Car Guides

What to do if you’re leaving your car up north for the winter

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader who is heading south for the winter.

Snow blankets the trees in Pottsville, Pa. Jacqueline Dormer/Republican-Herald via AP

Q. I am leaving my car up north for the winter and will be having a neighbor check on it. Is there anything I should do or not do to avoid problems? The car will be stored outside, and it will be registered and insured, so it can be driven. My neighbor has the keys and has offered to start it from time to time. 

A. It is always best if the car can be driven rather than just allowed to sit. About every three weeks have your neighbor take the car for a 30-minute ride. This will help keep everything moving, wear accumulated rust off the brakes, and help keep the battery charged. Ideally, have the neighbor check the tire pressure a couple of times, keep the fuel tank close to full, and add fuel stabilizer. 

Q. I have a 2004 Ford Freestar with 205,000 miles. According to my dealership, the valve cover gaskets are leaking. I was quoted prices between $350 and $450. Spending upwards to $500 for a minor oil leak on a 17-year-old minivan seems like a lot of money.  Should I get it fixed?  


A. From your description the leak appears minor in nature, if you didn’t see oil on the ground or smell oil on the engine. Some gasket seepage is perfectly acceptable, and considering the age and mileage, it may be okay to take a wait-and-see attitude. Certainly the leak won’t get better by itself, and getting a second opinion can never hurt.  

Q. The power steering occasionally sticks on my 2007 Hyundai Santa-Fe. I was told the crankshaft pulley needs replacing. I have been driving for 45 years and never heard of this type of failure. I purchased this Hyundai new and it’s been the best car I’ve ever owned. Have you ever heard of this type of repair before? 

A. This is not very common, but I have seen the inner and outer ring of the crankshaft pulley fail. It isn’t just a Hyundai issue. I’ve seen it with Lexus, Toyota, and a few others. From what I can tell, the amount of adhesive used to glue the two parts of the pulley together was insufficient, and the outer ring spins or wobbles, causing the issue. 

Q. Sometimes your answers confuse me. I have read your column for years and I’m still not sure if you like electric cars. I think you wrote once that you owned an early model electric. I also heard your radio show when you were talking with someone about the 800-horsepower Hellcat-powered Dodge. How can you like a car only a few people will buy like this Hellcat and also recommend a Chevy Bolt electric car?  


A. I think all vehicles have a place in this world. I would never own an 800-horsepower gasoline car because it doesn’t fit my lifestyle or budget, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the engineering that went into it. Purchasing a vehicle is a personal decision, and for some people the idea of a battery electric car is perfect. Others want a gasoline/electric hybrid. And there are some drivers who want the fastest, most powerful car on the planet. To me, having the ability to make that choice is most important. And yes, both the Hellcat and the Bolt are terrific cars. 

Q. I just purchased a new Ford F-150 and it’s the nicest vehicle I’ve ever owned. I have two questions. When I purchased the truck, the dealer had nitrogen installed in the tires. Also, the engine often shuts off at stops. What do you think of nitrogen-filled tires, and can I shut off the engine-stop feature? 

A. Nitrogen will not hurt anything, but I’m cheap and I would never pay extra for nitrogen when regular air is free and contains 78 percent nitrogen. Pure nitrogen does not seep as much, so tires should stay properly inflated longer and carry less moisture — which will help with corrosion issues that some alloy wheels suffer. There is a button on the dash to shut off the idle-stop feature. You need to do it each trip, which many owners find annoying. Some owners have gone so far as to buy a trailer light test plug and leave it installed, which defeats the idle stop.


John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive business and is an ASE-certified master technician. E-mail your car question to [email protected]. Listen to Car Doctor on the radio at 10 a.m. every Saturday on 104.9 FM or online at

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