Z If you're parking it, protect itValerie Vinyard For The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

We've all heard the toll that Arizona's intense heat can take on your car, but that's not the only challenge vehicle owners face during the hottest months of the year - especially those who park their cars for extended periods of time.

They might be snowbirds, people who own multiple vehicles or those who are planning to travel for weeks at a time.

Whatever the case, you could be surprised by a variety of problems if your car sits for too long.

Here are three common issues that affect cars left in the Arizona climate.

Pack rats

We view our cars as modes of transportation. Other creatures call them home.

With their bushy tails, white underbellies and brown or gray fur, the tennis ball-sized rodent can leave a swath of destruction in the bowels of your car.

Like mice, pack rats rarely act alone. They can squeeze into the seemingly tiniest spaces, so even if your car is stored in a garage, they can set up shop.

As mostly nocturnal creatures, pack rats look for shelter to hide in. They tend to hang out in the engine compartment, which affords warmth if the vehicle was recently driven.

Coincidentally, many wires are found near the engine. You could describe the wiring harness that's located behind the motor as the central nervous system of the car.

And pack rats love to chew on those wires. Once they have begun chewing and gnawing, it's just a matter of time before they cause serious and costly damage.

It gets even worse once you take it into the repair shop. Electronic problems are often difficult to diagnose, the wires aren't in easy-to-find spots and there's a big bundle of wires to inspect. Repairs could cost anywhere from a few dollars to more than $1,000. Plus, you might spend several hundred dollars to diagnose the problem.

Thwart pack rats by:

• Tightly sealing food and waste.

• Keeping your yard debris-free, as twigs, compost and trash are nesting havens for pack rats.

• If you can, park your car inside a garage. Just make sure not to leave anything nearby, such as garbage or food, that might attract pack rats.

Batteries

As each day passes, your car's battery slowly is losing its charge. When you return from being away for a few months, more often than not, your car won't start.

The reason your battery dies is because of something called parasitic draw, which is caused by the little things in your vehicle that draw small amounts of current, such as the always-running clock.

Over time, those draws will deplete the battery. And that type of dead battery ends up being worse than if you left the headlights on all night. By not having a charge for so long, lead sulfate builds up and reacts with the acid in the battery.

"If you leave it for too long, you won't be able to charge the battery," said John Walter, director of automotive repair for AAA Arizona.

If you're planning to leave your vehicles unused for more than a couple of weeks at a time, Walter suggests you invest in a battery tender. Other names for the device are "float charger" and "trickle charger."

Basically, it's an easy-to-use device that provides a very slow charge. They're available at auto parts stores for $30 to $50.

Some people simply disconnect their battery for the summer. Even so it eventually will lose its charge. Arizona's heat is brutal to batteries and already results in shorter lifespans for them - about 30 months - than in other areas of the country.

To keep your battery in good shape your car should be driven at least an hour or two or at least 50 to 60 miles a week.

Bad gas

Though it seems like the stuff of urban legends, gasoline actually can go "bad" if it's left unused.

Over time, gasoline will degrade through oxidation. That can lead to a number of issues, including hard starting, rough running or not starting at all.

"As fuel oxidizes, which is a fancy term for fuel breaking down, it starts to turn gummy and gets darker in color," said Gary Bons, AAA Arizona's operations manager.

"As time progresses, it actually turns to a hard varnish. When that happens, it plugs fuel filters and makes fuel pumps and fuel injectors seize up and stick shut."

This can translate into hundreds of dollars - or more. A professional fuel system cleaning can be done for a couple of hundred bucks, but replacing fuel injectors can cost $800 to $1,000.

And for all you do-it-yourselfers out there: You can't clean out a heavy varnish with anything you pour into a gas tank - it must be done by a professional.

Besides being difficult to do, draining the gas tank is not the answer. You should leave your car with at least half a tank of fuel and add a fuel stabilizer, which stabilizes fuel for long-term storage.

Keep in mind that it should be mixed with fresh gas and not added to already old gas.

After you add the stabilizer, drive your car around the block a few times so it mixes in with the fuel.

How can you tell if your fuel is bad?

"It turns darker and gets a pretty pungent odor to it," Bons said. "Anyone that's ever smelled bad gas, it registers with them the rest of their life."

If you plan to park your car for a long time, consult your technician for more tips.

Valerie Vinyard is a public affairs specialist for AAA Arizona. Contact her at vvinyard@arizona.aaa.com or 258-0518.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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