“Lock your doors and don’t leave valuables inside,” are simple tips that might be two of the best when it comes to ensuring your car remains untouched if you’re parking it for an extended period of time, but there are other things drivers should also consider for maximum peace of mind.
Below, we’ll look at some tips and advice to help ensure a successful and trouble-free return to your vehicle, perhaps after parking for an extended period while you’re on vacation. After all, nothing ruins a family beach vacation or ski trip like discovering your vehicle has a dead battery, flat tire, or has been broken into or stolen while you were away.
Sitting in the Cold is Hard on Your Car
Extended periods of non-use in extreme cold weather can drain the battery in your newer vehicle and kill older or weak batteries quickly. If your vehicle will sit in the airport lot for days or weeks on end in the middle of winter, you may want to consider a battery and charging system inspection before your trip for maximum peace of mind.
A technician can quickly assess the health and condition of your vehicle’s battery and if your current battery doesn’t pass the test with flying colours, replacing it with a new one can help ensure you’re not left looking for a boost at 3 a.m. when it’s 32 below.
Note that even a sub-par battery may seem just fine before it’s killed by the cold, and that many owners say new car batteries have a shorter-than-expected lifespan of just two to three years in some applications. Translation? Don’t assume that your battery is healthy before you head off for a week or two.
Though somewhat rare, extended periods of non-use may also see owners returning to a vehicle with one or more tires that are flat or low on air. Tires lose air pressure naturally over time, and more so when temperatures fluctuate drastically in transition months. This is why regular tire pressure checks are so important.
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Protect yourself from dead batteries and flat tires by keeping a fully charged booster pack or jumper pack in your vehicle, ideally one with a built-in air compressor that can be used to inflate a flat tire.
These devices are handy, compact, and can easily be stored in your trunk. Most can store enough power to jump-start multiple engines before you need to recharge them. Just be sure to charge the pack fully before leaving, remembering that the integrated booster-pack battery may also be weakened by extreme cold.
Filling your tank with quality gasoline before parking and using synthetic oil if you aren’t already can also help ensure you can restart your engine successfully in challenging conditions.
Defend Against Break-Ins
Thieves love to window-shop while looking for unlocked car doors and peering into your vehicle for signs of something valuable before deciding to strike. Sometimes, they work in teams, using clever means of identifying targets and communicating with one another. Sometimes, parking lot staff are in on the action, too.
Make your vehicle less attractive to these thieves by being sure all doors are locked, and park in a well-lit, well-attended area wherever possible. If you see any security cameras, park within their view. Personally, I like to park my vehicle tightly against a pillar or wall where possible, limiting a thief’s ability to move around my car or open some of its doors or trunk.
My favourite tip for helping to prevent break-ins? Make your car’s interior scream, “Hey! I’m totally empty!”
When leaving my car for an extended period, I leave the glove box and centre console wide open after emptying their contents and storing them in the trunk. Then, I store everything else in the car that’s not bolted down in the trunk, too. Take out the loose change from your cupholder and store any cables or chargers. Remember, you want to make your car look completely empty.
Leave nothing to guesswork and show potential thieves that there’s literally nothing in your car so they’ll keep searching elsewhere for targets.
Help Prevent Car Theft
There is a plethora of clever ways a thief can steal your car, regardless of its age, make, or model. For this reason, drivers should remain vigilant and never let their guard down.
Visible theft deterrents, including wheel clamps or steering-wheel clubs, make your car more of a hassle to steal, encouraging would-be thieves to keep on looking. An alarm system with a visible blinking light or decal may also communicate that your car might not be worth the risk, especially for car thieves after a quick and quiet getaway.
When parking for an extended period, I pop my car’s hood, remove the fuse or relay that provides power to the engine computer and ignition system, and take these with me in my luggage. Doing so takes about 30 seconds and ensures that, no matter what, its engine cannot be started. Never remove a relay from your vehicle unless you know what you’re doing.
Also, never store a spare key or keyfob inside your vehicle while you’re away, even if your vehicle has a keypad on the door for easy access.
Further, assess your risk tolerance: for some folks, taking a cab or shuttle to the airport and leaving their car at home is less risky than parking at a hotel or airport for the duration of their holiday.