How to Prepare Your Car for Long-term Storage

Do you have a convertible that you drive only during the warmer months? Are you traveling overseas for an extended period of time? Are you in the military and about to be deployed to a faraway location? Regardless of the reason for car storage, many people have a need for it at some point in their lives. There are a number of things that you must do before you lock the car for the last time and walk away. Cars that are not properly prepared for long-term storage may end up with dead batteries, ruined tires, or damaged engines. The following teach you how to prepare your car for long-term storage.

1. Keep It Covered

The best place for long-term car storage is a garage. Garages protect cars from natural elements and keep them at a relatively stable temperature. When a garage is not an option, you may want to consider renting a public storage facility unit. In situations where you must leave a car outdoors, get a weatherproof car cover for it to keep it clean and dry.

2. Clean It Up

It may seem counterproductive to get a car washed before putting it into long-term storage. However, this is a simple, inexpensive step that you should not skip. Leaving bird droppings or water stains on a car compromises the paint. Take the time to clean the wheels and the fender undersides to clear away grease, mud, and tar. If you want to provide additional protection for your car, give it a coat of wax.

3. Change the Oil and Fill the Gas Tank

Are you planning to keep your car in storage for more than 30 days? If so, it is best practice to get an oil change and fill the tank with gas. Leaving used engine oil with contaminants can cause damage to the engine.  Filling the tank keeps moisture from building up inside the fuel tank and prevents the seals from drying out. Some people recommend purchasing a fuel stabilizer to keep ethanol from accumulating and to offer engine protection from varnish, gum, and rust. Additionally, a fuel stabilizer keeps the gas from deteriorating for up to one year.

4. Keep It Charged

A battery that is left unattended eventually loses its charge. Whenever possible, have someone start the car every two weeks, taking it for a 15-minute drive each time. Driving the car on a regular basis keeps the battery charged, helps the car “stretch its legs,” and keeps the engine and additional components lubricated appropriately. Have the person driving the car run the air-conditioner on a regular basis as well to keep its parts in proper working order and the air quality fresh.

If you are not able to have someone start the car, other options are possible. One option is to disconnect the negative battery cable to preserve the battery; unfortunately, you will lose your clock and stereo settings (i.e. radio presets). If you want to keep your settings and ensure that the battery starts immediately upon your return, purchase a battery or trickle charger. This device plugs into a wall outlet and hooks up to the car battery. It provides just enough electrical power to keep the battery from losing its charge.

5. Avoid Flat Spots

Before you put your vehicle in storage, check your tire pressure. If necessary, inflate the tires to the recommended level. When a car sits for an extended period of time, the tires may develop flat spots as the vehicle’s pressure weighs down on them. This is a heightened risk for cars with low-profile or performance tires and in cold temperatures.

Sometimes having a person drive the vehicle is enough to maintain standard operating temperature and thus eliminate flat spots. In more serious instances, a flat spot can turn into a permanently flat tire that must be replaced. Some people avoid the issue of flat spots altogether by removing the wheels and putting the car up on four jack stands. While this measure takes more effort, it ensures that the tires are in optimal condition upon your return, thus preventing the risk of needing a whole new set of tires. Removing the tires completely is appropriate only for vehicles that are stored for longer than one month.

6. Avoid Using the Parking Brake

Typically, best practice is to use a vehicle’s parking brake to keep it in one place. However, when the brake pads are in contact with the rotors for an extended period of time, they may fuse. Instead of applying the parking brake when putting a car in long-term storage, consider purchasing a chock or tire stopper to keep the car from moving.

7. Keep Up with Car Insurance

Many people give into the temptation to give up their car insurance when they put their cars in long-term storage. Although this measure may save you money on a short-term basis, there is a possibility that your insurance company will increase its rates during the gap coverage, which may result in larger payments than you would have had if you had maintained your original insurance payments. As rates can vary with different insurance companies and different regions of the country, it is important to contact your specific company to discuss your options.

8. Keep the Mice and Rats Out

A garage’s dry, warm environment is enticing for mice and rats. Plug any open areas such as air intakes and exhaust pipes with steel wool to keep critters out. Place cotton swabs or mothballs covered with peppermint oil all around the vehicle.

About the author:

Doug Climenhaga is president of SVI International, Inc., a leading supplier of parts for industrial lift equipment, including brake lathe parts. With more than 20 years experience in the hydraulic and automotive lift industries, he holds two patents and has designed scores of problem-solving products. 

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