With most of us (hopefully) staying inside, social distancing, and not doing much traveling as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, our cars are getting a bit of a break from their daily usage. This means that they’ll be sitting for a long period of time without being started or moving while we’re inside waiting out our quarantine period.
For some people this is a park-it-and-forget-it ordeal, but for those who like to take especially good care of their cars, this extended storage period comes with a to-do list. In this article, we’ll be going over some steps that you can take to make sure you’re taking care of your car while it patiently awaits its first trip in a post-pandemic world.
1. Wash it
One of the most important things that you can do before storing your car is wash it. If you want to go the extra mile, you can throw on a fresh coat of wax, too. Washing your car thoroughly before letting it sit is an important step in making sure your paint looks as good after storage as it did before. If you allow dirt, grime, tree sap and bird droppings to sit on your paint for a long time, they get harder to remove, and in the case of bird droppings and tree sap, they can actually erode the paint over time. So, make sure that you get your car as clean as possible before letting it sit. The best way to do this is with two buckets, a hose, car soap, and some wash mitts in your own driveway (as a bonus, you’re also washing your hands by proxy!).
2. Fill your gas tank
It may seem a bit counterintuitive to go out and fill up with fuel in anticipation of a long period of little to no travel, but hear me out. If you allow your car to sit with less than 1⁄4 of a tank of fuel, the tank is much more likely to develop condensation inside of it, which can water down your fuel. The likelihood of this happening varies depending on the temperature of the space within which the car is being stored, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
So in order to avoid condensation in your fuel tank, it’s best to fill up before letting your car sit. Also, as a side note: I’ve seen other outlets recommend that you top off all fluids before letting your car sit, but this generally isn’t necessary unless the car will be sitting for a really long time. Coolant (which is mostly water anyway), brake, power steering and other fluid reservoirs are much smaller than the fuel tank and are less susceptible to developing condensation significant enough to affect those fluids’ performance. Also, if any of your fluid reservoirs besides the fuel tank are less than 1⁄4 full, you’ve got much bigger fish to fry anyway.
3. Keep it in a garage, under a cover, or both!
Choosing a good place to store your car is an important step to making sure that it stays in good shape while in storage. A garage is of course the best option, or at least a covered structure, but for some that may not be an option. If that’s the case for you, a car cover should do the trick. Good car covers can be found online fairly cheap, and they do a great job of protecting your car from the elements while it’s not being used. If you have a garage and want to doubly protect your car, cover it in there, too. It will keep dust off and keep your car extra clean while it’s not being used.
4. Protect the battery
An important part of keeping your car stored is caring for the battery. Doing so will ensure that when it is finally time to go for a drive, your car’s battery actually has the juice it needs to start back up. The best way to care of your battery while your car is in storage is with a battery tender. A good battery tender will bring your car’s battery up to a level that is right for long-term storage, and then automatically switch to a “float” mode that will keep the battery at that safe level, preventing overcharging. A great affordable option for a battery tender can be found here for a totally reasonable price.
So, the above four items outline the steps that you should take before putting your car in storage. But what about when storage time is over? Luckily, the steps to getting back on the road are even simpler than the steps to getting off of it.
The first thing you’ll want to do is check your tire pressures. Sometimes after prolonged periods of storage, tires can lose tiny amounts of air through the valve stem area, or just lose pressure due to temperature. If your tire pressure did drop while your car was sitting, just inflate them back to the proper pressure (this should be listed on a sticker in the driver’s door sill).
Next, take a look underneath your car and check for wet spots both on the ground and the undercarriage of the car, specifically in the engine area. It’s not uncommon for cars to develop small oil or coolant leaks while sitting for a long time, and you want to make sure that didn’t happen before starting it up for the first time. If you do notice a leak, you can follow the proper steps to fixing it yourself if you’re a DIYer, or give your mechanic a call before starting the car. Finally, take a look under the hood. The main thing that you’re looking for here is obvious evidence of any small animals taking shelter in your car’s engine bay (check for wet spots or evidence of leaks, too). Look for nests, but also look for any frayed or chewed wires or belts. Again, if you find anything out of the ordinary, give your mechanic a call.
If you passed all of the above checks, you’re ready to go! Start your car and let it idle for at least a few minutes to let all of the fluids circulate completely. I also recommend driving with the music OFF for the first few miles, listening carefully for any odd sounds caused by issues your car may have developed during storage.
If you follow the above steps to proper car-quarantine, rest assured that you’re doing all the right things to keep your car healthy while you’re not using it. Stay safe, stay healthy, and wash your hands (and your car)!