View Single Post
Old 11-03-2009, 12:54 AM   #1
Nothing scares me anymore
MagicRat's Avatar
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: City of Light
Posts: 10,703
Thanks: 12
Thanked 79 Times in 74 Posts
Long-term and Winter Storage Tips for vehicles.

We receive questions about vehicle storage regularly, especially in the fall. I would like to start the definitive vehicle storage thread in this forum to save members from having to re-post the information every few months.

Proper preparation can make a big difference in the preservation of any vehicle. Anyone can park a car, but if it's not stored properly, significant, costly damage can accumulate. Often, it's worthwhile to do a little work now to save big headaches in the future.

So here are some tips, in priority order; with (imo) the most important tips coming first. Not everyone does all these preparations, but I have been storing vehicles, often for several years at a time, since I was a kid in the mid-1970's, so I have a good idea of the damage that might happen and how to avoid it.

1.Fuel System Add some fuel stabilizer to the gas tank and fill the tank. Drive the car for a couple of miles so the stabilizer can make its way through the fuel line. The stabilizer stops the gas from decomposing, and the full tank minimizes the airspace in the tank, so rust-forming condensation does not appear.

If you are going to store a car for more than a year, it's best to drain the tank and make sure it's dry and well vented. If the car is carbureted, run the engine until the carb is dry.

2. Battery. Remove the battery and store it in a cool or cold place. If you can't remove it, then disconnect the negative terminal. Either way, it's best to give the battery a few hours of low-amp trickle charge every month or two. I have been told by an Exide representative that batteries last longer when cold. If fully charged, the best place for it is in your freezer. But I just leave it in an unheated garage.

3.Engine Change the engine oil and filter. Used engine oil, even if it's not that old, usually has acids and contaminants that can slowly etch or damage smooth engine surfaces, like bearing journals, lifters, etc. After the change, run the engine for few minutes to let the fresh oil circulate.

Use an engine oil fogger on the engine if you live in a damp climate and/or if you expect to store the car for a long time. This coats the valves and cylinder walls in an oil film which reduces rust build-up.

There really is no need to periodically start an engine in storage, if it's been properly prepped. Imo, the effects of a cold start and condensation generated by combustion is probably more harmful than simply leaving it alone. However, I have several vehicles that have been in storage for many years. About once a year, I put in a battery and fuel, start them up and let them run until fully warm. When they cool down, I drain the carb and prep them for storage again.

4. Brakes If the brake system has not been flushed in a few years, do it now (unless you have DOT 5 fluid). Drain the master cylinder and add fresh fluid. Bleed all the brake lines until fresh fluid comes out. If your brake rotors are really nice, carefully give them a coat of WD-40, but avoid contaminating the pads. Remember to clean off the WD-40 with a spray can of brake cleaner before driving.

5. Coolant. Check the coolant strength (specific gravity). If the cooling system has not been serviced in recent years, do it now. A periodic flush and fill is part of proper vehicle maintenance. Check the owners manual for the recommended frequency. Personally, I think that aluminum blocks and/or heads require this service every 2 -3 years.

6. Cleaning Wash the outside of the car. Hose off the wheelwells and any place underneath where dirt has collected. Vacuum the inside, because dirt can attract and hold condensation. Clean all hard upholstery surfaces (vinyl, leather etc) with Armor-All or similar preservative product. Remove all floor mats and store separately, as they can hold condensation on the carpet/floor.

A Gore-Tex cover is nice, but not necessary. Avoid impervious, plastic covers, as they hold condensation. A coat of wax is nice on all chrome and on the body,if you have older technology paint, like acrylic lacquer. It's not important for newer paints, though.

7. Suspension and Tires I like to raise the car on jackstands or blocks so the tires are off the ground and the suspension droops. Again, this is not required for winter storage, but is a nice touch for longer storage periods. Inflate the tires to recommended specifications. A coating of Armor-All on the tire sidewalls helps preserve their appearance.

8. Pests. Get some mouse traps. Bait them with peanut butter and place them underneath the car, with a couple more inside. Check them occasionally. Sticky mouse pads are good too. Avoid mouse poisons, since you will end up finding the dead mice in the headliner, under the seats etc.

Don't use mothballs, either. They stink up the car and don't work very well.

Personally, animals have caused more storage damage to my cars over the years than everything else put together. Hopefully, you will not have to deal with rats or porcupines, as I have on occasion. If they are present, use the appropriate traps.

9. Rust. If your car has any bare metal / rusty spots underneath, get a spray can of aerosol grease/undercoating/paint etc. and give them a quick blast, or have the car professionally undersprayed with an oily rustproofing material.

10. Storage Buildings. Hopefully, you have a nice place to store the car. Ideally, the building should be wood or concrete. Steel garages are okay, but suffer from more severe temperature fluctuations unless they are insulated. They tend to get quite warm in the daytime sun, then cool down quickly at night, which promotes condensation.

An impervious floor is important, be it concrete, asphalt, brick or wood. But if you have to store it on a dirt surface (either inside or outdoors), spread a large sheet of plastic on the ground first, then drive on it. This reduces the effects of condensation. If you must park in a barn, avoid the lower level of any hay barn (a.k.a. 'ramp barn'). The stone walls, dirt floors and dampness are trouble. The upper level, with good ventilation and a wood floor are preferable.

11. Outdoor Storage. Obviously, outside storage is not ideal, but can be a reasonable choice. I stored a 1967 Continental outside for 13 years with minimal damage, thanks to good preparation, periodic maintenance, a well ventilated, relatively dry space, with a plastic mat on the ground, and a good car cover. If you do so, avoid a windy location and make sure your cover is strapped down so it does not move. A cover that moves in the wind can damage paint.

So, hopefully your car will survive the storage period in pristine shape. and ready for the road in the spring.

Trouble! I have seen some terrible things happen due to improper storage. For example, one friend stored his 1960 Rolls-Royce for 5 years in a barn, Unfortunately, it was in the lower level, with stone walls and a dirt floor. It was a good looking and good running car when it went in, but he did no prep.

When it came out of storage, it was heavily damaged. The Rolls V8 (first year) was seized solid from rust. The brakes were worthless piles of rust, with no salvageable parts. The classic aluminum body (final year for the style) was dusty with corrosion and pitting. Most fasteners in the engine compartment and undercarriage were seized with rust. The tires were severely damaged from sitting flat on the ground. The chrome and nickel plate was rusty in areas. The wool-and-leather interior was a split-level mouse condo. All the soft materials were chewed/cracked, stained etc beyond use. The real burled-walnut trim was de-laminating.

Suffice to say, after pricing out some new parts ($2000 for a master cylinder!!!) it was clear that improper storage had tuned a $10k car into an unusable pile of scrap metal.

But I'm sure we all can do better Feel free to add your tips, too.

Last edited by MagicRat; 11-03-2009 at 12:01 PM.
MagicRat is offline   Reply With Quote