Need to store your car for the winter, a school year or a deployment? Here's how to do a good job of it without standing on your head or disassembling your car.
Store vs. park
There is no bright line between lengthy parking and long-term storage, but as a rule of thumb take the storage steps below if you plan to leave your car for more than three weeks to nine months. Shorter than that and you can probably just park it; longer than that and there are additional, more difficult steps that we won't cover here.
Store your car in as dry a place as possible, preferably in a garage on a concrete floor. Climate controlled storage is nice, but not necessary -- your car wasn't designed to be parked in a living room. On other hand, carports and dirt spaces aren't great as they allow too much moisture, UV and grime to attack the car while it sits.
Add enough fuel stabilizer to treat a full tank and do so at a gas station so you can fill the tank at the same time. That removes the most oxygen from the tank while also swirling the gasoline and fuel treatment. The drive home should be sufficient to feed that treated mixture through your car's entire fuel system.
Note that Roadshow may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured here.
Sta-Bil is a solid example of treatments for gasoline that allow it to sit for long periods without degradation.
If you haven't just changed your oil, do so before storage. That removes much of the dirty oil that contains corrosive byproducts of combustion, and you have the added bonus of not needing an oil change when you get your car out of storage later.
There are several ways to go here, but the end result is the same: avoiding the drag of a dead battery when you get your car out of storage. You can attach a plug-in battery tender that monitors battery level and trickle-charges it when needed. These are smaller than the typical full-size battery charger used to quickly resuscitate a dead battery
A small battery tender like this will not only keep your battery charged, it will also make sure it doesn't lose its settings, unlike disconnection methods that are OK for older cars.
Some people are afraid of fire hazard from a constantly connected charger, which is where the solar charger comes in. Since your car is presumably stored inside, you'll need a long enough cord to place the solar panel in the sun.
A solar battery maintainer will keep your car ready to start after a long sleep, as long as you use an extension cable to locate the solar panel in the sun if your car is stored indoors.
I prefer to disconnect the battery with a quick disconnect adapter that mounts on the negative battery post. I find it works really well, costs very little and carries no risk of fire from any kind of charger. The downside is that you will lose all your settings like radio presets and clock time, so this is best for classic cars.
A battery disconnect switch is an easy and effective way to preserve your car's battery charge during medium-length storage.
Tire flat spots
There's a lot of hand-wringing about tire flat spots when it comes to car storage. I've never had the problem in 25 years of storing street cars two to three months at a time, but there are many formulations of tires, including for the track, that will have different results.
Many guides suggest you put your car on jack stands to relieve pressure on the bottom of the tire, but most people find that to be a huge hassle for midterm storage, and I'm not sure it's good for suspension bushings. Instead, several tire pros I know recommend just inflating the tires to the maximum pressure stated on the sidewall, which is much higher than the proper pressure for driving.
And leave the parking brake off, unless you're storing on a grade. That will be one less thing to get stuck in place.
Put a large desiccant inside your car to absorb any moisture that builds up before it becomes mildew. It can be hard to get rid of that musty "stored car" smell, and any mold that takes hold can also be tedious to detail away.
A dehumidifer pouch or two left in your car during storage will keep the inside from smelling like mildew or developing mold in small crevices.
I've never had a problem with this, but there are plenty of stories and photos of people who have, especially if you have a car with wiring insulation made of soy, i.e., food. Never use rat poison or glue traps. Rather, close off places where rodents and insects can enter the car which, on a modern car, are very few.
But all cars, and especially older ones, have ways in so make a full end run and block holes where a rodent can enter the structure where the car is stored.
You probably forgot about this one, but when wiper blades sit in one position on the windshield for months the edge of the rubber blade can take a set at an angle that makes it skip and stutter across the glass. Prevent that set by tucking a rolled rag under each wiper arm to lift the blade an inch off the windshield during storage.
Keys and security
Think about your storage situation and where you can secure a set of car keys that will be hidden but available to a trusted friend or neighbor who can move the car if there's an emergency. This is another good reason not to store your car on jack stands.
Yes, a car cover
You definitely need one of these for either indoor or outdoor storage of any significant time. A good cover isn't cheap and can be a hassle to deal with, but it will block dust, grime, UV rays, moisture and some dings and bumps. That's a lot of protection for a couple hundred dollars. I've had good luck with covers from California Car Cover and Covercraft.
Choose your cover based on whether you car will be indoors or out, and if you require extra padding for bump and ding protection. And make sure you give your car a wash and wax before you cover it up -- that's like adding another cover underneath the cover.
Whatever you do, don't improvise a car cover from a tarp or piece of plastic roll sheeting. You can't predict how those will interact with paint, retain moisture against the car, or scratch since they aren't soft materials.
Leave the car alone
I'm not a believer in the idea of idling the car for a few minutes every week. I think that just builds up corrosive condensation, especially in the exhaust system and doesn't really exercise anything else.
When you return
Check the fluid levels, reduce the tires back down to correct pressure, and ease out on your first drive to give things a chance to get back up to speed and pressure gradually. On an older car, disconnect the coil wire before the first start and crank the engine until the oil pressure light goes out, to prelube the engine before it's under actual combustion stress.
One more thing: I like to burn off that stored tank of fuel a soon as possible after long-term storage and get a tank of fresh, untreated fuel in the car.
These steps read like a lot of work, but they're actually easier and faster to do than to read, and you'll come back to a car that's ready to run -- not ready to go into the shop.