The Ins and Outs of Car Storage

By: Craig Parker

Presented by

car storage 2 Storing a car in a museum for a long period could end up disastrous car storage 2

There's much more to storing your car than closing the garage door...

From Unique Cars #306, January 2010 

Car Storage

As much as we’d all like to drive our pride and joys on a daily basis, the reality is they spend more time parked up than they do cruising the blacktop. So what’s the best way to store a vehicle? How do you ensure your adored or unique car is still pristine when you come back to it weeks, months or even years later. What measures and precautions should you take to stop time from becoming your car’s worst enemy? Let’s take a look.

Moisture is your enemy

Any car stored out in the elements will show significant signs of irreversible deterioration in fewer than six months, period. Get it in under cover. Better still store it in a garage. Even then, ensure your garage is clean, cool, dark and dry.

Latent moisture will turn everything mouldy and provide an ideal breeding environment for corrosion. If you’ve got a dirt floor or one that you can’t keep dry, lay down a plastic sheet (the thick, black stuff you get from hardware stores works well) and drive onto that.

Eliminate all fire hazards in the garage and ensure all electric devices (or anything else that can spontaneously burst into flames or catch alight) are well away from the car. Fire usually takes hold very quickly and often leads to a total loss.

Car -storagge

If your storage area is the family garage, arrange the area so that nothing can fall onto the car. Kids and pets have an innocent, yet nasty habit of knocking things over – and can turn into a handy spot to lean or stack things on. Buy a set of Go-Jacks to push the car as far as possible out of harm’s way.

Wash away any problems

Before parking your ride, give it a thorough wash. If you can, get the Karcher out and pressure clean the underside to dislodge any accumulated mud, as moisture trapped in dirt is a major cause of rust. After washing, meticulously polish it with a high-quality wax. A thick, wax coating will protect the paint by stopping damaging dust and other debris from sticking to it. Never put a car away wet, as this promotes corrosion.

Washing -carBefore consigning your car to storage, give it a thorough clean and make sure it’s completely dry

Wash it early in the morning, take it for a 10-minute spin ’round the block, then park it in the sun for a few hours and pop the boot and let it air to make certain it’s also good and dry. If you’re unable to do a morning wash, opt for a water-less car wash or spend a bit of time with the compressed air and a blower nozzle to chase as much water as possible out of those impossible-to-get-at areas. Park it dry, keep it dry and rust will not thrive. Investing in a storage bubble is highly recommended. It’s a given that unprotected steel will rust, especially the underside. So check that the underbody sealer and paint is in as good a condition as the shiny stuff on top.

Car covers

Car covers ain’t car covers. Never, under any circumstance, use a plastic-style car cover, as they sweat, which will lead to nasties like corrosion, mould and humidity paint blisters. Consult a specialist car cover company and tell them you need a cover specifically-designed for storage.

Car -coverA car cover is a good start but avoid plastic ones. Instead, buy a good quality material cover that’s padded to protect against knocks and also breathes

Higher quality covers resist rotting, feature a low-abrasion liner (to protect the paint) and tend to be thicker, which offers a degree of protection should something fall on it. At a minimum, the cover needs to be made from a breathable, multi-layered material that allows air to circulate, yet sports a sufficiently-tight weave to keep out fine dust.

As I said before, a bubble is one step better again. Yes, they’re considerably more expensive than a good cover, however they offer superior protection, are not much harder to set up and most incorporate a built in trickle charger to keep the battery topped up.

CarcoonA sealed ‘bubble’ is the best way to keep your pride and joy out of the elements and in pristine condition

Regardless of garage design or cover used, it’s virtually impossible to stop early morning condensation from forming in especially cold regions. This moisture will attack every part of your car. Under these conditions, a bubble is the most effective protection. Humid areas can benefit from using a dehumidifier, however they’re not designed for continuous use and best operated only when monitored.

Car batteries - prevent that flat feeling

Keeping the battery alive is always a major issue. When left sitting, even a brand new battery will be flat in as little as six weeks and completely dead (un-rechargeable) within a year. However, batteries manufactured over 20 years ago seem better able to survive being left fully discharged.

Battery

A battery conditioner will keep your battery topped up and ready. Conditioners differ from trickle chargers, which supply a small, constant voltage. A conditioner monitors the battery, automatically modulating itself to keep it topped up without over-charging or boiling it dry. If you’re uneasy about leaving an electrical device permanently connected, hook up a trickle charger for an hour or so every few weeks.

| Mick's tips: Maintaining your car bettery through winter

Car alarms and other electronic security devices draw noticeable amounts of current so switch them off, use a conditioner capable of supplying their current demands, or simply disconnect the battery. Warning! Many late model cars are fitted with security-coded radios that are rendered useless after they, or the battery, are disconnected. Re-activating the radio requires entering its security or PIN code. Make sure you have the security code before disconnecting the battery.

