Long-term parking doesn’t have to drain your power

Dear Car Talk:

This September, I will be parking a 2016 RAM pickup truck in long-term parking at an airport for 3-5 weeks. Should I disconnect battery? Is that OK to do? What is the maximum amount of time I can safely leave the truck parked with the battery connected? Thank you. – Hank

RAY: You can safely leave the truck parked with the battery connected until the 115th season of "Game of Thrones" debuts, Hank. It'll never be unsafe. The truck just won't start after three or four weeks.

Every modern car uses some amount of battery power even when the vehicle is parked and shut off. There’s the alarm system, stored electronic settings and the evaporative emissions system. Those all draw power.

If you want to park the truck longer than a few weeks and start it when you come back, then you have two choices.

Option one is to hook up a trickle charger (also called a battery tender). That device plugs into a wall socket and “trickles” a small amount of current to your battery, to keep it always topped up.

If you don’t have access to an outlet – say, in a long-term airport parking lot – then your second option is to disconnect the battery. That’ll preserve the battery’s charge, so when you reconnect it, the truck should start right up.

The downsides are minimal. You’ll have grease on your hands when you go through your TSA screening. And you’ll have to reset things like your radio presets and seat memory buttons. But the transmission computer parameters and stuff like that will reset themselves on your drive home. You likely won’t even notice anything.

So, bring the right-sized wrench with you, disconnect the negative terminal, move it away from the battery and then straighten out that battery cable. Maybe even put a little crimp in it so it’s “metal muscle memory” doesn’t drag the negative terminal back to the battery while you’re away.

Reconnect it when you get back, and you should be all set, Hank.

DIY mechanic can get started on the starter

Dear Car Talk:

When I go to start my car (normally the engine is cold), after I turn the key and release it, I hear a grinding sound. This used to happen only when it was cold outside, but now sometimes it happens in the warm weather, too. I was wondering if this could be the starter. I've been using my car to learn how to work on cars, and I've learned about replacing starters but haven't done one yet. I don't want to buy a new starter and try replacing it if that's not what's causing my problem. What do you think? – Don

RAY: I think you're about to get your big chance to change a starter, Don.

Maybe you can send out invitations and get all the relatives to come and watch.

Every starter motor has a shaft with a little gear at one end. That gear is called the starter drive. When you turn the key to the “start” position, that starter drive pops out and engages with a much bigger gear called the flywheel, which is attached to the engine.

The starter motor’s job is to use that little gear to turn the flywheel until the engine starts running on its own – it usually takes only a second or two. Then, the starter gear retracts, and the engine keeps running. At least that’s what’s supposed to happen.

If the starter drive doesn’t retract – or retracts too slowly – then you’ll hear that starter gear getting ground up by the flywheel. Grrrrzzzzzzhhhhh! Sound familiar?

So, you’re going to fix this by replacing your starter. It’s a job that’s within the reach of most do-it-yourselfers, Don, so I have confidence you’ll succeed – certainly after a few tries.

Just remember to disconnect the negative terminal of the battery before taking the starter out so you don’t set your hair on fire.

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