A car battery's life depends on many factors, but figure a new one will last three to four years. Popular Mechanics says six years; you won't find a consensus.
If your battery was new in 2016, this season begins your period of borrowed time. A service shop and some auto parts stores can test your battery's change. To get a hint, look at the battery terminals.
"Terminal cleanliness is a forgotten thing,” Cappert says. If you see green leakage around either electrical contact, the buildup eventually will impair the connection.
You can clean the terminals yourself by unhooking the cables from the terminals and applying baking soda and water with an old toothbrush. But you will have to reset the clock and all those convenience settings that the battery keeps powered.
"A service professional can hook up a temporary battery maintainer and keep the settings from getting lost while the battery's cleaned,” Cappert says.
Drive it at least once a week
This might not be on your to-do list if you work from home or send someone else to get groceries and medicine. But climb in, fire it up, and run it 15 or 20 miles up and down the highway.
That will help keep the battery charged.
And it warms up the oil enough to drive off moisture that can damage the engine. It pumps the oil onto the engine's internal surfaces to keep them properly slick to reduce wear the next time you start the engine — the when an engine experiences the most wear and tear.
Warming the car up will also keep lubrication moving inside the transmission. If it's an old-school four-wheel drive, yank the lever or push the button or turn the knob to engage the 4x4 setting so the gears that drive the two wheels not normally powered get lubed, too.
"Cars don't deal well with being static. Drive once a week for 15 to 30 minutes” and not a stop-and-go dawdle to the corner and back, Cappert says. “Short trips don't do any favors."
You must generate enough heat for long enough to burn off moisture that collects in the fuel and exhaust systems. If you don't, you'll get damaging rust.
Security is part of the equation
• Lock it. Even in an area without much theft, an unlocked car parked outside is an invitation to mischief. Worse: An unsupervised youngster could climb in and get the car rolling or get stuck inside on a hot day.
• Close it. Leaving the windows or sunroof open, even a bit, can let in weather extremes that damage your interior. If it's extraordinarily hot where you are, leave the windows open a bit when parking for a short time to let heated air escape before you climb back in.
• Park it thoughtfully. If your car is parked where you live, try to keep the area lighted to discourage vandalism. To minimize door dings in a parking lot, try to find a well-lit spot that won't invite others to park immediately next to you.
• Hide or remove valuables. Thieves often walk down lines of cars in crowded parking lots in daylight and glance inside for a purse, briefcase or smartphone. Then they smash a window for a quick grab.
Don't skimp on maintenance
Your dashboard's service reminder will alert you to your next recommended service. If it doesn't have that feature, the owner's manual will tell you.
Sometimes the recommendation is every 5,000 miles or six months, whichever comes first. If your car is not used much, schedule service appointments based on time instead of mileage.
Time can degrade gaskets, hoses and lubricants. Tires lose up to two pounds of air pressure a month. That's all accelerated if a car sits outside.
The correct pressure isn't what's printed on the tire sidewall; that's a maximum. The right pressure is listed on a sticker on the driver's doorjamb.
For every 10 degrees of temperature drop, a tire can lose a pound or so of pressure. That's mainly a seasonal danger when days are warm and nights are chilly, leaving you with underinflated tires the next morning. But incorrectly inflated tires are unsafe and wear out faster.
Lack of driving is no reason to skimp on maintenance. Otherwise, your car might leave you stranded when you do need to get somewhere.