Northern VA Auto Repair


Prevent "Car-thritus" Blues

We’ve noticed an expensive trend that has occurred during the pandemic – putting off regular maintenance for your vehicle, thus a new infliction has surfaced: “Car-thritus Blues”

“Car-thritus” (rhymes with arthritis):

When your vehicle sits unused for a long length of time and suffers from stiffness and deterioration.  Common symptoms include poor engine lubrication, rusty brake rotors & engine components, battery degradation and a possible “non-start” situation.

Just when a vaccine is available and our society is beginning to move about more freely, this new, pandemic infliction can strike any vehicle that hasn’t been out much in the last year.

Here are the most common symptoms that we’ve been seeing in the last few months and what you can do to avoid them:

1.  Critter Nesting Syndrome: clogged filters & gnawed wires.  Mice, squirrels, rats move into your engine compartment because it’s a warm shelter.  They find further protection and warmth in your cabin and air filters where they nest and often gnaw on the surrounding components and wires.

What has further exacerbated this situation, is Toyota’s going green initiative that resulted in replacing the rubber wire harnesses in their engines with a soy-bean compound that is a very attractive food source for these unwanted pests!

We recently had a meticulously maintained 2014 Toyota 4Runner with 65K miles with a check engine light on. This was followed by an illuminated traction control light and the vehicle going into “limp mode” (when the engine senses a catastrophic failure and runs on half power to protect it from locking up until the fault is corrected).  It was initially thought that it needed a new alternator since all symptoms pointed to this, but it turned out that the entire wire harness (which links up all the sensors to the main computer and are similar to what would be like the veins in your body) was consumed by a rodent!  We were able repair all the affected wiring by shrink-wrapping every wire.  (it also provides protection from moisture & corrosion). 

To avoid this situation, we recommend spraying mace or pepper spray into your engine compartment as a rodent repellant.

2.  Clogged Drains!  Debris & Leaves settling into your body drains, especially around sunroofs.  We just did a lot of repair work on a Smart car because the battery which sits under the passenger seat had about 8 inches of water that accumulated around it because the car’s body drains were plugged.  The water soaked the electronics and caused all sorts of damage.  Areas of the wiring harness were also corroded.  All of this could be prevented by inspecting and cleaning out the debris that commonly accumulates in the cowls and drains under your hood.  (This is included in our digital inspection!)

3.  Brake-thritus: the appearance of a light, rust sheen on the brake surface rotor area.  (No rust will appear where the brake pad touches the rotor, because it’s protected from moisture) If you don’t use your brakes for a long period of time, this rust will be visible.  We had a customer whose rotors had visible surface rust that accumulated in only 3 months. The car was only driven 146 miles during that time frame.  Simply driving your car once a week for about 20 miles and hitting your brakes hard a couple time should prevent this surface rust. 

On initial take off, you might hear a horrible grinding noise that should dissipate after a few hard brakes or a few miles of driving.  If it continues or gets worst, it’s time to come in for a FREE brake inspection at one of our locations in Alexandria, Fairfax, Chantilly, Merrifield or Mclean.

4.  Non-start.  Oops! Your battery may need to be replaced.  A good battery with a proper charge can usually be parked for up to three weeks.  Most batteries can last 3-5 years with regular use.  Driving your car at least once a week keeps it charged with enough power to keep all the smaller electronic parts in working order (door locks, clock, radio, etc.).  As the battery ages or sits for longer periods, the ability for it to hold a charge will slowly diminish until it won’t have enough juice to start the vehicle.  A simple battery test that we perform during our digital inspection measures the health of your battery and helps determine the best time to replace it. 

5.  Stale fluids.  Your fluids may be stagnant if they haven’t recently circulated through your engine.  The integrity of your oil may still be ok, but the filters and other engine components will accumulate stagnant oil and other parts will not receive their routine lubrication that comes with regularly running your engine. 

Just because you’re not using your vehicle so much doesn’t mean you should back off on your regular oil services.  It is true, however, that your mileage interval may increase since you’re probably not driving as much.  We’d recommend a digital health inspection to assess what components need attention.

6.  Flat-ulence; The “Flat” spots that develop on your tires if you’re car has not moved.  Most of this will work out on its own when you drive 5-10 miles and warm up the rubber in your tires.  In colder temperatures, it will take longer for your tires to heat up.  If you let a vehicle to sit undisturbed for over a year, you will most likely need to replace your tires.

After you’ve warmed up your tires and are experiencing some pulling or other drivability issues (vibrating), you may need to get a balance, alignment, rotation and/or new tires.  (No problem – check out some tire solutions)

The best prevention to all of these symptoms is to drive your vehicle regularly!  This ensures your engine is charged and lubricated, your belts and hoses stay supple and your tires and brakes in working order.  Stop by any of our 5 locations in Alexandria, Chantilly, Fairfax, Merrifield or McLean to receive a free digital health inspection for your vehicle.  Staying up to date on your vehicle’s health is the only way to ensure it is not damaged from Car-thritus!


Auto Care