Bottom Line
Headin’ to the house?
A few easy steps can help guarantee your personal vehicle is ready to go when you come in off the road

By Jeff Barker
contributing writer


I’m sure most of us can relate to this scenario: After being on the road for a while, you arrive at the location where you park your truck during your time off and are looking forward to jumping in your personal vehicle to head home.

You open the door and don’t see a dome light come on. Once you realize the battery is dead or, worse yet, one of those scumbag “midnight auto parts shoppers” helped themselves to it, you realize, “Damn, I’m not going anywhere just yet!”

Of course, it’s 2:30 in the morning and you don’t want to call someone at that time of the night to come help you out. You consider dropping your trailer and bobtailing to your house or apartment, but you remember that the last time you did you got a parking citation.

Will it start?
Most cars, pickups, motor homes and some motorcycles built since the early 1980s have numerous electronic components, such as the ECM, radio memory, clock and alarm systems that continuously draw power when the key is off.

Over a week or so, they can draw just enough juice out of the battery to keep it from starting. This is especially true with many ’80s- and ’90s-model vehicles out there that probably weren’t equipped with any type of battery protection system.

What can I do?
If you’re parked near a 120-volt wall outlet where there’s little pedestrian traffic between it and your vehicle (for example, at a mini-storage facility), you could get a small 12-volt trickle charger and use it to keep the battery charged.

Just do yourself a favor and loop a section of the extension cord over the steering column once as a way to remind yourself to unplug it and remove the trickle charger from the battery before you start the engine.

If there’s nowhere to plug in, you may be better off just disconnecting the battery after you park to keep it from being drawn down. So what if your radio loses its presets – a lot of good that will be anyway if your car won’t start, right?

As far as an alarm system is concerned, you obviously won’t hear it if you’re hundreds of miles away. Few people ever pay attention to them anyway. You can install a theft prevention device likes the ones that attach to your steering wheel. In the case of most vehicles we’re willing to park unattended for a while, that should be enough to deter a would-be thief.

Many older cars and pickups have hood releases accessible from outside. If you have one, you should install a hood lock. Many motor homes are set up with battery compartments that can be locked to prevent battery theft.

It wouldn’t hurt to have both the battery and alternator load-tested once a year while the battery is fully charged. If it doesn’t cut the mustard, replace it.

It makes sense to keep a good set of jumper cables in the trunk as well as the proper tools to disconnect and reconnect your battery, or to remove and replace it if needed.

Got good fuel?
Over time, stored gasoline and diesel fuel can go bad and cause fuel system nightmares. This can happen even if the vehicle has been sitting for just two weeks. This becomes more of a problem with fuel tanks that are half full or close to empty, as condensation forms on the inside, which can eventually cause rust.

We all know that it isn’t practical on any vehicle – except maybe a motorcycle – to drain the fuel tank and run the engine until the fuel system is dry.

To prevent possible problems, fill the fuel tank and then put in a correct amount of fuel preservative (Sta-Bil fuel stabilizer is one that is widely used among classic car owners who don’t drive their cars during the winter months). After doing that, drive the vehicle a few miles before parking it to allow the treated fuel to circulate throughout your fuel system.

 If you have a motorcycle that you keep parked at home, you can normally shut off the fuel petcock and remove the fuel supply line.

Then connect a section of fuel hose long enough to drain the fuel in the tank into a gas can after the petcock is reopened. Once that’s done, reconnect the fuel supply line, leave the fuel petcock open, and run the engine until the fuel system is dry.

Protecting the outside
If you want to protect a nice vehicle from the elements but don’t have covered parking for it while you’re gone, there are a few ways to protect its appearance.

Get it washed. Then apply vinyl protectant to the dash, plastic or vinyl door panels – and elsewhere, as needed, on the inside – to keep them from drying out. If the vehicle has a vinyl top, put a heavy coat on it also.

Get a car or motorcycle cover and several good rubber tarp straps or bungee cords. Make sure the cover is secured so that it won’t blow off in a hard wind. Theft prevention locks and cables are available for car covers as well – something else to consider. If you live where hailstorms are a concern, you could place some foam rubber padding on the hood, roof and trunk to help minimize possible damage before putting the cover on.

One last thought
If your vehicle is in need of any maintenance or repair, or inspections, registration and plate renewals, have it done before you leave or make a to-do list for the next trip home. It’s easy to forget about that kind of stuff.

Speaking of expired registration and license plates, some trucking companies have been known to have a vehicle towed out of their driver parking areas, citing as a reason that they see it as an abandoned vehicle taking up space on their property. LL 


Jeff Barker is an OOIDA member and a former certified diesel mechanic. He can be reached at