Storing vehicles is a common practice, especially among car enthusiasts who put away their project cars or sports cars during the off-season. Special measures need to be taken for vehicles that aren’t regularly used over a period of time, and these gearheads have the best practices for vehicle storage down to a science. But more and more people are finding reasons to store their cars—extended vacation, military deployment—and might not realize that there’s more to it than just parking and locking the doors. When not properly prepped, your car could sustain costly damages: mucked up fuel lines, deteriorated brake pads, a corroded engine, and more.
First, consider how long your vehicle will be in storage, and determine if you want to store it indoors or out. If it will only be sitting for a week or two, it will be fine outside with just a cover over it. For anything longer than that, the car should be kept in a garage or at a storage facility offering covered auto storage.
Once you know where you will store your car, the easiest way to start preparing it is to give your car a good wash, inside and out. Any dirt left behind can corrode the paint over time and give way to rust. Inspect the outside for any and all existing paint damage, and wax the area to prevent further damage. Give the interior a solid vacuuming as well to get rid of any food crumbs that could attract unwelcome critters. If you have leather seats, you might want to give them a good cleaning and conditioning, depending on how long you will be gone.
Next, make sure all of your fluids are fresh and full. Full reservoirs will prevent condensation while your car is in storage and reduce the chance of complications when you’re driving again. It’s also a good idea to get an oil change, even if you aren’t quite due for one yet. Old, stagnant oil will break down, and the acidity of it will eat away at your engine seals. Fresh oil will last longer.
Also, included in the full fluid check is gasoline. Though you may be tempted to let the meter get as close to empty as possible, it’s actually better for your car to store it with a full tank. Add a fuel stabilizer to keep gas from evaporating and clogging your fuel lines, then top off the tank to prevent the seals from drying out.
To ensure that you don’t return to a dead battery, arrange for someone you trust to drive your car for at least 15 minutes every two weeks. If this isn’t possible, invest in a trickle charger (also sometimes called a battery tender). It hooks up to your car battery and delivers just enough electricity to keep it from dying. Trickle chargers are especially great for newer cars that have programmed computer systems that need a constant source of power. If all else fails, disconnect the negative/ground post of the battery—be aware that you will likely lose any radio presets or other saved settings when you return.
Finally, make copies of the vehicle’s registration and insurance documents and keep them in your home. It’s helpful to have these documents available in case the car is broken into or stolen while you’re away. If you’ll be gone for six months or more, speak with your insurance agent about switching the vehicle to an “inactive” or “secondary” status to save you money in insurance costs.
When you’re ready to actually deliver the car to its storage destination, add about 5-10 extra pounds of pressure to your tires to prevent the development flat spots from the weight of the car. When parking, do not engage the parking brake. Over time, the brake mechanism could fuse to your brake pads, causing pricey damages. If your car is in danger of rolling, use wheel chocks.
After that, you’re good to go. Give your car a fond pat—it will be ready and waiting eagerly for your return. (Oh, and don’t forget to lock it!)