You can’t really talk about bringing a car out of storage without talking about how to put it up for an extended period. The process of bringing a car out of storage will depend to some extent on how long the car has been idle. It is obvious that a car that has been sitting in a barn for 30 years will need more than a car that has been up on blocks for 6 months. It is perhaps less obvious that much depends on how the car was put away.
Putting a Car Into Storage
If you’re covering the vehicle, use a car cover that will allow moisture to escape. Any plastic or other waterproof material will trap moisture on the paintwork. If you are storing the vehicle outside, be advised that no car covers exist that will replace a garage. Cars stored outside also become a haven for all kinds of creatures, most of whom will be lousy tenants. Make a list of the steps taken to ready the car for storage, and leave it in the car. Not a bad idea to include your notes for “bringing it back to life.” That way, you won’t be searching high and low for the information when that time comes.
Why on earth would you tune a car that is not going to be driven? The purpose here is to stop the guessing games that come next time you try to start the car. If everything is in good working order when you stop driving the car, sorting out a problem next season will be easy because you know the basics were in good order.
Disconnect the battery, and remove it from the car. Inspect the area where the battery lives. Clean the area carefully with a solution of baking soda and water (2 tablespoons in 2 pints of water) to neutralize any battery acid. Rinse it well. Dry the area completely with a hair dryer. Take care of any rust you discover. Back to the battery. Clean the battery case and terminals with the baking soda solution. Find a place that will remain cool (but not freeze) and dry. If you have a non-sealed battery, top up the electrolyte level with distilled water if needed. Do not overfill. Use a battery maintenance device to keep the battery(s) fully charged. These are essentially small battery chargers (about the size of a paperback book) that plug into a normal 110V outlet. If the battery voltage drops one volt, it will come on and stay on until the battery is fully charged again. The alternative would be to hook the battery up to a “regular” battery charger once or twice a month for an overnight charge at 4 amps. Either way, keeping the battery fully charged will prevent sulfation, which can render a battery useless in a matter of months, and it will eliminate the possibility of the battery freezing, which would also ruin the battery. Keeping modern sports cars like Corvettes and Porsche’s on a battery tender is even more critical since their battery systems are not designed to sit dormant for more the a couple weeks.
Release the handbrake and chock the wheels. Brake shoes can become firmly rusted to the drums in a matter of months. If you are using silicone based brake fluid, be aware of the incredible ability it has to absorb moisture out of the air. Silicone based brake fluid should be completely replaced every 18 to 24 months. If the fluid has been in the car for over a year, drain and refill with fresh fluid before you put the car in storage.
The coolant should be no more than 30% to 50% antifreeze. Pure water transfers heat much better than any antifreeze/water mix, but antifreeze raises the boiling point and, as the name implies, prevents the coolant from freezing. The protection provided is dependent on the age of the coolant; as it ages, it becomes less effective. If the coolant is over 1 year old, drain and refill the system using a name brand antifreeze designed for use in older cars. (Some modern anti-freeze formulations designed for aluminum engines or radiators adversely affect old British engines.)
Body & Paint
Carefully remove accumulated road grit and dirt from the nooks and crannies in the fender wells. Left alone, rust and corrosion will be the inevitable result. Wash the car thoroughly, including the underside of the car. Dry the car completely. Use a top quality automotive wax and apply it to all the painted and chrome surfaces, polishing with a soft clean cloth. The wax is essential to keeping moisture away from the chrome and the bodywork. Use wax on the chrome trim, not a “chrome polish.” Most commercial chrome polish has some abrasive elements and they are to be avoided. Minute scratches in the chrome are where rust and corrosion attack first.
Oil & Lubrication
Oil has an effective life, and even if a car is not driven it will deteriorate over time. Perform a complete oil change with a new filter. Drive the car for at least 30 minutes on a dry day to drive off any moisture that has collected in the crankcase before putting it up for the season. We recommend oils that are formulated for classic cars that are idle for long periods. These special oils will coat and protect the internal surfaces of the engine better than modern oils.
