Storing a car raises many questions for those who need to do the task. Some drivers never need car storage and don’t think twice about leaving a vehicle for an extended period. But extended periods without driving your car can do great harm, as some learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many things can go wrong, from condensation in your fuel tank to a dead battery. So, whether you collect classic cars, travel for work, serve in the military, or treat yourself to a month-long vacation, we’ve got tips on keeping your vehicle in tip-top shape. Please keep reading to learn about car storage and how to keep it running great even when you’re gone.
When to Store Your Car
It’s best to store your car if you plan not to drive it for a month or more. There are times when it is necessary to store your car, like when traveling for extended periods or relocating temporarily for work or pleasure. Military members or government personnel often must ship out to far-off locations. Snowbirds who flee cold winters for the warmer weather in Florida or other states should store their cars if they don’t plan to bring them.
A car left unattended for a month or more in the cold and extreme heat can experience damage by neglect. Storage is the best option.
For shorter trips — storage might not be necessary. Your vehicle can probably go up to four weeks without being driven and not have any problems. Just make sure you take a drive around the block before your departure.
TIP: Check the parking ordinances of where you live before leaving your car unattended for long periods. For example, in some communities, homeowners’ associations restrict parking. Irvine, CA, prohibits parking longer than 72 hours on any public street. In New York City, drivers must regularly move their cars to make way for street sweepers in an urban dance they call “alternate side parking.”
Where to Store Your Car
When you need auto storage, the best place is a garage or other indoor space. Doing so will protect your car from wet weather, cold weather, and direct sunlight, which can cause paint and interior fabrics to fade. Storing a vehicle indoors also protects it from scratches and dings from other cars or passersby. You also minimize the risk of bugs or animals damaging your vehicle. Nobody wants to come home to a car with wires chewed by a rodent.
Make sure you can secure the garage before storing your car. Rust can form on your vehicle if it is exposed to moisture for too long. Condensation can build up in your fuel tank, causing issues, including a sputtering engine and damage to the fuel injection system. Depending on your car model, replacing a fuel injection system can cost $1,000 or more in parts and labor.
Use a car cover if you don’t have the luxury of storing your car in a garage or other covered area. A weatherproof cover will keep it dry, help prevent rust, and protect your vehicle from the sun’s harmful rays.
Tip: Some self-storage facilities offer monthly options for cars. Just know you need to consider indoor storage options of 10 feet x 15 feet for a smaller vehicle or up to 10 feet x 25 feet for a larger SUV or pickup truck. Some storage facilities offer covered and uncovered parking, a less expensive option. Rates vary depending on the type of storage you need but can be as much as $550 or more for climate-controlled indoor parking in a large city, though often it costs less, depending on your ZIP code.
How to Prepare Your Car for Storage
Storing your car successfully requires more than just parking it in a garage and leaving it for weeks. You will need to take a few simple actions to ensure your vehicle runs as well when you return as it did before you left. Read on to get more tips and details.
1. Clean Your Car
The first thing to do before storing your car is to clean it inside and out. Washing your car and cleaning it may seem like a waste of time since you won’t see your vehicle for a while. But you’ll be happy when you return to a clean car.
Sap, mud, water or salt stains, dead bugs, or bird droppings can damage your car’s paint if left sitting on your vehicle for too long. Give the interior a good vacuum, wipe it down, and remove all the trash. Leaving the inside dirty with crumbs, garbage, old clothes, or bags can attract unwanted pests. Even a few crumbs can attract bugs. Nasty odors can develop, and they can be challenging to eradicate. That’s why it’s best to prepare it for storage. Use our tips for detailing your car.
2. Fill the Gas Tank
If you store your gasoline-powered vehicle, make sure you fill your car with fuel. Keeping the tank low allows moisture, which can cause rust and other problems. Add a fuel stabilizer to your tank to absorb moisture, prevent rust, and prevent gummy buildup. After adding the stabilizer, take your car for a quick drive to mix the fluids. Most stabilizers can last up to one year.
3. Protect the Battery
If you can’t drive your car for more than a month, ask a trusted friend, neighbor, or family member to take it out every few weeks, if possible. Your car’s battery needs use. If not, the battery could die. If no one is available (or you have no friends), disconnect your battery to minimize parasitic charge loss or use a maintenance charger, also called a “trickle charger.”
To disconnect your battery, follow these steps:
- Turn off the ignition, and leave the car in the off position.
- With a wrench, loosen the nut on the negative terminal and remove the wire connector cable. Be sure to keep it out of the way. Do the same with the positive terminal. Keep the wires from touching one another. Some newer vehicles use cables attached (or seized) to the battery post or tray. If that’s the case, visit your dealership or local car repair shop for the tool needed for the removal.
