Many times over the years, we at Japanese Auto Service are asked what steps should be taken to properly store a vehicle for a long period of time. Just within the last week I have been asked twice so I have decided to write the proper steps for storing a vehicle and what some of the misconceptions are. All of these recommendations are general recommendations and special requirements may be necessary for your vehicle and situation.
The first and most common misconception is that the vehicle should be started and run for 10 minutes or so once a week. This will cause more harm than good. This causes the exhaust system to load up with moisture and then rust over the period of time the vehicle is stored. Without sufficiently driving the car, you increase the possibility of carbon buildup on valves, injectors, and other prone areas. This may also be hard on your alternator. When a battery sits for a week or more, it will slowly discharge through what’s called parasitic draw. If you immediately require the alternator to charge a partially dead battery, it will decrease the life of the alternator. This is especially true if this is done on a weekly basis for months or years.
Trickle charging is commonly used on a vehicle’s battery when a vehicle is stored for a long time. This can be done the right way and will not damage a battery but, if done the wrong way, it will damage the battery. A trickle charger places a constant current flow into the battery. This is ok on a discharged battery that needs a charge but once the battery is fully charged, it should be removed. If the trickle charger remains on and connected to a fully charged battery, it will most likely overcharge the battery, causing the water (electrolyte) to boil out, drying out the battery and which will then degrade rapidly over time.
Another misconception is to put grease or some kind of chemical on the tires. Many types of grease and “tire shine” chemicals actually decrease the tire’s ability to withstand UV damage and can break the rubber down.
Proper Steps to Store Your Vehicle
There are several ways to go about the battery situation when storing a vehicle. My favorite is to use a battery maintainer or float charger. This is a device that costs about $50 and can be found online and at most auto parts stores. This shuts off current flow to the battery when it is fully charged and then when the battery drops past a threshold voltage, the charger kicks on again until it is fully charged. This keeps the battery just right and you do not have to worry about over charging. It also uses less electricity from your house than a trickle charger.
The battery water level should be topped up with distilled water and the terminals of the battery should be cleaned of acidic buildup and treated with a protective spray prior to storage.
Gas and gas tank
In most cases, it is best to leave a vehicle stored with a full gas tank. The reason for this is because you do not want air from the atmosphere sitting in the gas tank for an extended period of time. The moisture that is in the atmosphere will cause the metal in the fuel tank to corrode. This can lead to very costly repairs. Before you fill up your gas tank, it is a good idea to add an appropriate amount of fuel stabilizer to the tank and then add the gas, causing it to mix well. Fuel stabilizers can also be found at hardware stores and auto parts stores.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is keeping moisture out of the engine. If you park your vehicle outside and the tail pipe faces the wind, moisture from the atmosphere will end up finding its way through the exhaust and into the engine resulting in corrosion in critical areas of the motor. This can be very costly to repair. We recommend that after the vehicle has been fully warmed up and all moisture in the exhaust is gone, you plug the tail pipe with a durable trash bag or something to keep atmosphere air from creeping into the system. Be careful that the tail pipe is not hot enough to melt the plastic and that you remember to take this off when you are done storing the vehicle.
Also, sometimes it is a good idea to use a can of engine fog if you are leaving the vehicle for a long period of time or it is stored in a very humid environment. Engine fog is a spray oil that you spray in the intake while the engine is running and it coats the internal parts of the engine to protect them from corrosion. Engine fog is available at most auto parts stores.
Interior and exterior
Ideally, everyone would store a vehicle under some kind of cover whether it is a garage or a car cover. The sun does a lot of damage to the interior and exterior of a vehicle. It is a good idea to have the inside of your vehicle detailed prior to storage. Using a good UV resistant dash treatment can help if you are leaving the vehicle uncovered. The vehicle should be washed and waxed with a good wax to preserve the paint, especially if it is being stored without a cover. Tires should be covered as well. Some people use wood cutouts to cover the tire but trash bags and other suiteble substitutes are available. If you are storing the vehicle outside try to place it in an area not prone to a lot of wind. Wind tends to push moisture into areas you don’t want it.
If you store your vehicle in a rural area, you may have some small visitors who might like to make the vehicle home. It’s pretty often that we get a vehicle in the shop with chewed up wire and nests in the air filter etc. This can lead to costly repairs. I would recommend using some sort of deterrent/pest control around the vehicle to keep the vehicle off limits to rodents. Some pest control can be used inside the vehicle but for the most part it is good to keep it outside of the vehicle if it will be for long periods.