How can I keep the battery charged in my son's car while he's traveling?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jul 01, 1998

Dear Tom and Ray:

I want to know if I'm doing the right thing. Since my son graduated from college
four years ago, I have been babysitting on and off for his 1989 Honda Accord
with 130,000 miles. All this time, he has been roaming the wilds of Asia and
Europe (sleeping bag et al.), sleeping in the jungles of Thailand, surfing in
Australia, jumping from cliffs in Greece and working and snowboarding in

While he's been away, I have been fighting to keep his battery alive, but the
battery won't seem to hold a charge. I start it every once in a while and then
disconnect one of the battery cables between starts. The car is not garaged
(there's no room in the garage because I'm storing all of my son's other
stuff!). He's presently in law school in California and says he'll take the car
soon. What's your opinion? Am I a stupid mom or a loving mom? -- Anne

RAY: Both. You sound like an absolutely wonderful mom, Anne. And being stupid
enough to manage this kid's entire life for him while he's out goofing off is
one of the things that makes you so wonderful.

TOM: The reason the battery keeps dying is that you're not running the engine
long enough to recharge it. Just starting the engine once in a while actually
does more harm than good. You end up using more current to start the car than
you add back by running it for only five minutes.

RAY: If you want to keep the battery charged, what you have to do is start the
car and then really drive it. Take it out on the highway and run it for a couple
of hours, or drive it around town for a couple of days and let the charging
system do its job.

TOM: But I advise against that. I'd do absolutely nothing.

RAY: Me, too. While this kid is taming tigers and selling heavy woolen sweaters
to the Panamanians, you're wasting your time worrying about the battery in an
'89 Honda Accord. Why bother?

TOM: Absolutely. If this kid can handle the jungles of Thailand, he can
certainly handle jump-starting his car when he gets home. I'd park it and not
give it a second thought, Anne. Just providing him with a free parking space and
giving up your garage to store all of his stuff for four years will be more than
enough to get you into heaven. I guarantee it!

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