Whether you’re planning a long vacation, have a classic car you don’t drive often, or are deploying overseas, ensuring your vehicle remains in good condition while not in use is crucial.
Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to store your car properly, preventing any long-term damage and ensuring it’s road-ready when you return.
1. Choose the Right Storage Location
Selecting an appropriate storage location is the first step. Ideally, store your car in a clean, dry, and secure garage or storage facility. This environment protects it from the elements, temperature fluctuations, and potential theft or vandalism. If you don’t have access to indoor storage, use a high-quality, breathable car cover to shield your vehicle from the weather.
2. Clean Your Car Thoroughly
Before storing, give your car a thorough wash and wax. Cleaning off any dirt, road salt, or contaminants prevents potential paint damage or rust while in storage. Don’t forget to clean the interior as well. Vacuum the carpets, clean the upholstery, and remove any perishables or items that might attract pests.
3. Change Oil and Other Fluids
Old oil can contain contaminants that may harm the engine if left sitting for long periods. Therefore, changing the oil and oil filter before storage is recommended. Check and top off other fluids like coolant, brake fluid, and transmission fluid. If your car will be stored for more than a year, consider draining the fuel tank and running the car until it stops to prevent old gasoline from degrading components.
4. Maintain the Battery
Batteries can lose charge over time. To prevent this, either disconnect the battery or use a battery tender (also known as a trickle charger) to keep it charged at an optimal level. This device will provide enough power to keep the battery from dying without overcharging it.
5. Inflate Tires to Proper Pressure
Tires can lose pressure over time and may develop flat spots if a car sits in one place too long. Inflate the tires to the recommended pressure, and if storing for a very long time, consider placing the vehicle on jack stands to remove weight from the tires and suspension.
6. Seal Openings and Moveable Parts
Close all windows and seal any openings (such as the exhaust pipe) to prevent rodents or insects from entering. Also, lubricate hinges, latches, and other moveable parts to prevent them from seizing up.
7. Take Care of the Cooling System
If you’re storing the car in a place with extreme temperatures, ensure the cooling system is filled with a high-quality antifreeze to prevent any freezing or overheating.
8. Check Insurance and Registration
If your car will be stored for a long period, check with your insurance provider to see if you can reduce your coverage to comprehensive only. However, keep in mind that if you plan to drive the car at all, even just around the storage facility, liability insurance is required. Also, keep an eye on the registration renewal date.
9. Periodic Checkups
When storing your car for long periods, periodic checkups are essential to maintain its condition and ensure it remains operational when you’re ready to use it again. Ideally, these checkups should be done every two to three months. Here’s what they should include:
Starting the Engine
Regularly starting the engine is crucial. It helps circulate the oil, maintaining the lubrication of engine components and preventing them from seizing. Run the engine for at least 15 to 20 minutes. This duration allows it to reach operating temperature, which helps to evaporate any condensation in the engine and exhaust system.
Driving the Car (If Possible)
If circumstances allow, it’s beneficial to take the car for a short drive. This helps in several ways:
- Tire Maintenance: It prevents flat spots on the tires. Moving the car keeps the tires in good condition and maintains proper pressure.
- Brake System: It keeps the brake system functioning correctly. Brakes can seize up if not used for a long time, especially in humid conditions.
- Transmission and Differential: Driving the car helps lubricate the transmission and differential components, which can dry out if the vehicle isn’t used.
Checking Fluids and Battery
During these checkups, inspect all fluid levels and top them up if necessary. This includes engine oil, coolant, brake fluid, and transmission fluid. Also, if you’re not using a trickle charger, check the battery’s charge level and recharge it if needed.
Inspect for Pests and Rodents
Rodents and pests can be a significant issue for cars in long-term storage. They can chew through wiring, hoses, and insulation, causing severe damage. Inspect the car for any signs of pests and take preventive measures if necessary.
If possible, allow the car to ventilate during these checkups. Open the doors and windows for a short period to let fresh air circulate through the interior, preventing mold and mildew growth.
Perform a visual inspection of the car, looking for any signs of rust, paint damage, or other issues that might have developed. Catching these problems early can save a lot of time and money in the long run.
Storing your car for an extended period doesn’t have to lead to costly repairs upon your return. By following these expert tips, you ensure your vehicle remains in prime condition, ready for the road when you need it again.
Remember, the key to effective long-term car storage is preparation and regular maintenance, even when the car isn’t in use.