Preparing Your Car for Long-Term Storage

There are multiple reasons you may need to store your vehicle. Perhaps your convertible is used only in the summer, and will need to be put into long-term storage throughout the winter. Maybe a project car is being stored until parts or time are available. Job changes, military deployments, or even health issues that make you unable to drive make it necessary to put your vehicle into storage. No matter the reason, there are a few important factors to consider when preparing a vehicle for long term storage.

Options

The three most common options for vehicle storage are storage facilities, such as an outside storage lot, or inside a building or container, inside a garage, or under a tarp. Each of these options has specific benefits, depending on what you need and what you can afford. A storage facility will be more expensive whereas a friend's garage will significantly reduce the cost. A simple tarp can be effective as well, although it may not adequately protect your vehicle from the elements or pests.

Preparing for storage

Once the type of storage has been decided, the vehicle will need to be prepared.

  • Fluids: First start with the fluids. Before the vehicle is put up for storage, you should top off the fluids: brake fluid, anti-freeze, oil, and even fuel. Vehicles that are put into storage with low fluid levels may end up corroded, especially if stored through a season change. Rapid changes of temperature can cause condensation and evaporation if fluid containers are not filled; water in these fluids can cause problems later on.

  • Oil: A full oil change with new filter and oil is also a good idea. The oil that sits inside the engine can contain debris or byproducts. Even small amounts of debris can cause damage when left sitting for an extended amount of time. Old oil will not lubricate the engine properly, which could cause a malfunction when restarted.

  • Tires: Tires are also a concern for vehicles that will be stored for an extended period of time. Flat spots and dry rot can both become an issue when a vehicle sits for several months. There are a few ways to avoid this. Ideally, get someone to take the car out for a drive periodically to keep the tires from forming a flat spot. If that's not an option, it might be worth taking the tires off the vehicle and storing them flat. With this option, the car is left up on jacks for the duration of storage.

  • Wipers: Windshield wipers are also important to consider. If left without movement for an extended period, the rubber could become fused to the window. To avoid damage to the wipers, it is advisable to take them off the vehicle for the duration of the long-term storage.

Troubleshooting long-term storage difficulties

When considering long-term storage, it is important to realize that no storage method is completely foolproof. If storing the car in an indoor storage container is not an option for you, there are a couple of problems that could develop.

  • Pests: Rodents, lizards, cats, and bugs can wreak havoc on a stored vehicle if they get to it. Chewed wires and interiors, as well as nests or hives made throughout the vehicle may be avoided by putting out traps or poison around the stored vehicle. However, poison should not be used in an area where children or pets can accidentally come into contact with it. Keeping a stored vehicle in a closed environment helps this issue.

  • Freezing: Even with the anti-freeze topped off, a vehicle’s tubes and hoses could freeze when left outside for an extended period of time with no use. It's a good idea to have a licensed mechanic check all of the hoses and tubes before the vehicle is put into storage. Replacing worn hoses will increase the chances that the hoses will survive rapid temperature changes or long periods exposed to extreme temperatures.

  • Brake system: The brakes are another place where things can go wrong if not handled properly. The parking brake should be left off if the vehicle will be sitting for a long time. Leaving it on for a lengthy period could cause it to seize. A better option is to make sure the vehicle is stored in a flat spot and to place blocks behind the tires (if left on) to keep the vehicle from moving while in storage.

There are many considerations to think about when considering long-term storage. It's important that you evaluate each option, and work closely with a licensed mechanic to make sure that the vehicle is in excellent condition prior to storage. This way, less work will need to be done on the vehicle when it’s time to put it on the road again.


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