How To Prep Your Car for Long-Term Storage

Keeping Your Car in Good Running Order While You're Away


  • Covered Car Picture

    Covered Car Picture

    Use an all-weather car cover if you cannot leave your car in a garage. | July 18, 2011

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Maybe you have a convertible that you love to drive in the summer, but now winter's on the way. Maybe you're going to leave town for school or an extended vacation. Or perhaps you are in the military and are being deployed overseas.

Whatever the reason, you sometimes need to store your car. There are a number of things to do before you lock the door and walk away for a month or more. If you simply let your vehicle sit on the street or in a garage for an extended period of time, you may return to a dead battery or — worse yet — a damaged engine, ruined tires and a rat's nest under your hood.

Here's a list of important steps to take before you store a vehicle. Taking these precautions will not only ensure that your car starts when you return to it, but also ensure that its time in storage doesn't shorten the life of the engine.

Keep It Covered
The ideal place to store the vehicle is in a garage. This will protect it from the elements and keep it at a temperature that's relatively stable. If you don't have a garage, and you can find accommodation at a reasonable price, consider putting the car in a public storage facility.

If you have to leave the car outdoors, consider getting a weatherproof car cover. This will help keep the car clean and dry.

Clean It Up
It may seem counterintuitive to get the car washed when you're putting it away for months, but it is an easy step and one that shouldn't be overlooked. Water stains or bird droppings left on the car can damage the paint. Make sure to clean the wheels and undersides of the fenders to get rid of mud, grease or tar. For added protection, give the car a coat of wax.

Change the Oil
Skip this step if you're only storing the car for a week or two. But if you will be storing the vehicle for longer than 30 days, consider getting the oil changed. Ford recommends this in its owner's manuals, saying that used engine oil has contaminants that could damage the engine.

Top off the Tank
This is another long-term car storage tip. If you expect the car to be in storage for more than 30 days, fill the tank with gas. This will prevent moisture from accumulating inside the fuel tank and keep the seals from drying out. You should also purchase a fuel stabilizer such as Sta-bil, to prevent ethanol buildup and protect the engine from gum, varnish and rust. The fuel stabilizer will prevent the gas from deteriorating for up to 12 months.

Keep It Charged
An unattended battery will eventually lose its charge. If possible, get someone to start the car every two weeks and drive it for about 15 minutes. Driving the car periodically has two benefits. It will maintain the battery's charge, help the car "stretch its legs" and keep the engine and other components properly lubricated. It is also a good idea to run the air-conditioner to keep the parts in working order and the air quality fresh.

If you cannot arrange for someone to start the car, there are two other options. The low-tech solution is to disconnect the negative battery cable. You'll likely lose the stereo presets, time and other settings. If you want to keep those settings and ensure that your battery starts the moment you return, purchase a battery tender, also known as a trickle charger. This device hooks up to your car battery on one end and plugs into a wall outlet on the other. It delivers just enough electrical power to prevent the battery from discharging.

Don't Use the Parking Brake
It's usually a good idea to use the parking brake, but don't do it when you leave a car in storage. If the brake pads make contact with the rotors for too long, there is a chance that they might fuse. Instead of engaging the brake, you can purchase a tire stopper, also called a chock, to prevent the car from moving.

Prevent Flat Spots
Make sure your tires are inflated to the recommended tire pressure. If a vehicle is left stationary for too long, the tires could develop flat spots as the weight of the vehicle presses down on the tires' footprints. This process occurs at a faster rate in colder temperatures and with vehicles equipped with performance tires or low-profile tires.

In some cases, simply having someone drive the car for awhile will bring the tires up to their normal operating temperature and get rid of any flat spots. In more severe cases, a flat spot becomes a permanent part of the tire and you will need to replace the tire.

If your car will be in storage for more than 30 days, consider taking the wheels off and placing the car on jack stands at all four corners. This step requires more work, but it can save you from needing a new set of tires. Without the weight of a vehicle resting upon them, your tires will be in much better shape when you return.

Keep Critters Out
A garage will keep your car dry and relatively warm. Unfortunately, those are also two things that make a garaged car attractive to mice or rats. There are plenty of places in your car for critters to hide and plenty of things for them to chew on. Try to cover any gaps where a mouse could enter, such as the exhaust pipe or an air intake. Steel wool works well for this. Next, spread mothballs or cotton swabs dipped in peppermint oil along the perimeter of the vehicle. The smell is said to drive mice away.

If you want to take a more proactive approach, lay down a few mousetraps and some rat poison. Just make sure someone can check the garage periodically, in case there are some casualties. Otherwise, you'll have to deal with a smell much worse than mothballs when you take the car out of storage.

Maintain Insurance
You might be tempted to cancel your auto insurance when your vehicle is in storage. Although that might initially save money, there is a chance that the insurance company will raise your rates due to the gap in coverage, which could cost you more in the long run. This can vary based on where you live and who your provider is, so contact your insurance company to see what options are available to you.

Get Back in Action
Here's a checklist of what to do when you're ready to bring your vehicle out of storage:

  • Check under the hood for any evidence of rodents. Look for chewed belts, hoses, wires or nests. If you covered the muffler or air intake, remove that material before you start the car.
  • Check the windshield wipers to see if the rubber is cracked or brittle.
  • Check tire pressure and inflate the tires to the recommended specs.
  • Check the brakes. Rust may have accumulated on the rotors. In most cases, this should go away after you drive the vehicle for a short time.
  • Check fluids to make sure there have been no leaks and that they are at the recommended levels.
  • If the battery cable has been disconnected, make sure that you reconnect it and that the battery terminals are clean.
  • Wash your vehicle to remove any dirt that may have accumulated.

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