Preparing Your Vehicle for Storage
By Courtney Evans
As the weather has turned cold for most of the country and some of us are facing snow storms and icy temperatures, there’s no doubt that Old Man Winter is upon us. In some cases, with a vengeance. Winter is not automobile friendly. It adds stress and strain to your vehicle’s charging system and is extremely corrosive to your vehicle’s body and undercarriage thanks to the salt and sand mixture that covers our roadways during this time of year.
You see, a few months ago I prepared most of my backyard items, such as outdoor furniture, barbeque grill, and market umbrellas for winter storage. These items typically aren’t used in winter so they need to be stored properly. If they’re not stored, they’ll be subjected to wintry conditions and even excessive sun damage. I pulled some items into the garage and covered the rest with tarps. This should protect them and add years to their service life.
This approach holds true for your vehicles. Hopefully, you’ve already prepared the vehicles that see year-round duty for winter driving. You need to prepare the vehicles that won’t be driven for winter storage.
Preparing your vehicle for storage is not difficult. It does require attention to detail and an adherence to common practices. First, you need to decide where the vehicle will be stored, indoors or outdoors. Indoors is the preferred method and will go a long way in protecting the vehicle, though outdoor storage can work too.
The key to proper storage is preparation. We’ll discuss cleaning, battery storage, engine bay prep, rust prevention, keeping the critters out, tires, car covers, and vehicle wake-up.
First you need to wash and wax the vehicle thoroughly. Make sure you remove all dirt from the undercarriage and wheel wells because dirt can hold moisture. Thoroughly clean your interior and trunk. Use a powerful vacuum cleaner with attachments to remove food, candy, and dirt from all the nooks and crannies. Allow the vehicle to air-dry thoroughly.
You need to disconnect your battery cables starting with the ground cable (black). Thoroughly clean the battery, both on the top and sides. Place the battery on a block of wood or on top of a thick piece of polystyrene. Connect a batter-keeper or float charger to the battery to maintain its charge during storage. Place it where it will be out of the way. Don’t create a trip hazard.
Engine Bay Prep
Remove each spark plug and spray some oil into each cylinder. You can use regular oil with a spray-type squirt can. Turn the crankshaft pulley using a wrench or ratchet-socket combination a few times to circulate the oil that was sprayed into each cylinder. This process will keep moisture out of the cylinders. Reinstall your spark plugs and reconnect the spark plug wires.
Since brake fluid absorbs moisture, replace your brake fluid if it is more than 2 years old. If you don’t, it could corrode the insides of your brake lines. Also, check the condition of your engine coolant. You can check it with a hydrometer. If the freeze point is not correct, change the coolant.
One of the key things that you can do to prolong the life of your vehicle’s body is rust prevention. Rust has been described as automotive cancer. It will eat away at your investment. You must keep moisture away. To keep moisture away from your undercarriage, you need to create a moisture or vapor barrier. A moisture barrier is recommended whether you’re storing the vehicle indoors or outdoors.
If storing indoors place heavy duty plastic sheeting on top of the concrete. Place strips of plywood measuring 1 1/2 ft wide on top of the plastic and drive the vehicle up on them length-wise as if you were making a driving path. If storing outdoors, use full sheets of plywood placed on top of heavy duty plastic sheeting.
Also, lubricate your hood latch, trunk latch, and all door hinges to keep moisture away.
Keeping the Critters Out
It is important to thwart the efforts of rodents and other pests that may up residence inside your ride. They love to create nests inside “cozy” areas. They also love to chew on spark plug wires as well as other wires.
Place mothballs underneath the vehicle. Put more mothballs inside the passenger cabin by placing them on sheets of aluminum foil. Stuff heavy rags inside your tailpipe, engine air intake, and fresh air intake located at the bottom of the windshield. You may need to use aluminum foil if you have rodents in your area that would love to use your rags as nesting material.
If the vehicle will be stored for more than six months, you need address tire flat-spots. Just place the vehicle on jack stands that are in the lowest position. Just enough to raise the tires off the floor. If storing outdoors, use plywood squares under the jack stands to prevent sinking.
When it comes to covers, you have lots of choices. Spend as much as you can afford because you’ll find that the higher the price, the better the protection and quality of the fit. Use a cover that is designed to fit your vehicle snuggly. This will help keep the elements out. If you live in a particularly sunny area, make sure your cover provides UV protection.
After a long storage you need to do a few things to get your ride ready to drive again. Remove the cover and remove the rags that were stuffed into various places. Remove all the mothballs from underneath the vehicle and inside the passenger cabin. Refit and re-install your battery. Sand off most of the rust that has accumulated on your brake rotors with some 100-120 grit sand paper using a rubber sanding block. Change your engine oil and filter. That’s it!
Properly preparing your vehicle for winter storage or just long-term storage will help preserve your investment and ensure many years of driving enjoyment. It will also allow you to get back behind the wheel sooner after a bit of winter cabin fever!