Upholstery & Interior Trim
Clean the interior thoroughly. If any of the carpets or padding are damp, take them out and dry them. Treat all leather or vinyl with a high quality conditioner. Put the top up and give it a good cleaning, and treat it with a suitable protectant. Leaving the top up will help prevent the development of permanent creases in the material and plastic windows. It will also prevent vinyl tops from shrinking to the point where they can no-longer be fit. In a “rodant-free” climate controlled area it is best to leave the windows rolled down so the entire car is maintained at the same temperature and humidity level throughout. Rolling up windows can help keep rodents or other unwanted critters out but can also create a green house effect if moisture is present. If possible place a heavy plastic sheet under the car to prevent any moisture from coming up into the vehicle and never park a car over a grassy area and extended period.
Slacken the tension on the fan belt and any auxiliary belts.
If the car will be sitting for the winter, jack the car up and place jack stands under the rear axle and the front suspension. With the tires off the ground, they will not develop the flat spots that cause an unpleasant vibration when the car goes back on the road. Otherwise, under normal conditions the flat spots will go away after a couple miles of driving.
In a storage place with a concern for rodents plug the tail-pipe(s) with a rag or rubber ball and tape it in place. It will keep the mice from building a nest in the exhaust, or worse, in the engine. Although unusual, I know of one Healey BN2 that simply would not turn over after being stored for several years. When the cylinder head was removed, #4 cylinder was found to be packed with walnut shells, acorns, string and upholstery stuffing. A mouse (with a real need for security, apparently) had climbed all the way through the exhaust, through the open exhaust valve and into the cylinder. When the car was eventually started, the amount of debris coming out of the tailpipe was impressive.
Engine Air Intake
Depending on the length of time the car is going to be out of service, consider bagging the air cleaner and taping it to prevent moisture laden air from finding its way into the cylinders through the open intake valves. A bag of silica-gel desiccant inside the bag will absorb whatever moisture gets in, reducing the chance of rust building up in the cylinders.
Heater/Fresh Air Intake
Cover or plug any vents or openings. My 73 MGB GT had a mouse nest inside the heater box, which I did not discover until I tried the fan. The fan would not come on and when I pulled the motor I found a mouse bachelor apartment.
There are two basic approaches: drain the system or fill it up completely and treat the gas with a stabilizer and/or products that deal with ethanol related issues. To store a car for the winter, draining the tank is not generally done. If the car is going to be off the streets for years, I’d drain the tank and lines completely.
Gasoline is not stable, and it is common knowledge that it deteriorates over time. Volatile elements evaporate. Deposits form over time, often described as “gum” or varnish.” Modern gasoline is frequently blended with ethanol, and these fuels remain useable for 90 days in a sealed fuel system with a full tank. Sealed fuel systems were required by law in the US in 1970. (If you have a “carbon cannister” in your engine compartment, you have a sealed system). If your car was built before 1970, the fuel is exposed to atmospheric moisture and the ethanol in the gas will absorb water relatively quickly. The higher the humidity, the faster it happens. There are products designed to increase the useful life of ethanol blends (E-Xtend, E-Zorb), and products specifically engineered to prevent the formation of gum and varnish, like Stor-n-Start.
Remove them and store them inside the car. They have a tendency to stick to the glass and if left long enough, the blade edge will deform from being pressed just one way.
Humidity and Ventilation
There are two ways to go. Either ensure that the garage has a supply of fresh air and roof vents to promote air circulation, or seal the garage and control the humidity. A room de-humidifier will take less energy than actually heating the garage, which is generally totally out of the question. In an area where rodents and moisture are a concern a product like The Car Jacket. can save you thousands of dollars in potential damage. Many of our customers have used this product and swear by it. As a distributor I can save you a bit on the retail price if you are interested.
Alternatives to Storage
If the preparation of the car for storage seems impractical, you have options. One is simply to use the vehicle once or twice a month in dry weather (assuming registration and insurance are up-to-date). Simply driving the car will help keep the engine and other systems fully functional. In a milder climate driving the car regularly as conditions permit is just plain easier. However, if you do decide to drive the car every so often, make sure you go for at least 20 minutes to get all the systems fully warmed up to minimize condensation.