In the fall of 2004, my father went to my grandparents’ house to retrieve his ride for the winter, a 1991 BMW 318i. He gets in the car and starts the engine after some hesitation from the starter motor. He disengages the handbrake and proceeds to back out of the garage. But, the car doesn’t move. At all. The handbrake had seized completely shut.
It turns out, my father believed that storing a car for several months was akin to putting it in a safe place and leaving it there, just like any other day. To avoid repeating my dear ol’ Dad’s mistakes, here is how to appropriately store a vehicle for more than two months at a time.
One of the biggest misconceptions about storing a car these days is that the car has to be jacked up to avoid flat-spotting the tires. Not only has tire technology come a long way since the day that that may have been true, but leaving your car sitting on jacks for an extended period of time can both warp your car’s frame and damage the suspension. Suspension components are designed to be loaded (with the weight of the car), not fully extended. For tires, pump pressure about 10-15 pounds higher than recommended and you’ll be fine. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise unless the tires are 40 years old, in which case they will have to be changed anyway.
Special precautions to the engine are few and far in between. Some diehards like to blow out the engine with Seafoam or other “engine cleaning” products, but a nice hard rip to redline on your final drive should take care of any carbon buildup before storage. It is also a good idea to keep your fuel stabilized if the car will be sitting for 5-6 months or more. Grab some fuel stabilizer at any Canadian Tire or auto parts store and fill up your fuel tank with fresh fuel. The amount needed will be on the bottle. If your area is prone to rodents and the like, some mothballs around the car will help, and blocking off the tail pipes and the intake pipes with a bag or something can help too.
This one kind of goes without saying, but a solid wash & wax is necessary if you don’t want contaminants on the paint to slowly erode at the car’s finish. If your interior is particularly dirty, an inside wash is good too. While a car cover is pretty much necessary if the car will be stored outdoors, if it is stored in a low-traffic area free from the dangers of playing children and mischievous pets, most covers do more harm than good.
One of the most overlooked and most important parts of storing a vehicle. If your vehicle has a dead battery, it is basically worthless. Make sure to either keep your battery on a charger at all times or remove the battery from the car and keep it in a room temperature place.
A few final notes
Remember the story about my Dad and his BMW? To avoid that, makes sure once the car is in its final resting place that the handbrake is disengaged completely. Board up the wheels with some wood or blocks to keep the car in place and leave it in gear (or park). Lastly, and most importantly, do not start the car at all during the storage period. This has to be without a doubt the biggest mistake one can make when storing a vehicle. If a car’s engine is not brought up to operating temperatures (which can only be accomplished with an extended drive, not idling the engine for 20 minutes), moisture and other nasty hydrocarbons can form inside and slowly erode the internals of the engine. Proper storage means that the car can be left until it needs to come out again on the other side.