Ctek -battery -chargerEven a high-quality new battery will die after sitting in a car for a year without being recharged. The best solution is a battery conditioner that monitors battery condition and tops the charge up when necessary and doesn’t overcharge or boil it dry

For periods longer than six months, pull the battery out (to stop its corrosive contents from attacking your car) and either use it in another car or store in on the shelf – hooked up to a conditioner.

Fuel tanks - use it or lose it

In as little as four weeks, the fuel in the tank will begin to go stale and loose octane. At around six months, gum and varnish will start to form in the fuel system (most notably the carburettor and injectors) and it will be like porridge after a year or so. If it has been sitting for this long, empty the tank and lines and replace all the fuel with fresh stuff. Don’t even think about cranking the engine with old fuel in the system, as you’ll spend ages cleaning gunk out of everything.

Adding a fuel stabiliser will increase the fuel’s shelf life – anywhere from 12 to 24 months depending on brand – just make sure it’s thoroughly mixed through the system. Keeping the fuel tank topped up slows the rate at which it turns to varnish.

Fuelling

For those running LPG, things are a lot better. LPG has a much longer shelf life, literally years. However over long time spans, it does exhibit some wax settle. This isn’t really a problem as it’ll be caught by the in-line LPG filter, which every system should have. LPG tanks are always full of vapour, so it makes no difference whether they’re stored near empty or completely full. One thing, though; if you’re storing the car for more than a couple of months, turn off the main valve at the tank. That way it’ll maintain pressure for decades.

Put the brakes on

Airborne moisture adversely affects virtually all fluids in your car, brake fluid especially. It’s hygroscopic nature causes it to absorb moisture out of the atmosphere. Such contamination not only lowers its boiling point (making the pedal mushy), but get enough moisture in the fluid and brake internals will begin corroding. Regardless of mileage, the old fluid should be flushed and replaced every two years. Consider changing to a high-performance silicone fluid, as it’s not hydroscopic. If you change to silicone, you must first remove all traces of the glycol-based fluid by thoroughly washing and flushing the system with brake clean and replace all rubber seals.

Brake -fluidThe hygroscopic properties of brake fluid mean it absorbs moisture from the air, lowering the fluid’s boiling point and potentially corroding brake lines. It’s worth changing to a high-performance silicone brake fluid, which is non-hygroscopic

Attack of the killer oil

Used oil contains moisture, acids and other combustion contaminants which, over time, can attack your engine’s internals. For long-term storage, drain the old oil (regardless of mileage) and replace it with fresh, unused oil as well as a new oil filter. After a few years, fitting a new air filter will also be necessary.

Storage -filling -oilUsed oil contains contaminants. When storing a car long term, replace the engine oil – no matter how new it is – with fresh oil and fit a new filter

There’s nothing you can do to stop airborne moisture from contaminating your vehicle’s fluids, however, having everything topped up to the brim (including the gearbox and diff) leaves less space for moisture to accumulate and will certainly slow the process. Don’t remove all fluids, as this exposes all raw metal surfaces to corrosion.

Maintain your cool

To impede internal corrosion use a corrosion inhibitor, found in all anti-freeze/anti-boil coolant additives. For very old cars, where anti-freeze is not recommended, add a dedicated corrosion inhibitor, available at your local auto parts store. Calcium salts – found in both tap and tank water – are a major corrosion promoter. Use only demineralised or distilled water in your cooling system. When adding fresh anti-freeze or corrosion inhibitor, warm up the engine (to circulate it) and be sure to open the heater tap.

Exercise regularly

After a year, virtually all of the oil will have seeped into the sump exposing the engine’s raw, unprotected surfaces. Cranking the engine over every month or so, will lube everything up and considerably increase life expectancy; same goes for the gearbox and diff. If you can’t run the engine and driveline, at least wind them over every couple of months. Also give the brakes a couple of pumps to stop the pistons from seizing up. Left dormant for long enough the rings will seize (corrode) onto the bores.

Periodically pull the plugs and squirt some WD40 (or similar) in there. Yes, this may foul the plugs and lead to smoking upon initial re-start, however it’s better than marking up the bores. I’m led to believe that when shutting the engine down for a long time, some of the ultra-fastidious vintage guys spray light oil down the carburettor until the engine stalls; this gives all the internals a protective, oil coating.

