Winter is coming and that means that our precious automotive babies will be getting ready for hibernation soon. Properly storing your vehicle for long or short term periods is essential in ensuring they will be in the best condition possible when ready to come out to play again in the Spring or Summer. Do yourself and your car a favor by following this comprehensive list of storage tips and remember the better she is put away, the better she will be when it is time to play.
Some of these tips are very thorough and depending on your experience and mechanical proficiency, involve processes that could be dangerous. As always, if you are unsure of something please consult a professional for safety’s sake prior to attempting anything.
1. Fill the Fuel Tank – If storing the car for less than a year it is best to fill the tank completely to avoid moisture build up. If possible, using ethanol free fuel is highly recommended. Add a fuel stabilizer such as “SatBil” and run the car for at least ten minutes afterwards to ensure the entire fuel system is protected. If storing the car for more than a year, consult a professional about draining the tank and evacuating the system completely.
2. Replace Fluids – Corrosives, dirt and moisture can build up in any of the fluid systems over time and usage. It is best to replace these fluids prior to storage to protect your cars vital systems. At the very least the oil should be changed. A good idea is to also service any other fluid system at this time, such as the transmission, brakes or power steering. Better to do the required maintenance services now so the car will be at its best when it comes time for her to get road ready again.
3. Inflate Tires or Raise Car – Written on the sidewalls of each tire is a maximum inflation specification, usually around 55psi. Maxing out the tire pressures (without dangerously over inflating them) will help to avoid flat spots from developing. If possible, even better is to raise the vehicle off the ground, using a lift or floor jack and jack stands. Rather than placing the jack stands under the usual lift points, they should be placed safely and securely under the wheel hubs or control arms, as wide as possible, so that the suspension is compressed under the weight of the vehicle. The suspension is designed to be loaded, so leaving it unloaded for a long period of time could cause complications later on. Be sure to check the date code on the tire sidewalls as well and keep in mind that the rubber in the tires has a maximum shelf life of 5-7 years in most cases. Lastly, try to pick a storage place away from sunlight, as UV rays can cause the tires to degrade more quickly over time.
4. Check the Battery- Top off water levels if possible and install a battery maintainer. Note that a trickle charger and a battery tender are not the same thing. Nowadays technology advancement permits a maintainer to monitor the charge and discharge of a battery to better protect it. A trickle charger does not shut off automatically and could dangerously overcharge your battery causing a fire risk. If possible, especially in older cars without fancy computer control modules, it is best to remove the battery completely and store it separately on a shelf or bench. Avoid leaving your battery on the floor, where it can discharge into the ground over time. With many newer cars, the battery should not every be removed except for by a professional because of all the computer control systems. Instead, they should be locked in order to shut down as many systems as possible.
5. Deter Animals – During the winter months, many types of birds, rodents and insects look for warm secure places to hibernate, hide or store food. This can lead to an unwanted mess and potential damage in the Spring. Help keep them out by plugging up the intake and exhaust holes with rags or other impermeable materials. (Be sure to remove them before running the car again!) Human scents such as moth balls and dryer sheets can help keep the car smelling fresh and deter pests. Also spearmint and peppermint oils tend to work very well. Try applying them to rags or other material that can be easily removed later on.
6. Lubricate – Latches and hinges in the doors, trunk and hood can be susceptible to moisture and should be cleaned and kept lubed. Rubber seals can also be maintained with a light misting of silicone spray. Depending on length of time in storage, some engines, especially those in older vintage cars, fogging of the cylinders may be beneficial. This entails removing the spark plugs to spray a light coating of oil onto the cylinder walls. You definitely want to consult a professional before attempting this.
7. Clean, Wash & Wax – Anything left on the surface of the car can cause damage if not removed in a timely manner. Clean your car just as you would in the Spring and Summer, paying close attention to the underside, engine compartment and suspension as well. A coat of synthetic wax will act as protection. Invest in the proper type of car cover for the ultimate protection. There are differences between outdoor and indoor covers, so make sure you know which you need. Make sure the car is completely dry before installing the cover as well. A vapor barrier underneath the car is also a very good idea. Place a tarp, rug or card board over an unpainted concrete floor to reduce the chance of the chassis being negatively affected by moisture and salt.
8. Safe and Secure –Choose your storage location wisely. Low or no traffic around the car decreases the chances of anyone or thing coming into contact with it and potentially causing damage.
9. Make a List – Keep track of all the steps taken to prepare for storage so they can be easily reversed prior to your next drive.
10. Start or Drive Her – The more often your car is started, warmed up for at least fifteen minutes and even driven around the block a few times, the better off she will be come Spring. Cars do not take well to sitting for very long before issues might arise. If possible, warm her up and stretch her legs a little bit on a nice day. Even if you can only do it once, breaking up a three month storage period into two six week periods can make a significant difference. Try to warm up the car at least once a month as a rule. Of course, this may mean taking the steps to completely or partially restore her to regular running conditions, which could be a lot of work, so plan accordingly. If you can regularly do this every few weeks it is usually worth it and you will be glad you did come driving season when it is time to enjoy her.
Keep in mind to plan on taking the car for a short local trip on her first drive after coming out of storage just in case there are any unforeseen issues you won’t be caught surprised and stranded. Remember to always consult a professional before doing anything you are not comfortable with. I hope you have found this list helpful. If you know of any tips or tricks that should be added to this list for next season please share. As always, I greatly appreciate your questions and feedback and can be easily reached at BavarianRocketScience@gmail.com. Thanks for reading and happy motoring!