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How to Prepare a Car for Long-Term Storage

Not planning on using your car for a while? Perhaps you’re headed away on an extended vacation. Or maybe it’s wintertime and you don’t need (or want!) to go anywhere and expose it to harsh conditions. Better yet, maybe it’s summertime and you’re planning on driving your bike instead. Think you can just start your car back up whenever you want without a hitch? Think again. Contrary to popular belief, an idle car isn’t just ready to roll when you are. Cars are made to move and can develop issues when they’re not being driven. If it’s going to be sitting pretty for a while, you need to store it properly so it stays that way. Just make sure you follow these essential steps to prepare your car for storage.

CAR FOX Tip: Go for a spin! Cars are meant to be driven. If you or someone you know can take your car out at least once a week for about 20 minutes, it will cut down the storage prep work you need to do to keep your car in tip-top shape.

Car storage basics

Whether you’re planning on taking a short breather or a longer driving hiatus, there are a few important steps to follow so that you have no unpleasantries when you get back behind the wheel. Make sure to do the following:

  • Find storage. Look for a nearby, secure and accessible storage location you can trust to protect your car.
  • Park indoors. If you have a garage or the ability to rent a covered space, that would be ideal as damp environments from inclement weather can breed rust.
  • Cover it. If parking inside isn’t an option, invest in a quality, breathable car cover to protect your car from the elements.

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Short-term car storage (up to 1 month)

Let’s say you’re going on an extended vacation. Do you really need to store your car? In short, absolutely! If your car is going to sit for up to a month make sure to:

  • Wash the outside. Remove all the dirt, dust, bugs, droppings and any other debris that can damage the paint and cause rust.
  • Clean the inside. Make sure you tidy up and vacuum out any food scraps and crumbs so as not to attract any unwelcome critters.
  • Fill the gas tank. Most think it should be the opposite but keeping the tank full prevents moisture and rust from running amuck in the fuel system.
  • (Slightly!) over-inflate tires. Check your owner’s manual for proper pressure levels and pump in a little extra to avoid flat spots caused by the weight of the vehicle.
  • Don’t use the parking brake. When brake pads are pushed up against the rotors for too long there’s a chance they could fuse together. If you’re concerned about the car moving, purchase a tire stopper to ease your mind.
  • Note the changes made. Remind yourself of everything you did so you can reverse course if necessary when you’re ready to drive again!

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Medium-term car storage (up to 3 months)

Going away for longer than a month, are you? Or maybe you want to tuck your car in for the warmer months while you bask in summer bike riding. Whatever your plan, if your car is going to be off the road for up to 3 months, you need to do all of the above as well as:

  • Wax on. In addition to washing the outside, applying a good wax will prevent oxidation and provide a protective coating on the paint.
  • Change the oil. There’s nothing worse for your car than dirty, contaminated oil as it can cause sludge, which damages the engine (the most expensive thing to fix!).
  • Check engine coolant. This is especially important in the winter months when the temperature is likely to dip below freezing.
  • Protect the battery. If you can, remove it and carefully place it on a wood surface (avoid damp concrete). Connect it to a trickle charger with an automatic shut-off so it’s fully charged when you’re ready to ride again.
  • Raise it up. Put your car on jack stands to avoid permanent flat spots. It will save your tires (and your wallet!).

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Long-term car storage (3 months or more)

Planning on keeping your car in hibernation for longer than a season? If you’re looking to store your car for 3 months or more, make sure to do all of the above, along with these extra steps:

  • Add engine stabilizer to the gas tank. It absorbs moisture and prevents gum and varnish from degrading the gas. Once you add it, fill the tank with gas and give it a spin to help the stabilizer mix in.
  • Cover and protect. From the wheel wells to the engine blocks to exhausts, cover any holes and gaps to prevent critters from setting up shop.
  • Raise the windshield wipers. Keeping them off the glass will prevent them from sticking or marking up the windshield.
  • Condition, condition, condition. Go over every piece of leather and vinyl upholstery with a good conditioning treatment to avoid cracking and/or fading.
  • Adjust (or remove) insurance. Speak to your insurance company to see if there are any opportunities for you to lower your rates while your car is in storage.

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Getting back on the road

Ready to hit the pavement? Not so fast. First you need to make sure everything is running as it should before you even think about taking your car out for a spin. Follow these steps first and then you’ll be good to go.

  • Check under the hood. Make sure you don’t have any frayed wires or rodent stowaways camping out in your vehicle.
  • Remove coverings. Do a walk-around and take off all the coverings from wheel wells, engine blocks and exhausts.
  • Check windshield wipers. Look for signs of damage, like cracked or brittle rubber on your wipers, and replace them if necessary.
  • Adjust tire pressure. When your car has been sitting for a long period of time, tires may deflate so be sure to increase pressure to the recommended specs.
  • Do a walkthrough. Check the lights and signals to make sure all are working properly and change any fuses if needed.
  • Top off fluids. Look under the hood and make sure your oil and cleaner haven’t leaked and are filled up to the recommended level.
  • Test the battery. An unattended battery will eventually lose its charge, so you need to ensure it’s working properly. If it’s dead or weak, give it a boost.
  • Wash your ride. Remove any accumulated dust and dirt so your car is fresh as a daisy.
  • Check, check, double check. Refer back to your preparation list to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything!

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There you have it. By following these essential steps, you’ll ensure your car is in good working condition when it’s ready to see the light of day again. Not only that, but you won’t need to spend a fortune on fixing the damage that could be caused from neglect. Remember, take care of your wheels and they’ll take care of you!