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Maintenance plan if only driving a 2nd vehicle once a month

I’ve had a car that’s over 20 years old. Runs reliably, but appearance is in “okay” condition (peeling & fading paint, dings, scratches, interior is worn). KBB and Craigslist value is only about $500-$800. I thought of selling it. But this car would be better for me to keep as a back-up/2nd vehicle indefinitely.

Here is my basic maintenance plan for the back-up vehicle:

  1. I plan to only drive this back-up car about once a month (March to October) and twice a month in the winter months to burn off moisture in the tank.
  2. Add fuel stabilizer to the tank.
  3. Check/charge the battery every fall and mid-winter.

While the car is not in daily/weekly use, will I still need to change engine oil, coolant, manual transmission fluid, brake fluid, air filter, spark plugs, etc.?

I’d change the oil/filter once a year. But then, I wouldn’t keep a car around that I didn’t need, because of the cost/space/insurance/etc.

For such little driving, I’d do maintenance based on time instead of miles. And, try to drive it once a week or every couple of weeks to keep the battery healthy. Change oil every 6 months for dino oil, once a year for synthetic or synthetic blend. Coolant every 5 years if you use an extended life coolant. Trans fluid every 5 years. Brake fluid evety 3 to 5 years. Air filter every 2 years. Spark plugs can still be done my miles, however.

Also inspect the tires periodically, perhaps twice a year, for evidence of cracking in the sidewalls. Depending on your home environment, you may want to come up with a periodic replacement schedule. And check the pressure routinely.

Do not park it with the parking brake on. If you do, it’ll probably bond to the rotors/drums. Instead, check them annually for function.

Test the brake system occasionally. Unused (unlubed) seals can fail with time and unused pistons can leave dried out cylinder walls.

It might be a good idea to change the wiper blades at least once yearly, twice if you live in a hot climate.

Good idea to check the vacuum lines and belts annually too.

I think this is a bad idea. What’s the annual costs of insurance, registration and inspection? You could sell the car and use a rental as a “backup” at a fair savings over keeping two cars.

In addition to what was already mentioned, I’d worry that the oil film on parts would have time to drain back to the sump in a month’s time, making the subsequent start much more damaging (also letting condensation rust the engine internally). Driving at least once a week would be a wiser option, assuming you must keep this car.

I think once a year for an oil change service and inspection should suffice. I can’t imagine that it would cost you a significant amount just to keep it around. I mean, it’s a 20 year old car. What’s insurance going to cost you? $30/month? Registration…$65/year? Any emissions or safety inspection? Not much to pay to have an extra car around in case you need one or just don’t like driving the same car every day.

I agree with @meanjoe75fan‌. Compare the cost of keeping the car to the cost of renting occasionally. I bet the rental cost win.

While there has been a lot of good advice given so far, I have to point out there is a missing part of the OP’s post, namely HOW the car is driven on the rare occasions when it is used.

If that once-a-month drive is for…let’s say…45 minutes of highway driving, then a once-a-year oil change is fine.

On the other hand, if that once-a-month drive is for purely local errands, with lots of short hops and re-starts, then I would suggest changing the oil every 6 months.

The spark plugs, fuel filter, and air filter should be changed on the basis of odometer miles, but the brake fluid should be changed every 2-3 years, regardless of how few miles were accumulated in that period of time.

And, then there is the issue of a timing belt…
If this mystery vehicle (possibly a Honda?) has a timing belt, then the OP needs to remember that the timing belt dries out and deteriorates just from sitting–even if the car is not driven–and the factory maintenance schedule should be followed in order to prevent a snapped timing belt and a ruined engine. On a 20 year-old Honda, the maintenance interval for changing the timing belt is…probably…every 7 1/2 years–regardless of odometer mileage–but a glance at the factory maintenance schedule will yield the correct info for this very important type of maintenance.

I’d use a battery tender to keep the battery (and alternator) in better shape.

Re: the question of owning an occasional use second vehicle vs. renting, I wonder of the OP has the same problem I do… it’s a 20 minute drive to the nearest rental place. By the time I drive there, rent the vehicle, do the chore(s), then drive back to the rental place and return it, the entire day is shot.

An additional benefit to an old vehicle as a second car is when working on one’s own vehicle. If I get my car up on jackstands, get parts off, and discover I need something, I have no way to go get it. When I had my old pickup, I’d simply hop ion and go get the parts.

One more thought: if I get the car up on stands and screw my back up (can I torque those strut bolts to 177ft/lbs?) I’m screwed. With a second vehicle, I could leave the car until my back heals, which usually takes a few weeks.

Having a second vehicle was, in my case, almost free of cost, and truly well, well worth every extra penny. I miss having one. At this point I’d have to buy one, and that would not be worth it, but if I already had one I’d keep it for sure.

Some car rental places bring the car to you.

The method I use is four services per year, one every three months which includes a glorified oil change. I also recommend a continuous battery maintainer (small trickle charge to keep the battery fresh.)

Depending on where you live and how the car is stored you might want to add some rodent protection or deterrent.

Based on the OP’s description, if it were my car, I’d change the oil no more than once per year, add stabilizer to the fuel, and perhaps give the battery a charge once in a while.

I’ve got one like that. Liability only insurance is $200 a year. I change oil once a year with about 200 miles on it. Fill it up and put stabil in it once a year to get fresh gas in it. Charge the battery once a month and run it every so often. Just don’t know what to do with it but does come in handy when I need a spare car but otherwise just gets in the way. I wish it was a truck instead.

Sounds like you could pull the rear seat and almost have a “truck”.

I agree. Bad idea to keep a back up and not use it regularly. You do need to put gas completely through the system over time so it can be gradually replaced as ethanol and other related problems will cause more maintenance and repair then it’s worth. Cars are meant to be used regularly or stored with preparation, both of which is difficult unless you have know how and money to do it…just isn’t worth the added headache.

Nothing wrong with a “back up” car, but it should be driven vigorously every now and then.

Our Corolla is our least used car (4000 miles/year) , but last week we took it to the mountains and gave it a thorough workout. Having said that, changing the oil every 4 months (recommneded in manual) is ludicrous, so we go by 5000 miles and store the car inside where the temperature never drops below 30F. Two oil changes is quite enough in one year.

Transmission fluid and fiter will be changed at 30,000 mile intervals, even though not required by the manual.

Keeping the second car as backup makes sense as if your 1st car won’t start and you are on your way to work, you can pop into the 2nd and not be late. Besides the idea above, best to drive the car more than once a month, even if you only use it once a month. I’d drive it at least around the block once or twice a week and let it idle long enough each time to reach operating temp before turning it off.

One alternative would be to sell the 2nd car and instead buy a small truck for your 2nd vehicle, then you could use it for occasional hauling.

I agree that a backup car is always a good idea

What if the primary car breaks down?
What if a friend or acquaintance needs to borrow a car for a few days?
What if . . . as the others have mentioned . . . you’re working on the primary car, and need to make a run to the parts store to get stuff, and the store is not within walking distance, and nobody’s around to give you a ride?

You do that ? Tell me you don’t also have pink flamingos on your front lawn too.
;=) I also agree with getting a used truck. Even if a utility trailer fills my needs cheaper and easier, it still reinvigorates the "Tim the tool man " in my nature to have one sitting in my front yard. (if all else fails)