Tips on How to Store Your Car

If your car is going to sit around for an extended period of time, more than perhaps a few weeks, you should take these steps to store it properly. Otherwise, mechanical problems can arise from disuse.

  • Change the oil and filter. If the car is being stored for an extended period of time, measured in years, talk to a mechanic about using oils without additives, which may include slightly caustic detergents.
  • Fill the fuel tank with fresh fuel. Condensation in the tank is a problem in stored vehicles, and it is widely suggested that you fill the tank completely in order to avoid any empty space where water can accumulate. However, the gasoline additives can become "sticky" over time, so it is useful to add a gasoline stabilizer, which is available for lawn mowers and other seasonal yard equipment.
  • Make sure coolant levels are proper. Inflate the tires to proper pressure. If you are storing for the winter in a cold climate, check the manual for proper pressures.
  • Clean and wax the car. Be sure to wash under the car to remove any dirt, especially from the wheel wells. Clean the interior extensively, being especially vigilant about all food scraps and particles; these can attract small animals. Removing the carpets for heated indoor storage will prevent them from becoming musty.
  • Do not use Armor All or similar products; these contain water, which may become trapped inside the car.
  • Consider placing a sheet of vapour barrier plastic under the car on the floor if being stored indoors. This will prevent water vapour buildup in an unheated garage, and also makes it very easy to spot fluid leaks when the car is removed from storage
  • Open a window slightly if stored indoors, but not enough to allow small animals inside. Put the top up if it's a convertible. Stuff a rag into the air intake and exhaust to prevent animals from nesting, covering this with a metal screen (1/4 inch square screen is useful here). Some suggest using strong-smelling chemicals like soap or mothballs to keep animals away, but these can leave a smell in the car
  • If the car will be stored for more than a month, a battery maintainer should be used. These are basically "smart" battery chargers that only turn on periodically. For short times, a few months, the maintainer can be attached to the battery while still in the car. For extended periods, if you are comfortable with basic mechanics, removing the battery and attaching the maintainer to it outside the car is a advisable. If you choose to do this, be sure to contact the car's manufacturer to ensure that this will not confuse the onboard computer, and that you have written down any needed access codes for devices such as the stereo or alarm
  • Place a piece of paper on the windshield under the wiper blades, to prevent the rubber from sticking to the glass. Better yet, remove the blades completely and store them in a warm place (perhaps beside the battery and carpets). If you remove the blades, be sure to pad the ends of the wiper arms, which can scratch the glass if inadvertently turned on
  • If you are comfortable with basic mechanics, remove the spark plugs and spray a small amount of oil into the cylinders to prevent rusting, then insert the plugs again. Special "fogging oil" is available for storing boats, and will work well here. Use of a spark plug anti-seize lubricant on the threads is always advisable
  • If the car will be stored for extended periods of time, it is advisable to jack it up on axle stands to avoid flat spots in the tires. "Extended" in this case depends on the type of tires; bias-ply tires need to be jacked up sooner than radials, and high-profile sooner than low-profile. A "classic" car with fat bias-ply tires should be jacked up if stored for more than a month, a modern sports car with low-profile radials should be fine for a winter.
  • Release the parking brake. If the brake is left on the brake pads can stick to the rotors. Place chocks under the tires to prevent movement, this is even more effective than the brake anyway.
  • Place a note to yourself on the steering wheel outlining which optional steps above you carried out (rag in exhaust, rag in intake, carpets removed, battery removed, etc). When returning to the car in the spring, ensure all of these steps are reversed, checking them off as you go down the list. The list should contain every item separately; "rags in openings" may lead to one being left behind.
  • Lock the doors
  • A car cover should only be used for outdoor storage, or in very dusty locations. Leaving the car "open" indoors allows water vapour to leave the car after humid weather.
  • If you must use a cover, typically only for outdoor storage or very dusty locations, use a cover that is ventilated and allows water vapour to escape. Wicking materials, similar to those used on sporting "technical wear", is widely used in high-end covers.
  • It is not uncommon for the brake rotors to develop surface rust during storage. This can be removed by wiping with a heavy rag; an old t-shirt will not suffice, something with a heavy fabric with a rough surface is needed. If the rust persists, visit a mechanic to see if the rotors should be "turned"
  • If the car has been sitting for more than 3 months, change the oil and filter again before driving. Oil breaks down and over time, even when the car is stored.
  • Be sure to add stabilizer to the gas. If you don't, you will be seeing engine problems and possibly car stalls. This can be minimized by leaving only a small amount of gasoline in the tank, adding stabilizer to it, and upon returning to your car -- adding fresh gas to mix with the older gas.

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