Aside from your home, your vehicle is likely one of the biggest investments you’ve made. If something comes up and you can’t drive it for a while, you’ll need to learn the basics of proper long-term car storage. This is the best way to make sure your car still looks and runs the same when you're ready to drive it again.
If you’re going to leave your vehicle unused for an extended period, you can’t just leave it out on the street or even park it in the garage without preparing it properly. If you do, you’re likely to end up with some serious problems. In the best scenario, you’ll come back to a dead battery. However, if you’re not so lucky, you may find that your tires are ruined, there’s a rat’s nest under your hood, or you’ve got some engine damage.
Taking a few simple precautions will ensure your long-term car storage goes off without a hitch. Start with these 12 simple steps.
1. Wash and Wax Your Vehicle
Cleanliness is a critical part of long-term car storage. Cleaning the exterior of your vehicle will remove dirt, bird droppings, and other things that can damage your car's paint and cause corrosion.
You’ll also want to clean your car’s wheels and the underside of the fenders to remove any tar, grease, or mud. Finally, add a coat of wax. This will provide another layer of protection from the elements.
2. Deep-Clean the Interior
Next, give the interior of your car a deep cleaning. Make sure you remove food, dirt, and any other residues. This will help you avoid getting mold inside your vehicle or attracting pests.
3. Fill Up the Tank
Filling up your gas tank will keep your seals from drying out. It will also prevent moisture from accumulating inside, which can cause your tank to rust. If you’re going to store your car for more than two months, you’ll also want to add a stabilizer. This will protect your fuel system and preserve the gasoline for up to 12 months.
4. Change the Oil
When you're preparing for long-term car storage, it's important to change the oil. Otherwise, the oil can thicken, making it difficult to start your car. Dirty oil also holds contaminants that can cause damage to your engine.
5. Protect Your Engine
Long-term car storage can lead to rust in your engine block. To prevent this, remove your car’s spark plugs and spray some oil into the cylinders. When you’re done, replace your plugs. If you’re not comfortable doing this yourself, ask your mechanic to do it for you when you bring your vehicle in for its pre-storage oil change.
6. Maintain Your Battery
When a car’s battery is left unused, it will eventually lose its charge. You can avoid a dead battery during long-term car storage by simply disconnecting it. However, while this is effective, doing so will usually cause you to lose your radio presets, clock settings, and more.
If you want to keep all your settings and ensure your battery will work well when you return, you can purchase a trickle charger. This is a device that connects your battery to a wall outlet. It will periodically provide a small electrical charge, keeping your battery fresh.
7. Protect the Wiper Blades
When left in the same position for a long time, the rubber from your wiper blades can stick to your windshield glass. Prevent this from happening by putting a strip of plastic under each blade before putting your car into long-term storage. If you prefer, you could also completely remove your wiper blades or leave them in the “out” position.
8. Plug the Tailpipe
Nobody wants to pull their vehicle out of storage only to find that critters have taken up residence inside. Not only will this make a mess, but your car is also full of things for rodents to chew on.
Keep mice and other pests out of your vehicle by covering any spaces where they can enter. This includes your exhaust pipe and air intakes. A cloth, steel wool, or aluminum foil can all work well. Just don’t forget to remove the covering before you drive your car again.
9. Elevate Your Vehicle
If you don’t elevate your vehicle during long-term car storage, you’ll end up with flat spots on your tires. Sometimes, a flat spot will round back out after you drive your vehicle for a while. However, in the worst case, the damage could be permanent.
Avoid this by taking the wheels off and placing your car on jack stands. While this does require a bit of work, it will save you from having to spend your hard-earned money on a new set of tires.
10. Don’t Use the Parking Brake
Using your parking brake during long-term car storage can lead to problems. If your parking brake is connected for too long, it can fuse with the wheel's interior, causing serious issues. Instead, use a wheel chock or place wood blocks in front of the tires to ensure your car won't roll.
11. Add a Body Cover
Even if you plan to store your vehicle under an outdoor structure, you should consider covering it. A body cover will provide an extra layer of protection, keeping your vehicle clean and preventing damage if anything falls on it.
It’s critical to make sure you choose the right cover! Avoid inexpensive plastic covers that are designed for a range of vehicle types (ex. cars, trucks, SUVs). These usually don’t fit well and can trap moisture underneath. When this happens, it can actually cause damage instead of preventing it.
Instead, look for a premium breathable custom-fit cover. It should extend down over the wheel wells and have straps to secure it tightly. Otherwise, wind can whip the cover against your car, leaving the paint looking like it was sandblasted.
12. Park on Plastic or a Tarp
If you’re going to store your vehicle in a garage or carport, it’s a good idea to park it on top of a durable piece of plastic or a tarp. This will prevent oils and elements from creeping up from the ground and damaging your wheels. It will also prevent any leaks or drips from damaging the floor.
Outdoor Car Storage Solutions
One of the most important steps to successful long-term car storage is deciding where you’ll park your car. An indoor storage facility is always the best option, particularly if you’re planning to store your vehicle for a year or more.
However, most people choose outdoor car storage because it’s more convenient and less expensive. A garage or shelter is the ideal storage solution. This will protect your vehicle from the sun’s UV rays, wind, hail, snow, and rain.
A simple barn shelter is an excellent option. Smaller-sized shelters are perfect for storing items like ATVs, lawnmowers, and small tractors. To store a full-sized vehicle or multiple vehicles, you’ll want a larger solution, like the ShelterTech SP Series.
Many vehicle owners prefer these shelters for outdoor car storage because they come in a large range of sizes and are easily extendible if you find that you need more room. They also have minimal foundation requirements and can be erected in a matter of days instead of months.
Special Considerations for Cold Climates
If you live in an area with a cold, harsh climate, you’ll need to take extra precautions for your outdoor car storage. For ultimate protection against wind and snow, consider a ShelterTube garage. These structures are super durable, thanks to their heavy-duty 15-gauge industrial frame. They're also 100% waterproof and are designed to withstand winds of up to 80 miles per hour and up to 43 pounds-per-square-foot of show.
If you can add a more permanent structure to your property, consider an Everest Steel Garage. These stylish premium garages are made from tough Galvalume steel and are expandable up to 100 feet long. They offer exceptional corrosion resistance and come with a 20-year warranty. They also have a wind-speed rating of up to 100 MPH and a 35 PSF ground snow load rating.
Become a Long-Term Car Storage Pro!
Preparing for long-term car storage requires a bit of effort. However, once you've done it a few times, you'll start to feel like a pro. Begin by ensuring you have all the materials you need and a proper storage space. Then follow the steps listed above. This is the best way to keep your vehicle in great shape and ensure it's ready to hit the road as soon as you are.