HARTFORD, Conn. – Car batteries are fading as the coronavirus keeps many cars parked at home.
Dead batteries prompted 40% of AAA's calls for service in April, compared with 20% in April 2019.
"Some cars won't last two weeks," said Paul Hechenbleikner, manager of Jones' Automotive Service in East Hartford.
Today's vehicles draw electrical power even while parked with the engine off. Called "parasitic drain," electrical current goes to engine computers and electronic control modules for power windows, mirrors and other accessories.
Also, older car batteries fizzle faster, said Don Cusson, owner of Cusson Automotive in South Windsor, Conn. Mechanics advise people to take a 20-minute drive at least once a week to keep the battery charged.
Stationary autos also invite rodents seeking warm, dry places for nesting. The critters can cause costly horrors on wiring.
Connie Yan said her car sat for about two weeks before she and her husband decided to take a drive to ease cabin fever. The car started right away, but the dashboard warning lights for anti-lock braking and traction control systems came on.
Opening the hood revealed a retreating bushy tail and a nest tucked in next to the engine. Squirrels had chewed through wires, disabling some systems. For good measure, they also had gnawed through a windshield washer spray hose, Yan said.
While removing the nest, the couple noticed something else: two baby squirrels that could hardly open their eyes. They placed the pair in a box on the ground with some of the nesting material so the mother could find them, she said.
The garage that repaired their car suggested that they spray diluted peppermint oil solution around the engine compartment to deter further visitors. People also use dryer sheets and mothballs to fend off squirrels, mice and chipmunks.
Hechenbleikner said that the cost of repairing chewed-up engine components can run from $150 up — and "up" can easily hit four digits if multiple things have been damaged.
Even as stay-at-home restrictions are easing, many cars will not be rolling as they normally would for weeks or even months, so AAA advised owners to take the following steps:
• If you won't be driving your car at least once a week, a battery tender will maintain the charge.
• Keep the gasoline tank at least three-fourths full. Full tanks help minimize condensation.
• Check the tire pressure and fill, as needed, to the recommended amount (levels typically are posted inside the driver's door or the glove box door, as well as in the owner's manual).
There is one ray of good news — well, sort of good. Both Hechenbleikner and Cusson said that business is down, so if you do need to have your car repaired, garages should be able to get you in quickly.
Just make the appointment soon. Cusson said he's confident that business will return as the pent-up longing to get back on the road is finally realized and more people discover that their cars need attention.