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Start Your Engines! And Don’t Neglect Your Vehicle

Panther Racing’s executive director gives tips on how to maintain a healthy vehicle during coronavirus stay-at-home orders

The stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic have left many personal vehicles unattended in garages or parked along the side of the road. If you don’t want to be among the growing number of customers calling roadside assistance services, take heed of some advice from the Swanson School of Engineering’s Panther Racing student group.

“Typically in vehicles, the first thing to fail during a period of unuse is the battery,” explained Bryce Merrill, a rising senior mechanical engineering student and executive director of Panther Racing (Pitt FSAE). “Batteries will lose charge over time regardless, but any small electrical draw on the battery will cause this to happen faster.” 

He recommends periodically driving your car to charge the battery or installing a trickle charger to top off the battery when it gets too low. 

“Starting your car occasionally and driving around the block or so is good for a few other reasons as well,” said Merrill. “It gives all the moving components a chance to get lubricated, gets the fluids flowing, and will remove corrosion from your brake rotors.”

Car Health Infographic

Word to the wise for folks in areas, like Pittsburgh, where the temperature can fluctuate more than twenty degrees in one day: check your tire pressure, too.

“It is also important to check your tire pressure occasionally as they will slowly leak air and can develop flat spots if they sit in the same spot and the pressure drops too much,” said Merrill.

These failures, however, aren't what sidelined their student-designed-and-built formula race car. Rather, it was the campus closure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, Panther Racing has been forced to put the completion of PR-032, this year's race car, on hold due to restrictions on group gatherings and the closing of the University. 

“This year's FSAE in-person competitions have been migrated to a virtual competition that will occur in early June,” said Merrill. “The team has stayed busy preparing for this virtual competition, planning for next year's car, and has taken this time to focus on education and knowledge transfer.” 

The group, like many others, has stayed connected through Zoom. A Panther Racing alumnus has held seminars about engine tuning, and they plan to hold additional seminars with other team alumni. 

“It is extremely disappointing to all of us to not have the opportunity to finish what we have worked so hard for all year, but we are taking this as a learning opportunity to design and manufacture a better car next year,” he said. “We will soon begin the design process for PR-033 remotely, to stay on schedule to complete it by this time next year. We also hope to finish PR-032 in time to compete at our annual Pittsburgh Shootout on August 1st at Pittsburgh International Raceway.” 

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Contact: Leah Russell