An old mechanic taught me these top car storage tips years ago; he knew his stuff. I’ve been using them for years, and now I’ll share them with you.
Starting a sitting vehicle may cause more problems than it solves. Proper vehicle storage is not difficult or expensive. Follow these simple vehicle storage steps for trouble-free recommissioning:
- Use battery maintainer
- Use gas stabilizer
- Clean and wax bodywork
- Store vehicle indoors
- Check antifreeze strength
- Don’t apply parking brake
- Use rodent control pellets
In this post, you’ll learn why starting a vehicle occasionally is a really bad idea. You’ll also learn the top seven tips for car storage guaranteed to save you big dollars.
Understandably you don’t want the battery to drain; starting the motor allows the alternator to charge the battery. This, however, causes issues much worse than a flat battery.
What’s The Problem With Occasional Starting?
Occasional starting causes the engine to warm up, but an idling car never gets up to operating temperature and that results in condensation. It is better to drive a car regularly until it reaches operating temperature. That way, condensation in the exhaust system, inside the lubrication system, and electrical components are burnt off.
If driving your car at least once a week until it reaches operating temperature isn’t possible, then it is far better to go the hibernation route.
Condensation is the enemy of all vehicles. Moisture and oxygen cause corrosion and a sitting car become lunch.
Here’s a short list of just some of the more common problems moisture can cause:
- Premature muffler failure
- Contaminated oil
- Body corrosion
- Pitted chrome work
- Brake binding
- Brake fluid contamination
- Interior sagging headcloth
- Interior mildew
- Damp Carpets
- Foul interior smell
- Failing coils
- Failing alternator
- Failing starter motor
- Failing fuel pump
- Failing injectors
- Failing electric window switches
Use Battery Maintainer
Without proper maintenance your car’s battery is the first to suffer. Modern cars use energy all the time. So even when it’s switched off it still uses small amounts of energy. Three solutions to combat this are common; the first one you know about.
- Starting the car regularly – I’m not a fan of this one.
- Disconnecting the battery – This is effective but has some drawbacks. Disconnecting the battery will prevent the car draining the battery but the battery will eventually drain anyway. Only a battery charger will keep the battery at peak performance. The next issue with this strategy is far more inconvenient. It may cause the cars on board computer (modules) to lose their settings. A diagnostic tool may be required to recalibrate various systems. I wrote a complete article about it here “Car won’t idle after battery change”.
- Using a battery maintainer – This is the best strategy, your car’s battery is maintained in top condition and if needs be, your car ready for the highway at a moment’s notice, with no battery to fit or wrenches to find. A smart charger is the way to go; these little guys only charge when needed and use very little power, plug them in, and forget about them.
You’ll find a link to a battery maintainer I use on the Auto electrical repair tools page.
Use Gas Stabilizer
A gas stabilizer will save you a ton of headaches, and this is a great tip for all your garden small engines too. Gas goes stale, less so in modern cars, as they have a sealed fuel system but age, without a doubt, kills the gas, turning it into a sludge.
The sludge, as you can imagine, blocks up to some expensive components like fuel pumps and injectors, possibly causing thousands of dollars in damage. This isn’t likely to happen in a month or two, but after month five or six, it’s a real possibility.
This is preventable; a stabilizer costs about 5 dollars and is a fuel system saver. The application is simple: add a measured amount of stabilizer to the gas tank with a fill-up and run the engine to get the stabilizer through the system. That’s it. Your fuel system is protected.
You’ll find a link to a quality gas stabilizer on the Consumables page.
Clean And Wax Bodywork
This may sound trivial, but it’s not, dirt traps road salts, muck traps moisture, and you already know moisture is the enemy. A thorough body wash, including under the fenders, will remove road salts and leaves and debris from critical windshield scuttle drains.
Using a quality hand waxing paste (not a spray-and-shine product) will place a protective shell over your paintwork. It will help prevent bird droppings and dirt from sticking to the bodywork and importantly, wax repels moisture.
See all my favorite cleaning products here on the Car cleaning tools page.
Store Vehicle Indoors
If you can, try and store the vehicle indoors, it will make a huge difference, and really it will. A car that’s stored indoors will cost a ton less to maintain and recommission after hibernation.
I understand not everyone has access to a garage, so at the very minimum buy a good quality breathable car cover. It must be breathable. Otherwise, the car will suffer from condensation.
Check Antifreeze Strength
The strength of the antifreeze is super important; a frozen coolant system will wreck your engine. I’ve seen it many times. But the strength of the antifreeze isn’t the only concern; not many car owners know that old antifreeze turns acidic. You’ll find a link to these tools on the Coolant system tools page.
So acidic, in fact, it can eat metal components; it will usually begin by eating head gaskets and move on to more expensive components like cylinder heads.
Antifreeze needs to be replaced every three to four years.
Don’t Apply Parking Brake
Need to leave the parking brake off. Otherwise, moisture may build up inside the cables causing them to stick in the on position. When recommissioning the parking brake, best to apply just a little, then release it. Repeating this process is all that’s required to remove mild corrosion buildup.
Use Rodent Control Pellets
Not forgetting our furry & hairy friends, the $*@!! These guys can cause an unbelievable amount of damage. You should fear them, mice, rats, dogs, cats, ponies, and cows, and I’ll bet you have a few you could add to this.
Mice love to nibble on wiring. They’ll live inside the airbox and eat the air filters. Insulation and rubber components are favored by rats. Door mirrors and bumpers by ponies.
Wiring can be time-consuming, complex, and very expensive to repair; it is easier to prevent this type of damage than fix it.
About the Author
John Cunningham is a Red Seal Qualified automotive technician with over twenty-five years of experience in the field. When he’s not writing about car repair, you’ll find him in his happy place – restoring classic cars.
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John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. He’s been a mechanic for over twenty-five years and has worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, and Jaguar dealerships.
John uses his know-how and experience to write fluff-free articles that help fellow gearheads with all aspects of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting.