Case Studies

How to Prepare Your Car for Long-Term or Winter Storage

Top Tips To Protect Your Car While You’re Away
Many vehicles we service here at Atlantic Motorcar are often used seasonally, spring to fall. We are frequently asked how to store these for the off-season so they are ready to use in the spring without damage or problems.

Maybe you have a convertible that you love to drive in the summer, but now winter has arrived. Or perhaps you’re going to leave town for a job or an extended vacation. Or maybe you are in the military and are being deployed overseas.

Whatever the reason for your time away from the vehicle, you’ll need to put it in storage, and you want to do this in a wise manner that protects your car and your investment.

If you just let your car sit on the street or in a garage for an extended period, you may return to a dead battery or — worse yet — a damaged engine, rusted brakes, flat-spotted tires or a rodent’s nest under your hood.

Simple First Steps
Here are basic essential steps to take before you store a vehicle. They will preserve the engine’s life and ensure that your car starts when you return to it.

• Use an all-weather car cover if you cannot leave your car in a garage.

•Try not to park over grass, ideally part over gravel, asphalt, or cement; this will prevent or slow down condensation from rusting your brakes and car’s body.

• Get the car fully detailed, or at the very minimum, washed and waxed before placing it in storage.

• Be sure to fill up the gas tank and add a gas stabilizer if you will store the car for more than 30 days.

• Use a battery tender to avoid jump-starting or replacing the battery.

Keep It Covered
A heated or climate-controlled garage is an ideal place to store a vehicle. This will protect it from the elements and keep it at a temperature and humidity that’s relatively stable. This helps prevent condensation and corrosion on metal parts and surfaces.

If you don’t have a garage or can’t find such accommodation at a reasonable price, consider putting the car in a public storage facility. If you have to leave the car outdoors, consider getting a weatherproof car cover, we like the (Covercraft and Wolfe brands) ideally, one that locks, which will help keep the vehicle clean and dry. This will prevent sun damage to both your paint and interior. And remember to try and park your car over solid surfaces.

Clean It Up
It may seem counterintuitive to wash the car when you’re about to put it away for months, but it is an easy step that shouldn’t be overlooked. Water stains or bird droppings left on the car can damage the paint. Make sure to clean the wheels and undersides of the fenders to get rid of mud, grease, or tar. For added protection, give the car a good coat of quality wax. And consider treating all interior leather surfaces with a good quality cleaner and protectant, like “Lexol” or “Hide Food.” This will go a long way to saving your leather from drying out and cracking.

Change the Oil and Check Fluids
Skip this step if you only store the car for a week or two. Consider changing the oil if you will be storing the vehicle for longer than 30 days. Most manufacturers recommend this step in their owner’s manuals, saying that used engine oil has contaminants that could damage the engine. Please ensure that the shop uses a quality oil filter that meets factory standards, like OEM, Bosch, Mann, or Mahle, and like quality engine oil like Castrol or Mobile 1.

For longer-term storage, remember that brake fluid should be changed every two years, and we recommend coolant (antifreeze), especially on aluminum engines, be replaced every three years. We have an expression at Atlantic Motorcar, “Oil Is Cheaper Than Metal.“, meaning fluid changes are much less costly and invasive than replacing parts.

Top Off the Tank
This is another long-term car storage tip. Fill the tank with gas if you expect the car to be in storage for more than 30 days. Topping it off will prevent moisture from accumulating inside the fuel tank and keep the seals from drying out. You should also purchase a fuel stabilizer such as Sta-bil to prevent ethanol buildup and protect the engine from gum, varnish, and rust. The fuel stabilizer will prevent the gas from deteriorating for up to 12 months.

Keep It Charged
An unattended battery will eventually lose its charge. Get someone to start the car every two weeks and drive it for about 15 minutes if possible. Driving the car periodically has several benefits. It will maintain the battery’s charge, help the car “stretch its legs,” and keep the engine and other components adequately lubricated. It is also a good idea to run the air conditioner to keep the parts in working order and the air quality fresh.

If you cannot arrange for someone to start the car, there are two other options. The low-tech solution is to disconnect the negative battery cable. We’re not a fan of this, as you’ll likely lose the stereo presets, time, and other settings. If you want to keep those settings and ensure that your battery starts the moment you return, the ideal solution is to purchase a battery tender, also known as a trickle charger. This device hooks up to your car battery on one end and plugs into a wall outlet on the other. It delivers just enough electrical power to prevent the battery from discharging. Good quality units will turn on and off and often display an LED status. Most of these units cost under $100, far less than the cost of replacing your battery. 

Don’t Set the Parking Brake
Using the parking brake is usually a good idea, but we don’t advise doing this when you leave a car in storage. If the brake pads make contact with the rotors for too long, there is a chance that they might rust together and stick, preventing the car from moving. Instead, purchase a tire stopper, also called a wheel chock, to prevent the vehicle from moving.

Prevent Flat Spots
Make sure your tires are inflated to the recommended tire pressure. If a vehicle is left stationary for too long, the tires could develop flat spots as the car’s weight presses down on the tires’ footprints. This process occurs faster in colder temperatures and vehicles equipped with performance or low-profile tires. In some cases, merely having someone drive the car for a while will bring the tires up to their normal operating temperature and eliminate any flat spots. In more severe cases, a flat spot can become a permanent part of the tire and need to be replaced.

If your car is in storage for more than 30 days, consider taking the wheels off and placing the vehicle on jack stands at all four corners. This step requires more work, but it can save you from needing a new set of tires. When you return, your tires will be in much better shape if they haven’t been bearing the vehicle’s unmoving weight for a month or more. If you don’t want to jack up your car, you can try slightly over-inflating the tires by 5PSI, then lowering them back to spec when taken out of storage. This is often enough to prevent the tires from flat spotting during extended periods.

Keep Critters Out
A garage will keep your car dry and relatively warm. Unfortunately, those are also two things that make a garaged car attractive to rodents. There are plenty of places in your car for critters to hide and plenty of things for them to chew on. Try to cover any gaps where a mouse could enter, such as the exhaust pipe or an air intake. Steel wool works well for this.

Next, spread mothballs or cotton swabs dipped in peppermint oil along the vehicle’s perimeter. The smell is said to drive mice away. At Atlantic Motorcar, we’re a big fan of the natural rather than poison method of rodent control. There is an all-natural product made from cedar and pine, “FreshCab,” which you can find at local hardware stores, or Amazon, that works amazingly well.

If you want to take a more proactive approach, or for challenging cases for which “Fresh Cab” doesn’t work, you can lay down a few mousetraps. Just make sure someone can check the garage periodically in case there are some casualties. Otherwise, you’ll have to deal with a smell much worse than mothballs when you take the car out of storage.

Maintain Insurance
You might be tempted to cancel your auto insurance when your vehicle is in storage. Although that might initially save money, there is a chance that the insurance company will raise your rates due to the coverage gap, which could cost you more in the long run. This can vary based on where you live and who your provider is, so contact your insurance company to see what options are available to you. Consider that many storage facilities do not properly insurance clients’ cars for damage, so having some basic coverage when stored is a smart idea.

Get Back in Action
Here’s a checklist of what to do when you’re ready to bring your vehicle out of storage:

• Check under the hood for any evidence of rodents. Look for chewed belts, hoses, wires, or nests.

• If you covered the muffler or air intake, remove that material before you start the car.

• Check the windshield wipers to see if the rubber is cracked or brittle.

• Check the tire pressure and inflate the tires to the recommended specs.

• Check the brakes. Rust may have accumulated on the rotors. In most cases, it should go away after you drive the vehicle for a short time, but you may hear a “thumping” noise while applying the brakes until the rust cleans off.

• Check fluids to ensure there have been no leaks and they are at the recommended levels.

• If the battery cable has been disconnected, ensure that you reconnect it and that the battery terminals are clean.

Wash your vehicle to remove any dirt that may have accumulated.

Have Questions?
Please call one of our Service Advisors for more information or questions on your car.
They can offer valuable information on the proper service and repair for your vehicle.

Our Goal For You and Your Car
Our goal is to save you money, not spend it, which is why every car we service gets a free Courtesy Maintenance Inspection during its first and every subsequent visit.

We aim to inform you about the minor problems before they become big ones. Right now, we have a number of customer cars with well over 200,000 miles and several approaching 300,000!

And these cars are not just limping along – most look and drive pretty much the way they came out of the showroom. Proper maintenance is an investment in the life of your vehicle. Be sure it is properly performed, and take it to Atlantic Motorcar…Extraordinary Service for Extraordinary Cars. (207) 882-9969

Questions, or if we can be of help in any way with service on your Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Mini Cooper, or other European (and now Japanese) import, please contact us. Our team of Service Specialists is here to help, for even the newest autos! (207) 882-9969.

Knowing, not just “doing,” that’s the Atlantic Motorcar Center way.

The Atlantic Motorcar Center Service Team

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