Maybe you're leaving on a military deployment or you have permanent change of station orders to an overseas duty station and you won't need your vehicle. Whatever the reason your car will be without a driver, you will want it to be safely stored. Proper preparation and storage will protect your vehicle from rust, corrosion, mildew and even animals, ensuring that it's in good condition when you're ready to take it on the road again.
Preparing your car for storage
When a car isn't driven for a long period, rust can corrode its body, engine and other parts. The fuel system can become gummed up and sludge can form in the engine oil. That's why it is important to carefully prepare your vehicle for storage.
- Change the oil and filter. This will prevent corrosion inside the engine.
- Oil the cylinders. Remove the spark plugs. Spray oil into the cylinders or add a teaspoon of oil to each one to prevent rusting. Reinstall the spark plugs.
- Top off fluids, including coolant, transmission and rear axle fluids.
- Inspect the brake fluid. It should be clear and no more than two years old. If it looks dirty, flush the system and add new brake fluid. Dirty brake fluid can absorb moisture and cause the system to rust.
- Fill the gas tank. An empty gas tank can attract moisture, which can cause rusting. When you fill the tank, add gasoline stabilizer to prevent gum and varnish from forming.
- Drive the car. Take the car for a long drive - 30 or 40 miles - to ensure that the gasoline stabilizer thoroughly mixes with the gasoline and that the oil is distributed evenly. The long drive will also warm up the exhaust system sufficiently to remove moisture and condensation.
- Disconnect the battery. Clean it with a mixture of baking soda and water. Place it on a clean, dry surface. If possible, connect it to a trickle or float charger designed to maintain a battery charge over long periods.
- Wash your car thoroughly. Remove all dirt. Pay careful attention to the underbody and wheel wells where dirt can collect and cause rust and corrosion. It's also a good idea to apply a few coats of wax and treat any vinyl, leather or rubber in the interior with a protectant.
- Remove the windshield wiper blades. Or, flip up the wiper arms up so that the rubber blades don't make contact with the windshield. You can also wrap the wipers in clean cloth so they don't stick to the windshield and leave marks.
- Protect your car against pests. Thoroughly vacuum the interior so there are no food crumbs to attract insects or rodents. Seal all openings with aluminum foil. This includes the tailpipe, the engine air intake and the fresh air intake in front of the windshield. Spread mothballs inside the vehicle.
- Protect your tires. Remove the tires and place the car on blocks. Deflate the tires slightly and store them flat and away from sunlight, which can break down the rubber. Consult your owner's manual for the proper placement of the blocks. A second option is to leave the tires on the car and add ten pounds of pressure per tire to avoid flat spots.
The safest place to keep your car is in a cool, dry garage or other storage facility. If using a commercial storage facility, make sure you're comfortable with the facility's policies and liability limits.
- Create a vapor barrier between the ground and your car. If the floor is concrete, place a large plastic sheet on the ground. If the floor is earth, position sheets of plywood over the plastic tarp for your car to rest on.
- Spread mothballs under and around the vehicle. This will keep pests away from your car.
If you don't have a garage or shed for your car, you'll want to take extra precautions to protect it from the weather.
- Place a vapor barrier on the ground. Use a large sheet of heavyweight plastic. Place pieces of plywood on top and park your car on these.
- Place open containers of mothballs in the wheel wells and the trunk. This will help keep pests away.
- Cover your car. Use a thick, multilayered car cover that will protect your vehicle from ultraviolet rays, rain, snow and wind. The cover should extend to the wheel wells. Rust may develop if moisture gets trapped between the cover and your vehicle, so it's a good idea to cover your car with blankets and secure them in place before installing the car cover. Secure the cover with straps so it stays snug on your car and doesn't flap in the wind.
Remember to check with your auto insurance company about any changes to your policy during the time your vehicle will be off the road.
It takes time to prepare your car for storage, but the care you put into doing it properly will protect your investment and allow you to return to your car.