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DIY Car Storage

Storing your car

As an example I will deal with a common storage need; classic cars, stored over winter.

First of all cars must be under cover. Cars left outside are virtually impossible to protect, whatever outdoor cover manufacturers and vendors tell you! This is especially true in our cold, damp and humid climate. Temperature and humidity changes will cause condensation and wind will cause rubbing, whatever space age technology is used in that fancy new car cover! 

Hopefully, storage is available in a garage attached or near to the house with regular access.  Ideally power will be available for battery conditioner and frost protection.

An air chamber is an ideal solution, but your car still needs some preparation if it’s not going to be driven. Another excellent investment is a Permabag, perfect for especially damp conditions.

Many vehicle components deteriorate with age as well as use, and some deteriorate faster when the car is not in use! A mild steel exhaust is a good example. It should also be noted that all rubber components deteriorate with age, and some aftermarket replacement parts can degrade within a year! In any case, most, if not all, rubber parts should be renewed every ten years or so as a preventative measure.  Special attention should be paid to brake hoses and cylinder seals for obvious safety reasons.

Pre-storage preparation is the most important aspect of protecting your car during storage. 

Plan for at least half a day, or longer if you are doing an annual service.

It is a good idea to get into a routine of doing your full annual service just before winter storage as this will cover some of the important tasks to be undertaken.

Try to plan the preparation for a suitable dry day, check the weather forecast for humidity levels as well as rain.

 

Preparation

Check the hydraulic fluid(s) for condition. Hydraulic fluid should be changed periodically, now is a good time if it has not been done recently!

Grease or oil all the lubrication points together with all hinges, locks, cables, etc.

Check coolant, if it is not “as new” then flush and change to prevent corrosion. Check all the coolant hoses, if they look old or show any signs of hardening or cracking, then they need to be replaced. Either do it now or order the parts ready for the spring. Note that coolant glycol level needs to remain consistent to maximise hose life.

Check the screenwash for antifreeze content! Not sure? replace with known good fluid.

You can also change the oil and filter now or to save time (having to warm up the engine twice) you can do that after the final drive before storing.

Now it’s time to wash, dry and polish the car. There is a guide to washing here. Pay particular attention to drying out doors, trim, boot and window seals etc. Use an airline or take the car for a drive.

If not done recently, apply polish to all paintwork and chrome, use a glass cleaner and make sure all the rubber parts are also protected with suitable preservative. Make sure the soft top is raised and fitted correctly on convertibles and again treat with suitable protectant.

Vacuum and clean the interior. If the car has leather upholstery; clean and feed. Apply protection to plastic vinyl and rubber. Apply polish to all chrome parts such as handbrake lever, gear shift, seat adjust handles, mirror bracket, seatbelt parts etc.

Lift the carpets to clean underneath and make sure there is no damp. If necessary remove the carpets to dry them and to allow the interior to dry out.

Remove any papers or documents from the car, including the glove-box, for both security and to protect them.

Now it’s time to drive the car and make sure it is up to temperature. A good thirty minute run should do the trick.

Fill the fuel tank while you are out. This reduces the chance of corrosion in the tank. You can also pick up any fluids that you found that you needed earlier, on the way!

While the engine is hot you can change the engine oil and filter. Dirty oil is contaminated with acids and water that can cause premature bearing failure and corrosion inside the engine.   

When the car has cooled, spray WD40 or similar on all exposed metal and fasteners on the underside and in the engine bay.  The carrier fluid soon evaporates leaving a protective film on the hose clamps, coil distributer, plugs, brackets, cables and fasteners etc. This can also be sprayed on all exposed electrical connectors and wiring, attention should be paid to the condition of all the connectors while doing so. 

Increase the tyre pressure to about one and a half times normal to help prevent flat spots

If the floor of the garage is (or may become) damp then cover with plastic.

If there is likelihood of rodents set some traps or take whatever precautions to prevent nesting.

Park the car in the garage where it is going to rest. Do not apply the handbrake. Chock the wheels or leave in gear if necessary.

Either connect an automatic trickle charger (battery conditioner) or remove the battery.

If you are not planning to start the car during the lay up then you can overfill hydraulic fluids to remove air, so long as you are able to (and remember to) re-adjust before starting the car.

If the car is not to be started and is in damp or cold conditions then it is a good idea to remove the plugs and spray some upper-cylinder lubricant into the cylinders before replacing the plugs.

Open the windows slightly for ventilation

Cover the car with a soft cloth cover. There is no need to buy an expensive cover; you can use old bed sheets, duvet covers, curtains etc.  The main thing is that the car is completely covered to protect from dust and other airborne contaminants, insects, bird and bat droppings etc.  If there are likely to be any leaks or drips, either use a suitable outdoor cover or make sure that the cloth sheets are protected with plastic. Cheap tarpaulins available from builders merchants are good for this.

A simple way to reduce humidity (and frost) during the colder months is an old style (not energy saving) 40W light bulb (switched on of course!) positioned under the car. This creates just enough heat, without using too much power or creating a fire risk.  Obviously keep it secured well away from anything flammable!

If you are able to start the car occasionally, remember that it must be run up to full temperature, and ideally driven (to put load on the engine and to run all bearings and seals).  But, it is important to do this only on dry low humidity days.  Once a month is a good interval.

If it is not possible to start the car, then it is useful to remove the cover and air the car out, check for any damp or moisture. If there is any find and cure the cause!  Even if this is only done once over winter it can help.

 

Starting after storage

Remove cover.

Adjust fluid levels and tyre pressures.

If the car has not been run periodically then it can be a good idea to spin the engine without fuel to build oil pressure.  You can do this by disconnecting the fuel pump and it helps to remove the spark plugs. You can check and clean them if you didn’t do that before storing.

Start and warm up, there may be a smell of burning oil from the exhaust if you were liberal with the protecting oil. But it will disappear very quickly.

If you changed the oil before storage check again for leaks around the filter.

Check the brake pedal is firm and go for a drive, cautiously at first! Drive the car for 30 minutes to an hour checking the function of all switches and lamps. Unless you have great confidence keep your route quite close to home, so you can stop and check fluid levels etc. if needed. Listen out for any strange noises. Brakes might rumble a little at first if the discs are rusty.

Check the car for any leaks.

Now give the car a good wash and dry and take for another run. Enjoy the summer!

 

Common problems that can occur after the car has been sitting

The clutch friction plate is stuck to the flywheel and pressure plate.  This gives the symptom of no clutch function when pressing the pedal even though normal resistance is felt. This can be released by starting the car in gear with the clutch and brake pedals depressed.

Points type fuel pump not working (doesn’t tick) caused by points stuck together. This can normally be fixed with a few light taps (with a wooden or rubber mallet or the end of a hammer handle) to the pump body.

 

Other Considerations

Security is important and a simple alarm with PIR is relatively inexpensive. Depending on the type and location of the garage an alarm box may be a deterrent or an advert.

Make sure the car is insured, if you have a six month policy, check about laid up cover for the rest of the year

Try to set your MOT time to the summer, so you can drive the car immediately when spring comes.