How To Store a Car Long Term (and for the Winter)

(Updated on February 12, 2021)

Everyone who uses a car for transportation has a daily driver, but what happens to the car that isn’t your daily?

Many people have a seasonal car. Perhaps you have a convertible or a car with no roof that’s only enjoyable to drive when it’s warm and sunny out. Perhaps the roads are salted in the winter where you live, and you want to avoid the rust that salt inevitably brings.

When a car is not in use for a longer period of time, it’s a good idea to take some simple steps to ensure your car is ready to be enjoyed when the time is right.

Seasonal Storage Tips

If you drive your car every year and only store it for the winter, your primary concerns are going to be the battery, oil, and tires. You won’t have to worry too much about other maintenance costs, as long as you’re following your manufacturer’s recommended maintenance intervals throughout the rest of the year.

Keep the Battery Charged

car battery light is on

As your car sits, the battery will slowly deplete. This is especially true in the wintertime, when colder temperatures will put more stress on the battery.

Battery tenders are smart devices that offer a way for you to keep your battery topped off even when you’re not driving your vehicle. They are especially useful for boats, motorcycles, and convertibles that are only driven a few months out of the year.

Battery tenders help preserve battery life by preventing the battery from depleting. Once a battery fully depletes, it will never hold the same charge it once did.

You’ll also want to make sure you have a strong battery if you live in an area with a harsh climate. 

Change Your Oil

best high mileage synthetic oil

Oil will wear out the more you drive, but did you know its lubricating properties are affected by time as well?

If your car has been sitting for a while, it’s a good idea to change the oil before you go do a bunch of consistent driving. This is especially true for a track or autocross car, which is going to be stressed more than it would be for easy street driving.

Move Your Car Occasionally

transmission in reverse

It’s a good idea to run your car every week or two if you’re able to. Not only does this charge the battery and get the oil to circulate to keep the engine lubricated, it will also save your tires. Driving will flex your tires and allow your tires to rest in different orientations throughout the year.

If a tire sits too long, it may develop a flat spot. Flat spots occur from the tire being deformed over a long period of time by the weight of the vehicle. Some flat spots may return to their original shape after a bit of driving, but in severe cases the tire may be permanently deformed.

Track and autocross tires are particularly vulnerable to flat spots if they sit for long periods of time. These types of tires use a different tread compound than the ubiquitous all season tire. All season tires tend to be much harder and a bit more resistant to flat spots.

If you get a nice break in the rain or snow, try taking your car out for a coffee run, just to get things moving. If you’re on performance tires, be mindful of the temperature. Most performance tires do not grip well if it’s colder than 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius).

You will want to drive gingerly if you take your race car out in cold weather, and maybe avoid the trip altogether if there is ice or snow on the ground.

If you can’t make it out safely, bring the car up to operating temperature and move the car a few feet back or forward to put pressure on a different part of the tire. That should be plenty to get you through the snowy season.

Long Term Storage

Cars are meant to be driven. When you store a car for a long time, many parts may wear out simply with the passing of time.

There are some special considerations you’ll want to take if your car is going to be stored for years, or even decades. The following are some general tips to get you started.

If you’re storing a high end or exotic car, consult with the manufacturer for any special considerations you’ll need to take. Bespoke or exotic cars often require additional maintenance than more mass produced models.

Store Your Car Indoors

car storage in garage

Weather is not kind to stationary objects. One of the most important things you can do to preserve your car is to store it in a climate controlled garage or storage facility.

An ideal indoor climate would be around room temperature, with a moderate and stable humidity level (around 50% humidity +/- 10% is ideal).

It’s not a bad idea to monitor the temperature and humidity of your storage location to ensure it is stable. Take steps to control the environment as much as you can.

Change All Fluids

dirty brake fluid

Engine and transmission oil, coolant, and other fluids may have contaminants that could cause wear to components over a long period of time. It’s best to start fresh with clean fluid if you are going to be storing your vehicle for a year or longer.

Remove the Battery

old battery

A battery that sits for long periods of time is prone to degradation. Old batteries may leak a caustic fluid that could corrode other nearby components.

It’s best to replace the battery with a fresh one when you do decide to drive the vehicle again many years later.

Fill the Gas Tank, Add Fuel Stabilizer

filling gas tank

Gasoline deteriorates over time. To slow this process and prevent moisture from entering the gas tank, fill the tank all the way and add a fuel stabilizer.

Draining the fuel tank of all fuel is the best way to preserve the fuel system and prevent gasoline from varnishing, but this is not feasible for everyone.

Fully Detail Your Car

best microfiber towel

You want to remove as many contaminants as possible. Contaminants on the paint or interior surfaces could leave stains or deteriorate the material over time. You also don’t want dirt and grime underneath your car cover for all that time.

Some contaminants are corrosive, such as road salt. You’ll want to pay special attention to these and make sure the car is spotless for long term storage.

Apply a layer of wax or ceramic coating to the paint for protection. Leather conditioner for leather seats is a good idea.

Cover Your Car

long term car storage

Covering your car protects the materials, from the paint to the interior. When you cover your car, use a high end, breathable car cover designed for indoor storage.

You actually don’t want to use a waterproof car cover, as this could trap moisture between the car’s paint and the cover, causing all sorts of issues over time.

Place Car on Jack Stands

Jacking up the car on all four corners ensure that there is no load on the suspension or the tires. This will save your tires from getting flat spots, and also save your parking brake which should be disengaged.

Conclusion

Although it may seem like a good idea to park a car and forget about it for a few years, cars still require maintenance when they are not being driven. The amount of prep work needed to properly store a car long term is extensive, and is not always feasible in every situation.

Improper long term storage of a vehicle can actually cause more damage than simply driving the car regularly. If there is any doubt about your ability to store a car long term, it’s best to just drive the car occasionally to keep things moving.

When you don’t drive often, pay close attention to the time intervals on the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations. You will likely run out of time before you hit the specified mileage, but it’s still important to keep up on maintenance.

The clock is ticking on those parts whether you’re making memories in your car or it’s just sitting in a garage.

Leave a Comment