By Robby DeGraff on October 30, 2013
From washing and waxing to detailing the interior, people baby their cars in all sorts of ways. But it's equally important to take care of your car before you put it into storage. Here are a few tips to make sure your car is ready to go when you are.
The Final Detail
Thoroughly clean your car, inside and out, before storage. The last thing you want to do is put a car cover on a dirty car. Give your ride a good hand wash, polish up that chrome and apply a coat of wax to the paint. Make sure to get rid of any tree-sap drops, too.
If there are unpainted metal places under your car that are prone to rust, buy a can of rubberized undercoating and spray on a protective coat, keeping in mind that it needs to be reapplied yearly. Be careful not to spray this coating near any exhaust components that can get hot because products like this can be very flammable. For collectors, if you're worried about keeping your car in original condition, a coat of WD-40 will also work. You can also stuff a sock in the exhaust pipe so that small animals won't find a new place to set up camp, but be sure to remove it before you start the car again.
Throw out food wrappers, soda cans and any other trash that may have accumulated in the cabin. If you plan on steam-cleaning the carpet, do that far enough in advance (or after) storing the car to avoid moisture buildup and mold. For added interior protection, you can buy a set of seat covers. To soak up cabin moisture, purchase a few packs of desiccant from your local dollar store or convenience store to place on the floor.
Mice and other small animals can create trouble if they get inside your car. Even though there isn't a surefire way to protect your car from mice, there are steps you can take to make your car less appealing to them. "I usually go to the dollar store and buy the cheapest drier sheets I can find, and put those inside my vehicles," said Davin Reckow, claims parts specialist for Hagerty Collector Car Insurance. You can also place mothballs in socks and set them both inside and around the car, but you'll probably need to air out the cabin to get rid of that distinctive smell. Mousetraps work well outside the car, but never put them in your car. The last thing you want to find is a dead mouse on your passenger seat, especially months later. If you are storing your car in your own garage at home, remember that pest poison traps can be hazardous to your pets.
It's worthwhile to inflate your tires to a higher air pressure before storing your car because tires can slowly lose pressure over time and with temperature changes. However, don't exceed the tire's maximum air pressure, which is listed on the side of the tire, and be sure to fill all four tires to the correct air pressure when you take your car out of storage. If you already know one of your tires has a leak, replace it because it will deflate completely over time, and your car could end up kneeling on its rim.
Don't engage the parking brake for storage as it can become "frozen" and difficult to disengage. If you're worried about your car rolling, get some wheel chocks or blocks of wood to wedge against the tires.
For the more mechanically inclined and for owners of collectible cars, you can put your car on jack stands to take the weight off the tires and suspension. By doing this, you can avoid getting flat areas on your older tires and wheels. Procedures for doing this vary greatly from car to car, so if you're unfamiliar with the proper and safe way to raise your car, consult with someone who knows. In all instances, be sure the floor of your storage site is completely flat and made of concrete before undertaking this.
Fluids and Power
It's a good idea to use fuel stabilizer. Why? Reckow said most ethanol-blended fuels have a shelf life of only about three months. If you're storing a car for six months, fuel stabilizer should help prevent corrosion in the fuel lines and engine. Add fuel stabilizer to a nearly full gas tank.
It's also a good idea to change your car's oil and oil filter and check and top-up all other fluid levels before storing your car. If you live in a colder climate, make sure your car has enough antifreeze. Once you've topped off the fluids and added fuel stabilizer, take your car out for one last ride to circulate the new fluids.
Your car battery should be either removed and stored, or connected to a trickle charger or battery tender. You can get one for less than $50. Make sure your battery tender or charger has a float mode or automatic shutoff feature so the battery doesn't get overcharged. You can run the battery tender's cables up through the underside of the engine bay so that you can keep the hood closed and your car cover in place.
If you want to remove the battery but still have it on a battery tender, set it on a piece of wood in your garage and attach it to the tender. Make sure not to lose track of the two battery bolts. Keeping your car's battery charged prolongs the life of the battery, and you don't have to wonder whether your car will start.
You can also remove the battery and store it in a warm room in your home. Keep in mind that cold batteries can freeze and may crack.
Invest in a quality car cover. If you store your car outside, make sure that cover is waterproof and is securely attached to your car so that high winds don't blow it off. Universal and custom-fit car covers are available at online retailers and at auto parts stores. There is a big difference between a $25 universal-fit car cover and a $300 high-quality model-specific cover. Your best bet is to get one that's breathable and keeps out moisture. Never cover your car with a plastic tarp as it will severely scratch the paint.
A basic car cover is worthwhile if you store your car inside because it can protect your car's freshly waxed exterior from accumulating dust and dirt. In addition, Reckow said, a thicker car cover provides a layer of protective padding for your car's exterior in case you bump it while you move items around in your garage.
It's easier to have another set of hands available when putting a cover on your car; it also eliminates the risk of having the cover touch the ground, picking up grit. However, before you put the cover on, make sure all the windows and doors are fully closed and that valuables and necessities are out of the passenger compartment. You don't want to open a covered, storage-ready car just to get your cell phone's car charger. If you have a fixed antenna, you'll also want to remove it before covering up. You can put the antenna in your trunk or on the floor by the passenger seat so it's readily available for reinstallation.
In addition to a car cover, consider a car jacket. Just drive your car onto the jacket, put a soft car cover on it (this is a must) and zip up the outer plastic jacket. This solution provides protection from moisture, rust, rodents and dust. "I once stored a '66 Chevelle convertible, stripped of paint, right on a lakefront in Michigan,” Reckow said. "After one winter, there was not a lick of surface rust.” Make sure your car is completely dry and cool before putting any kind of cover on it.
Starting It Up
A common discussion among people who store cars is whether or not to start it every so often. "If you do a proper job storing a car, you don't need to start it," Reckow said. "But if you want to start it up, just remember what you have to remove and put back on." In other words, don't start your car with those socks still stuffed in the exhaust or the battery tender's cables in the engine bay. Completely remove the car cover, too; don't just peel it back enough to get in the driver's door. Never let a car run with its car cover on — or with the garage door closed.
Once your car is started, let it warm up to its operating temperature to remove any condensation and cycle the fresh oil through the engine to lubricate the parts a bit. Then, don't forget to redo the steps needed to return your car to its storage state.
Editor's note: This post originally ran in 2012.