The Basics of Auto Storage

Jon Fesmire |

There are many reasons you might store your car, from going on an extended vacation, to going off to college, to keeping it safe over a long winter.

Don’t make the mistake of simply parking your car without preparation as a vehicle sitting unattended for months can develop a variety of problems. Follow these instructions to keep your car in good working order, so that it’s ready to go when you pick it up.

Winterizing Your Car

This is a more complex topic than preparing your car for storage at any other time of the year, so if you need to winterize your car, read our related article. We also have information on winterizing your motorcycle, boat, jet ski, and RV.

Storing Your Car

Ideally, you will want to keep your car covered. We recommend finding a vehicle self storage facility where you can park your car indoors. If that isn’t possible, you will need to acquire a weatherproof car cover. Your car manufacturer should be able to help you find one perfect for your vehicle. Over time, dirt and oil left on your car can damage the paint and body. Park the car in the shade to avoid it drying unevenly, and use a hose to rinse it and loosen the dirt. Use a car shampoo, which you can get at any auto shop. Carefully follow the instructions to wash the car. Do not use dish soap. It may be great for removing grease from dishes, but it can damage your car’s paint. With the car clean, get the oil changed. If you can do this yourself, great. If not, an autobody shop can do it, and they can also change the filter while they’re at it. Older oil gathers contaminants that can damage the engine, so changing the oil can really help your car’s longevity. The same goes for the gas tank. Top it off so the tank is full. Air left in the tank can cause damaging condensation. Add fuel stabilizer to keep the gasoline from deteriorating, which will keep it fresh for about 12 months. You have a couple of options to keep the battery from dying. One is to drive the car for 15 minutes every 2 weeks. If you’re out of town, see if you can get a relative to do this for you. The other is to hook up a battery maintainer. These can cost as little as $20. A battery maintainer is a machine you hook up to your battery that makes sure the engine stays charged. If you keep your parking brakes engaged for a long time, the brake pads can fuse to the rotors. To avoid this, simply do not use the parking brake while your car is in storage. Instead, purchase tire stoppers, which sell for as little as $10 per tire. Inflate your tires to the recommended pressure. Even slightly-flat tires can develop flat spots when left for months in storage. Some places will do this for free. Put plastic wrap between your wiper blades and your windows. This can help prevent them from sticking together. Rodents and other pests love stored cars and can be a huge pain, but a few steps will help keep them out of your vehicle. Prevent this by putting steel wool in the air intake and the gas pipe. If you’re storing in an enclosed area, put mothballs or cotton swabs dipped in peppermint oil around your car. Rodents hate these smells and will stay away. You could also use carefully distributed mouse traps and rat poison, but if you do, you’ll need to check the area regularly to dispose of any dead rodents. Do not simply cancel your insurance on that vehicle without discussing options with your insurance company. If you don’t have coverage for an extended period, your rates may increase.

Retrieving Your Car

Picking up your car is in many ways the reverse of preparing it for storage. Most of these things can be done in any order. Look for evidence of rats or mice. These can include chewed components, nests, and animal skat. Before you drive, remove the steel wool from the air intake and exhaust. Remove the plastic wrap from underneath the windshield wipers, and feel the wipers to see if they have become brittle. Also, if you know how, take a look at the brakes to see if rust formed on the rotors. In general driving will clear it up, but it’s good to know what condition the rotors are in. Check the tire pressure, and if it is low, pump your tires up to recommended levels as soon as possible. Check the oil to make sure it hasn’t leaked, then check the battery. If you’re using a maintainer, remove it, and make sure your car starts up. Remove the tire stoppers and put them in your car. Finally, bring your car home and wash it to clear off the dust. Follow these steps, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, your car will be in great shape when you retrieve it.