If you are headed out for a long trip away from home or need to put your car away in safe storage for an extended amount of time, you’ll need to know that you cannot just park it and walk away. Beyond security concerns, there are several things that need to be taken care of so that your car will run properly when you come back.
Note that it’s possible to park your vehicle for a couple of months at a time without serious consequences, but beyond that, batteries begin to drain, fuel begins to separate and other issues can begin to wreak havoc on your car. From paint to motor oil, here are the things you need to know when storing your car for the long term.
The longer you store your vehicle, the more you’ll need to pay attention to the details in our list. For storage beyond a year, you will need to do a lot more preparation than we’ve given here. It’s best you consult a professional in those cases and consider either selling the vehicle or finding someone who can care for it while you’re away.
To begin with, do the following to ensure that your vehicle is ready for storage, no matter the length:
- Change the oil and filter. Use a good oil at the viscosity recommended for your vehicle or a synthetic of the same caliber.
- Top off the engine coolant. Make sure the coolant mixture is the recommended antifreeze to water ratio.
- Wash the car well, including the undercarriage, and give it a good triple-coat (heavy coating) of wax. This protects the finish and gets rid of the grime and potential road salt that can cause havoc over time.
- Buy a thick, sturdy car cover that will fit your car well.
- Add fuel stabilizer to the tank to keep it from separating.
- Fill the fuel tank (doing this after adding stabilizer better mixes the stabilizer).
- Drive the car for a few miles to circulate the new oil, protected fuel, etc.
- Inflate tires to the proper, recommended pressure.
- Park it under cover, preferably in a garage or storage facility, and use your car cover to completely protect the car’s exterior. A car cover helps keeps dust off of the paint and makes it difficult for thieves to see what is being stored.
- Chock the tires in both directions to prevent movement.
The longer the storage term, the more preparation you should put into protecting your car while you’re away. The above list is good for a 2-3 month storage period where the weather will not fluctuate much (day and evening temperatures remain above freezing). After about six months, though, things get a little more complicated. For very long-term storage, remember that bushings, tie-rod covers and other rubber parts begin to break down from disuse over time. Engine seals can also dry out, eventually leading to serious repairs.
For a three- to 12-month storage period, you’ll need to do a lot more to preserve your vehicle. Start by doing all of the above items. Then add the following before putting the cover on:
- Consider adding a gasket sealer or keeper and circulating it through your engine (by running it) to help prevent gaskets from drying out. This is usually added to the engine oil.
- Remove the battery and store in a safe place away from the car, preferably a temperature-controlled location. Consider selling the battery and just buying a new one when you return. Over time, batteries lose their charge and if the weather becomes very cold, they can freeze or corrode.
- Lift the car and set it on jack stands so that the tires are just off the ground. This keeps the tires from warping and takes pressure off of the suspension system.
- Plug the exhaust with a rag to keep debris from blowing in or rodents from taking up residence.
- Remove the windshield wipers and store indoors or give them away. These will likely become brittle over a long period without use. Carefully wrap the wiper arms in small towels before placing them against the windshield. This keeps them from scratching the windscreen and helps absorb moisture so that the hinges and springs in the arms don’t rust. Alternatively, you can remove the wiper arms themselves and store them inside the car.
- Do not set the parking brake. The brake pads/shoes can stick to the rotors and cause problems when you attempt to drive again.
Storing your car for the long term can be a chore, but coming home to your well-preserved car makes it worth it. If you can, have a trusted friend or relative check on the vehicle once in a while to make sure it hasn’t been broken into, stolen, or otherwise bothered. You may also consider loaning it to a friend or relative you trust while you’re away so that they can maintain it for you and keep it running while you’re gone.
Whatever you do, don’t just park your car and forget it until you return. A little bit of preventative maintenance will go a long way when you get back behind the wheel.