How to Store a Car Long-Term

There are many reasons why you might need to put your car in long-term storage. Perhaps you’re taking an extended vacation or temporarily moving to a location where you will no longer need your car. Maybe you’re a collector looking to shelter a classic car that’s not on display or on the road. No matter why, long-term storage can help keep your vehicle safe until your return.

Preparing Your Car for Long Term Storage

Without proper long-term storage preparation, your car might wind up with a drained battery, flat tires, or other unwanted side effects. Follow the below steps to fully prepare your car for its time in long-term vehicle storage.

Checking the Fluids

Before relegating your car to long-term storage, you’ll want to check its fluid levels. Each of these fluids performs a unique, essential function for your car, keeping your vehicle clean and safe on the road. In particular, pay attention to the below fluid levels before placing your car into long-term storage:

  • Brake fluid, which transfers pressure and helps your car slow down;
  • Engine oil, which lubricates your car’s motor to prevent friction;
  • Windshield washer fluid, which helps clean your windshield when used with your windshield wipers;
  • Coolant, which protects your motor from overheating while the car is in motion;
  • Power steering fluid, which smoothes steering mechanisms and helps you easily turn your steering wheel.

If your vehicle has an automatic transmission, you might also need to check your transmission fluid. It’s important to check fluid levels at least once before you place your car into long-term storage.

Changing the Oil

Check your car’s manual — or call the mechanic who most recently changed your oil — to determine how long your car’s current oil supply should last. The lifespan of conventional oil is sometimes only 3,000 to 5,000 miles, while fully synthetic oil can sometimes last up to 10,000 miles.

If you’re comfortable changing your car’s oil, you’ll want to first locate the drain plug — a sizable nut typically located directly under your car’s oil pan. Once you have located the drain plug, place some sort of oil-catching pan or container underneath it to prevent the spillage of old oil during the transfer. Unscrew that oil drain plug, and watch dated oil drain through the hole into the container you placed below.

Next, unscrew the oil filter after removing its cap. Drain the filter’s residual oil into the same pan. Then, open a new bottle of engine oil and use a small portion of it — no more than a fingertip’s worth of oil — to moisten the gasket found on top of your new filter.

Replace the old filter with the new one, and be sure to clean the area around the oil drain plug before replacing it as well. Using a measuring device — perhaps a funnel or large measuring container — fill all but one quart of the oil filler hole with new oil.

After you replace the oil filler cap, let the engine run for at least a minute. After you do, be sure to check for any new leaks. Slowly add new oil, checking for new leaks each time, until the dipstick reads “Full.”

Detailing and Washing the Body

Before you place your car into long-term storage, you should also give it a full cleaning — inside and out. Pay close attention to the products you use to clean your car’s exterior. Some household cleaning products — including many laundry detergents — can damage the natural sheen of your car’s paint. To preserve your car’s color, shine, and value, look for cleaning products made specifically for vehicles.

To further protect your vehicle, give it a good waxing. Using a car-friendly pad, apply wax to your car in tight circles. Keep your wax levels thin; you should still be able to clearly distinguish the car’s paint color through the wax after it has been applied. The wax will begin to dry in minutes.

After you have allowed the wax sufficient time to dry, it’s time to remove it from the surface of your car. Use another cloth to remove the wax from your car’s surface, starting with where the wax was first applied. After the wax has been entirely removed, your car’s car paint should appear shiny and new.

Checking the Tires

To prevent your car’s tires from flattening while in storage, it’s important that you also take the time to address your vehicle’s tire pressure. This will ensure minimal air pressure loss while your car sits in storage, so that your vehicle is ready for a drive when it’s time to hit the road.

Some vehicles are now built with automatic pressure gauges for each tire. If your vehicle has this feature, consult your dashboard for an update on each tire’s pressure. If not, use a manual tire pressure gauge to check each tire’s pressure. Use an air pump to inflate each tire to the appropriate pressure. Be sure to check your tires’ pressure a day or two after inflating them, to prevent any leaks.

Where to Store Your Car Long-Term

You’ll have several options when storing your car long-term. These can include the following locations:

  • A carport;
  • Private garages;
  • Public car storage facilities;
  • Long-term parking;
  • With friends or family members.

Each of the above options has its advantages. Carports offer coverage against the elements and can be constructed on your property. If you’re looking for a carport, you want one that is sturdy and built to last. They can also be customized to the dimensions you prefer.

Private and public garages offer their own sets of perks, including climate-controlled environments and onsite security. Typically more expensive than carports, in a major city like New York, these facilities can sometimes charge upwards of $750 per month, though most are considerably more affordable.

Long-term parking is also an option in certain situations, especially if you’ll be leaving your vehicle while you travel. While long-term parking is understandably more affordable than private garage storage, it also comes with a variety of disadvantages. Namely, long-term parking can leave your car exposed to damaging weather for weeks or months on end, and security cannot always monitor every parking space. Long-term parking costs are often charged per day, depending on the location where your car is parked.

You can also choose to store your vehicle with a friend or family member. This option is sometimes ideal if you know your loved one will take good care of your car, or if your car needs to be driven at least once a week to maintain its quality. However, you’ll want to make sure that your friend or family member pays as much attention to your vehicle as you would, to prevent theft or neglect.

What to Expect When Getting Your Car Out of Long-Term Storage

The quality of your car’s long-term storage can affect its condition over time. When it comes time to get your car out of long-term storage, it’s important to set reasonable expectations based on where your car was stored.

If you chose to store your car in a closed, private garage, the vehicle should easily maintain its quality while you’re away. Onsite security can keep your car safe, and a climate-controlled environment should prevent any temperature-related damage.

Open-air storage is still an excellent option in many cases, though you shouldn’t be surprised if your car has been affected by the outdoor environment. Heat, snow, and other elements can fade paint over time, and extreme temperatures can lower your tire pressure, dry out your car’s leather, affect batteries, and freeze your vehicle’s fluids.

After taking your car out of long-term storage from an open-air environment, consider scheduling a routine vehicle inspection. Trusted mechanics can point out any issues that your car is facing, and point you toward the fastest solutions.