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1963 Jaguar Mk II (Hugh Dow)
1963 Jaguar Mk II (Hugh Dow)

Ask Joanne

I’m not using the car, but battery keeps discharging Add to ...

I have inherited an expensive, but aging, European car. Problem #1: At present I lack the means to maintain it properly. Problem #2: The battery continues to discharge. The dealer tells me it will be expensive to ascertain the cause of this; also there may be extra expenses to correct the problem. My solution is to start the car daily to ensure that the battery remains charged. Is this damaging the vehicle? As I don’t drive very often, would I be better to disconnect the battery? – Bill in Toronto

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An expensive European car is nice – especially when it’s working. But at present you lack the means to maintain it properly, so what to do?

First, there may be a simple reason for the continuous battery discharge. “Most of the time it’s something that somebody has added on to the car that’s the draw. Nine times out of ten someone has wired in a radar detector, but they didn’t wire it into the ignition. Or they have an aftermarket stereo but haven’t wired it in properly, or something to that effect,” says John Broek, a Porsche Goldmeister Technician based in Vancouver.

“For example with a Porsche there’s a way some people put in an aftermarket stereo and they cut this one wire to ground it. But because it’s shielded on the outside it’s drawing power all the time and never shuts down properly.”

If you start the car for only a couple of minutes each day, adds Broek, this doesn’t allow the battery ample time to rejuvenate. “For every start, you’re using 400 cranking amps to start the car, and it takes so long for that to be put back into the battery. Depending on what kind of car it is – it needs 15, maybe 20 minutes. And, if you’re not getting the car up to operating temperature, it’s not burning off the condensation.”

The best thing to do if you’re not going to have funds to fix the vehicle for years to come is to prepare it for a long shutdown.

“This means taking out the spark plugs, shooting oil down to the cylinders so that there’s a lubricant in there and it doesn’t seize up due to condensation. Then every couple of months, turn the engine over slightly with a wrench – half a turn of the crank shaft so that everything is moving all the time and the engine isn’t always in that one position. Disconnect the battery, and let it sit. That will do the least amount of damage over the long run,” says Broek.

Storing the vehicle outside, uncovered and un-prepped, is obviously the worst you could do. It should be stored in a warm and dry garage, with the tires inflated or up on blocks with the wheels hanging.

You’ve inherited this vehicle, so perhaps you have a sentimental attachment – or you’re planning to keep it to restore at a later date. If not, you could cut your losses, have it appraised – make some money and sell it in now while it’s running. On the other hand, if you’re going to hang on to it, forget about starting it every day and focus on preparing for long-term storage. Also, don’t forget about fire and theft insurance.

Send your automotive questions to Ask Joanne at globedrive@globeandmail.com

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