4. Change the Oil
Before storing a gas-powered automobile, get an oil change, even if it’s too soon for your regular interval. Used, dirty oil can cause corrosion inside the engine if a car sits too long. You don’t need to worry about this step if the vehicle will be in storage for less than a month.
5. Keep Bugs Out
Bugs may be able to find their way into your car if you do not find a way to keep them out. As mentioned earlier, cleaning your vehicle is crucial to making it a discouraging environment for roaches, ants, and other bugs. But there’s more to it. Covering the tailpipe and the air intake opening can help prevent pests from getting into your car. You can use a rag or aluminum foil to cover these. Make sure to remove any covering before driving again.
6. Overfill Tires
Your car’s tires are bound to lose air when left in storage for months. In that case, overinflate your tires. Check your tire pressure, and add just a bit more than the recommended psi number found in your manual or on the inside the driver’s side door.
If left sitting for too long, tires can develop issues like flat spots or flat patches where the rubber meets the ground where it sits. Flat areas can cause vibration and damage tires. To avoid spending hundreds of dollars on new tires, you could consider elevating your car on jack stands, so there is no pressure on the tires. Don’t leave your car on a hydraulic jack while you’re away, as the hydraulics aren’t designed for long-term stress. Use rigid jack stands, and follow your manufacturer’s requirements for safe support. Elevating your car isn’t necessary if you only store the vehicle for up to four weeks.
7. Do Not Use a Parking Brake
A parking brake is usually a safety valve for your car, but in storage, it can be harmful to the vehicle. The parking brake can corrode and attach to the rotors when locked for too long. Use parking stops or chucks to keep your car from rolling (or being pushed) out of position.
Use light-grade oil and lubricate the trunk, all door handles, and the hood hinge. Wipe away any excess.
9. Cover Up
Consider adding a car cover, whether inside or outside. Also, consider adding a windshield sunshade before covering your car to prevent additional solar heat damage. Use old towels to shield any leather or vegan leather trim around the front storage compartment to help prevent cracking and fading, especially if left outside. Get a car cover to match your storage location (indoor or outdoor), sized to fit your car snugly. Secure your car cover well, as a loose cover can flap in the breeze and damage your car’s paint through abrasion.
How to Store an Electric Car
Follow most of the same steps with an EV as you would with a gasoline-powered car. Lubricate hinges and handles, clean the car, keep it covered in a garage away from sunlight, and disengage the parking brake. The difference is how to protect your EV battery systems.
Check your owner’s manual for EV battery storage tips, including for your tires and pressure. The best advice is likely to follow this path:
- Charge your EV battery to about 50%, then take it off the charger. The exact percent charge your vehicle needs during storage may vary.
- Many electric vehicles allow you to schedule your car charging remotely. Examples of vehicles offering this function include the Kia EV6, Genesis EV60, Audi eTron, and all Tesla models.
- Some models allow you to remotely warm up your vehicle, which you can do several times a month if you’re worried about the battery going dead.
- For the 12-volt battery that powers things like the small lights in your car, you can do the same routine as you would with a gas car. You can disconnect it or use a maintenance charger to protect the battery. If you disconnect this smaller battery, note that you won’t be able to use your phone key or key fob to unlock the car while it’s disconnected. If your car carries its 12-volt battery under the front hood, frunk (trunk in front), or trunk in the back, leave it open during charging and storage, assuming you store your vehicle in a secure garage, so you can easily access the 12-volt battery upon your return.
RELATED: How to Jump-Start an Electric Car Battery
What to Consider with Car Insurance
Not driving your vehicle means you don’t need car insurance, right? Not so. Many people think about saving money and canceling their car insurance policies while storing a car. However, if something happens to your car and you have canceled your policy, you’re responsible for the repairs.
Also, did you know that if you cancel your policy, you will likely pay more when you look for a new one?
Before you make any decision about insurance, weigh your options:
- Temporarily drop collision. If no one is driving your car, and it sits in a covered garage area, you might consider dropping collision insurance to save money if you have paid off your car. In this case, you will only need comprehensive insurance to cover any potential car theft, vandalism, and damage from weather or pests. You will still be responsible if a car crashes into your vehicle while it’s parked.
- Suspending insurance temporarily. Some car insurers allow drivers to suspend coverage for a temporary period. The downside is that you will be on the hook for the costs if your car gets stolen or damaged during this temporary suspension.
Leaving your car outside makes you more susceptible to damage. Keep your insurance current if your vehicle is parked outside, including in a public area or paid storage facility. Also, remember you may need car insurance if someone else drives your vehicle in your absence.