WD40 is quite apt for protecting external engine components, as it leaves behind a protective coating once it evaporates. The one exception is rubber, which it breaks down in the long term. Keep it away from belts and hoses.

When starting an engine that hasn’t run for a few months, disable the ignition system and crank it over for about 30 seconds. This will allow oil pressure to build and ensure vital lubrication has been distributed to all the critical areas. Then give the engine plenty of time to warm up before rolling out the driveway.

Use this extended warm up period to give everything a good visual check; for instance, if any hoses have perished and begun leaking. If you’re going to park your car for a really long time, plug up all the orifices (like the exhaust pipe) to stop vermin from crawling in there and making a home. Loosening the accessory drive belts will relieve the strain. If you start going to this sort of trouble, also make a ‘to do’ list of things to amend before restarting and/or driving.

Rodent problems - stay off the lunch menu

Vermin love eating everything in your interior, which makes it the perfect nesting place with rats and mice being the biggest problem. Keeping the garage itself clean and tidy will go a long way to eliminating rodent problems.

Car -seats

To avoid your precious leather or vinyl becoming rat fodder (like this poor Mustang’s, above), keep your garage clean and set traps. It might also pay to get a pest controller in. Apply a protectant to all vinyl, leather and rubber surfaces to seal them from moisture and scatter mothballs to ward off insects

However it’s imperative to set and regularly monitor traps. Buy the new type where the rodent needs to physically crawl inside as they’re far more effective than traditional mouse traps. Get regular pest inspections and spraying, as an ant infestation can quickly wreak havoc on even the nicest restoration.

Before storing (and then periodically afterwards), apply a suitable surface protectant to all the vinyl, leather, cloth and rubber surfaces to ward of the effects of mildew as well as impede drying and cracking.

Convertible owners should leave the top up to prevent shrinking and avoid developing horrible creases. It too needs to be treated with an appropriate preservative. Occasionally running the top up and down (and an annual lube) will stop the mechanism freezing.

Underfelts, foams and carpet love to trap moisture, which sends everything mouldy and spawns corrosion. Keep mildew at bay by placing a couple of bags of desiccant inside to absorb any trapped moisture.

Moisture -absorberPlacing some water-absorbent crystals in strategic areas will help keep moisture – and therefore rust – at bay too

If you don’t mind the smell, mothballs will keep silverfish and other such undesirables at bay. Leave small buckets of water-absorbing crystals around the car to absorb any latent moisture. Insulate the garage roof to stop condensation forming, which causes mildew and can physically start dripping on the car.

Crack the windows a few millimetres (especially in humid climates) to allow air to circulate and prevent humidity from building up, which will in turn stop the interior stinking up. You’ll need a car cover or bubble to stop undesirables from crawling inside through the window gap.

Tyres - keep the rubber rolling

Park your car long enough and the tyres will begin developing flat spots, which will materialise as a hideous vibration.

Bad news if you’re storing a race car, as slicks are significantly more susceptible than road tyres. Driving heats up the tyres, which usually eliminates minor flat spots in most cases, however, nasty flat spots are sometimes there to stay. A 30km run on your local freeway is an ideal way to heat-cycle road tyres.

For periods over six months, adding an extra 10-15psi, along with positioning them on carpet squares (which insulates them from the concrete) will further delay the onset of flat spotting. Periodically rolling the car back and forth to a different position also helps.

Tyres

Alternatively, put the car up on stands.

Place the stands under the suspension to hold it at ride height, as shocks that have been allowed to droop fully extended have been known to seize in that position. Once again, getting some movement in the suspension via a few bounces every month will stop the shocks from seizing, keep their seals from hardening and also stop the suspension bushes from seizing.

Have your tyres inflated with nitrogen – it leaks out three to four times slower than straight air and contains none of the tyre rotting pollutants found in air. Keep up the pressures, as a drop in pressure hurts the tyres.

Like most other things, tyres age. While some very old tyres can last decades, you should seriously consider replacing any tyre older than about six to seven years – regardless of tread depth – as there have been a number of recorded failures due to internal delamination in old tyres that appear fine on the outside.

Little things count

Prop up the wipers so they don’t stick to the screen. If you go so far as removing the blades, put a rag under the arms to avoid scratching the screen.

If you do run the engine, take the opportunity to also give the heater and air-con systems a run. And don’t set the handbrake; leave it in park or chock the wheels, as handbrakes are notorious for sticking and jamming when left applied for extended periods.

Cars are meant to be driven not stored for a long time but with planning, preventative maintenance, and regular attention, it’s possible for your car to remain in virtually the same condition as you left it.

 

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