Vehicle Storage Advice

Storing your car or truck for the long-term
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There comes a time in the life of some cars where they see no use. They're parked. For many Northerners, it's almost second nature to have their pride and joy mothballed by the end of October (or so) to the beginning of April. In other cases it might be longer. While the nice car is down, you drive a beater. While it might be easy to pull the car into your garage, drape a cover over it and lock the door behind you, proper storage turns out to be a wee bit more involved. The concept is to keep the car from deteriorating during the months (or perhaps years) of inactivity. It takes some time to properly prepare a vehicle for storage. The better the job you do in the preparation stage, the better the condition the car will be in when it comes out of storage. Broken down, here's our approach to long-term vehicle storage.

Powertrain

Engine Oil: Change the oil hot. When hot, draining the oil purges the contaminants from the engine. With the oil totally drained, install a new filter, but don't fill it with oil. There is no need to refill the crankcase with lubricant. Once you pour fresh oil into the valve covers or the oil spout, it will eventually run into the pan and all you are doing is "storing" fresh oil in the engine. Remove all of the spark plugs and squirt engine oil (some people use automatic transmission fluid) into each combustion chamber. A tablespoon of oil per cylinder is sufficient. With the spark plugs out (and oil in each spark plug hole), remove the coil wire and spin the engine over several times. This can also be done by hand by way of the crankshaft damper bolt. This process helps to coat the cylinder walls with oil. The spark plugs can then be re-installed or replaced with special "dehydrator plugs." These special plugs actually absorb moisture, which in turn keeps the inside of the engine free of rust.

Clutch Assembly: Believe it or not, the storage process can sometimes "fuse" the clutch disc to the flywheel. As a result, you might have some unwarranted clutch repairs when the car is returned to active duty. The fix is to place a section of 2x4-inch wood bracing between the seat frame and the pedal to keep the clutch disengaged.

Transmission: Manual or automatic transmission fluid can be changed at this time, but it isn't totally necessary. Some folks advocate taping the transmission vent opening so that no moisture can enter the inner workings. On the other hand, other people prefer to leave the vents open so that the components can "breathe" during storage. What's right? Both have merit.

Chassis

Suspension: There are two distinct thoughts regarding "blocking" your car for the off-season. One line of thinking involves the placement of axle stands under frame members so the suspension drops down fully. The other subscribes to the theory that cars are designed to rest on their suspension, thus compressing the springs and shock absorbers. In either case, one precaution you should take is to place small, clean rags between the axle stands and the actual suspension components. This keeps underbody paint damage to a minimum. In addition, you might consider spraying any exposed shock absorber shafts with a protectant/spray lubricant.

Rolling Stock: Wheels and tires can remain on the vehicle. There is no need to store them away from the automobile, especially if the length of storage is only a few months. The real killer of rolling stock is the way the tires are stored. According to the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, tires should never be stored in areas of direct sunlight, in upper garage areas (where temperatures can exceed 100 degrees), around high voltage electric motors or near welding areas. All of these factors contribute to decreased tire life. When storing the car, consider adding separate tire covers. These covers drape over the wheel/tire and protect the rolling stock from excess heat buildup (and of course direct sunlight). Set the inflation pressure, and clean with a good quality tire dressing. If fitted with chrome wheel covers, chrome wheels or chrome wheel accessories, polish the chrome then give it a coat of wax. Don't bother to remove the wax once applied. It can be removed once the car is retrieved from storage.

Lubricant: Lube all chassis lubrication points. In many locations, you will be able to "shoot" grease into points until the old lube is force out. Clean up the excess grease.

Cooling System

Virtually all cars incorporate the use of some sort of glycol-based coolant. If the mothballing calls for the car to be stored for a considerable length of time (as in years), you should consider draining the cooling system totally (and that includes the heater along with the block drains). When this is accomplished, leave the radiator cap off and leave all the drain petcocks open (that also includes the cylinder block drains if so equipped). This allows air to circulate throughout the system. If the storage is shorter term, flush the cooling system and fill it with the proper mix of coolant and water (as per the manufacturer's recommendations). Be sure to test the system for temperature capability. Cars that are stored in sub zero weather absolutely require the protection of antifreeze.

Fuel System

Although "fuel stabilizers" can be used (simply poured into a full tank of gas) tank, the best method of protecting the fuel system is to drain the tank completely along with the entire fuel delivery system. In order to accomplish this task properly, the gas tank must first be drained. Once the tank is drained, you have a pair of options for draining the carburetor and the balance of the fuel delivery system. The first method of removing all fuel from the carburetor (and lines) simply involves firing the engine and running the carburetor out of fuel. If you've followed the preceding text, you'll immediately remember that the engine doesn't have oil in the pan. Oops! A better option is to simply blow out the remaining fuel lines with compressed air. Once the fuel system is "dry," remove the gas cap and leave it off.

Electrical System

It's best to keep the battery trickle charged by way of a battery tender. A good quality tender will actually determine battery condition and automatically turn on or off. When it comes to batteries, be careful. A charging battery just happens to discharge some pretty lethal fumes and, if ignited, they can cause a huge mess. Preparing the balance of the electrical system is relatively easy. The battery should removed and temporarily set aside. Clean the battery tray. Minor battery-acid spills can create big trouble in the corrosion department. While you're at it, clean the battery cables and give them a coat of dielectric grease.

Brakes

Do not engage the parking brake when the car is stored. Simply leave everything in a normal "rested" position. This will prevent the shoes from seizing to the drums. Some folks flush and replace the brake hydraulic fluid. It's not a bad idea.

Sheetmetal

Preparing the bodywork for storage is relatively simple. Be sure it's clean, wax the paint and polish the chrome. When you're done, add a coat of wax to the chrome (and stainless), but don't buff off the residue. It's easy to remove when the car comes out of storage. This should not be done to painted surfaces! It will be almost impossible to remove from body panels.

Interior

Clean all surfaces and apply some vinyl protectant to the surfaces (don't get carried away). At the same time, apply some silicone or vinyl protectant to all of the rubber weatherstrip. Clean and shampoo any cloth upholstery. Polish the bright work.

With all of the above work completed, roll up the windows so that there is approximately 1/8-inch of gap between the top of the window to the doorframe. This allows air to circulate throughout the vehicle. Finally, cover it with a good car cover. You can turn off the lights and wave goodbye (although It might do you some good to check on the car every week or so).

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