Whether you are traveling to a warmer climate for the winter or you own a convertible or classic car that you don’t drive in the cold, snow, and ice, proper storage can prevent an array of problems, some of which cost hundreds of dollars to fix. For example, a storage mistake could lead to blemishes or rust on your paint job, mechanical problems, or even rodents taking up residence in your tailpipe.
To prevent these problems, follow this step-by-step guide to storing your car for winter:
1. Make sure your car is insured.
It’s important to protect your car with standard car insurance or classic car insurance, even when it’s in storage. There are several reasons to avoid letting your policy lapse even when you’re not driving the car. First, a gap in coverage could cause your premium to increase once you’re ready to reinsure your car. Second, if something happens to your car while it’s in storage (e.g., a tree topples onto it), insurance can help cover the costs of repairs.
If you own the car outright, it’s a good idea to maintain your comprehensive coverage. As long as you don’t plan to drive your car, or allow others to drive it, you can drop your collision coverage. Note that if you have an auto loan, your lender might require you to carry both comprehensive and collision insurance at all times.
Depending on your insurer, you can update your address and make changes to your coverage online.
2. Decide where to store your car.
If possible, store your car in dry location with a concrete floor, such as your garage or an indoor storage unit. Many self-storage facilities offer indoor and/or outdoor vehicle storage options. You can safely store your car in the elements for several months if you cover it properly, says Lauren Fix, aka “The Car Coach,” a nationally recognized automotive expert. However, if you need to store your car for years, it definitely should be kept inside.
3. Swap out fluids.
Leaving dirty, used oil in your car can cause engine damage. Therefore, if you plan to store your car for a month or more, have the oil changed. Refill your engine using oil that is specially formulated for storage. And if you haven’t changed your coolant for more than a year, drain and replace it with quality antifreeze.
4. Fill up the tank.
Hit the gas station and fill ‘er up before parking your car for storage. Topping off the tank keeps water out and seals lubricated. Add a fuel stabilizer designed for cars in storage to your gas tank, Fix advises. This will extend the life of your gasoline and help prevent the formation of deposits, known as “varnishing,” that can plug up your fuel injectors and cost $300 to $400 to fix, Fix says. Another option is to drain your gas tank, but that’s not necessary if you’re only storing your car for the winter.
5. Safeguard your battery.
If your car won’t be driven periodically (say, by a grandchild), buy a trickle charger (a.k.a. battery maintainer), Fix suggests. This inexpensive device helps your battery maintain power instead of gradually losing it over time. “If you let it sit more than six months, you’re more than likely going to have a dead battery,” she warns. Save yourself the hassle, and possibly the cost of towing, by shelling out $40 or so for this handy little device.
6. Take care of your tires.
Inflate your tires to the maximum recommended tire pressure, recommends Kevin Burke of SimpleTire.com. “Tires can lose pressure over time when there are changes in temperature,” Burke explains. Loss of tire pressure can lead to “flat spots” on the bottom of the tires.
Sometimes, you can get rid of these spots by inflating your tires and driving your car, but that doesn’t always work. Flat spots can ruin your tires, requiring you to spend hundreds of dollars to replace them. To ensure your tires remain in good repair, you can remove them and use jack stands to hold your car off the ground.
7. Remove wiper blades.
Take the wiper blades off your car to keep them from sticking to the windshield or becoming misshapen from staying in the same position for too long.
8. Release the brake.
Do not engage the parking break while the car is in storage to prevent the brake pads from sticking to the rotors. Instead, if necessary, use a tire stopper to keep the car in place.
9. Keep critters away.
Put a rubber ball or rag in the tailpipe to prevent mice or insects from setting up shop there. Also, cover heater vents or other openings that could provide access to cozy nesting spaces. As a third precaution, place mothballs around the edges of your vehicle to drive away critters.
10. Bring on the suds.
Wash your car to remove bird excrement, tree sap or other substances that could damage your car’s paint if left on it for several months. Make sure to clean the fenders and the tires to get rid of dirt and grease as well. Apply a coat of wax to your car to protect its exterior while it’s stored, Fix recommends. “That way, in spring you’ll have a nice clean car, ready to go,” she says.
11. Get a pad to soak up leaks.
Certain vehicles leak fluid while sitting, especially high performance cars or older cars, Fix says. Buy an absorbent mat designed to be placed underneath a car during storage to keep leaks from staining the driveway, garage or storage space floor.
12. Cover your car.
Whether your car is sitting in your driveway, your garage, or a special storage facility, you should keep it covered while you’re away. Use a good quality car cover, Fix warns. If your car will be stored outside, you’ll need a weatherproof car cover to protect it from rain, sleet and snow. If your ride will be stored inside, use a soft cotton cover, she advises.
When spring arrives and it’s time to drive your car again, first, remove the ball or rag from your tail pipe. Then, put the wiper blades back on. Drive your car around until the gas tank is almost empty to clean out the fuel stabilizer from the system, Fix says. Add a fuel injection system cleaner to the nearly empty gas tank before filling it up, she recommends.