'You're going to spend more money if it sits around': Auto shops seeing more problems tied to idled cars
WATERLOO -- As people follow public health guidelines by staying home to avoid further spread of COVID-19, auto mechanics in Waterloo Region are seeing more problems pop up tied to idled cars.
In recent weeks, Rich Gregg, the owner of Waterloo’s Essential Auto Service, said he is seeing fewer customers overall which he believes is tied to people driving less but, more of that business is linked to parked cars.
“Now, we’re seeing a lot more of these emergency calls where people are finally trying to get these cars moving and they’re finding out, ‘Oh wow, I’ve got problems,’” said Gregg.
One of those calls came from Matt Skogstad, when his van failed to greet him with the familiar engine roar after slotting his key in the ignition switch.
“Nothing, nothing happened at all,” Skogstad said. “We were actually getting ready to load the kids in the car to go tobogganing.”
According to Tony Tsai, a spokesperson with the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), the association has seen a 15 per cent increase in dead battery calls from its members in 2020 compared to 2019. But, Tsai pointed to extreme weather as a likely bigger factor than lack of use.
“When we had really bad weather in 2018, we actually saw a 48 per cent increase in battery-related calls and in 2019 we actually saw a decrease in battery-related calls because the weather was really great,” Tsai said.
Dead batteries aren’t the only issue local auto shops are seeing as cars sit in driveways.
Ron Knight, a technician at Tirecraft Auto Centre in Cambridge, pointed to the potential for rusted brake rotors and callipers as a result of a vehicle sitting idle for an extended period.
“Sitting around doesn’t do it any good,” Knight said. “You’re going to spend more money if it sits around than you are if you’re going to be driving it.”
The issues don’t stop at the brakes.
According to Gregg, putting on fewer kilometres doesn’t mean skipping oil changes. Gregg said oil is hygroscopic, which means it pulls moisture from the atmosphere and can lead to oil degradation.
“There’s issues too just with fluid contamination,” Gregg said. “Condensation forms inside the engine from sitting outside with temperature change and moisture change, that condensation builds up and drips into the oil pan, contaminates the oil even though you’re not putting any mileage on the car.”
Skogstad said his family has done little driving during the pandemic, not even 500 kilometres in the last four months.
Trips are almost exclusively limited to grocery store visits.
After servicing not one, but two of Skogstad’s vehicles, Gregg said the simple solution for drivers like the Waterloo family-man — is to enjoy a regular drive.
“You’re getting all those fluids circulating. You’re getting the tires moving so you don’t get flat spots in the tires. You’re doing several brake applications to clean the rust off the brakes,” Gregg said. “These are the things that are important to maintain the vehicle.”
Skogstad said the family will likely be taking more frequent trips — tobogganing or otherwise.
“We’re going to try to take the cars out for drives more frequently,” Skogstad said. “Not really go anywhere, just do some loops around and try to get them more frequently used to keep the charge going.”