How to prep you vehicle for long-term storage
By Eric Peters

Any vehicle -- whether it's a restored vintage muscle car or your late model daily driver -- shouldn't just be parked and left to sit for extended periods of time. Lack of use can be just as hard on a vehicle as in-use abuse. This is why it's important to prep your four-wheeled friend for long-term storage.

Here's how -- and why:

* Prep the shell -- Begin with a complete and thorough wash of the car's exterior, to remove surface dirt and things like bird droppings that can, over time, burn spots in your paintwork. Make sure the car is thoroughly, completely dry. A 15 minute drive should force any moisture that got into inaccessible areas out -- and the heat of the drivetrain will evaporate the rest. Be certain there's no water in the trunk or anywhere else; use shop towels/rags to hand-dry all crevices, such as door jambs, etc.

Sight along the bodywork -- especially the lower doors, quarter panels and other areas prone to stone chips. If you find any areas where the underlying metal has been exposed, you should carefully scuff the area (use 400 grit sandpaper) so that any scale/surface rust is removed and the metal appears shiny and clean. Follow this up with a of touch-up paint (Dupli-Color makes an excellent product in small tubes with built-in applicator brushes, etc.) and leave it to dry. Doing this will help keep rust from getting a foothold and potentially boring a hole into your car's flanks while you're away. (If you see pitting -- indicative of rust already having begun to work -- you can use Naval Jelly to scour it out, followed up with a coating of a chemical treatment/sealer such as POR-15, which locks out moisture and oxygen so that the rust stops spreading. Naval Jelly is readily available at most auto supply stores; for POR-15, see and order online. It's good stuff!)

Treat all painted and hard-chromed surfaces (not plastic chrome) to a wax job -- being sure to use the right product for your finish. Most modern cars use base/clear paint -- which requires a wax specifically designed for these finishes. A good wax takes time; don't rush yourself. Ideally, do the car in thirds -- taking beer/coffee/do other things breaks of at least an hour or so between thirds. The idea is to avoid getting tired -- and doing a sloppy job because you just want to get it over with.

Next, go over all the rubber parts -- especially door seals, trunk seals and exposed weatherstripping -- with a quality protectant. Honda makes an excellent product called Pro Honda Cleaner & Polish. It comes in an aerosol can and protects vinyl, rubber and plastic against dry-rot and UV damage -- keeping them pliable and soft. It's great stuff -- and works as well on cars as it does on bikes. (Most bike shops carry it but you can find it online as well.) This product also works well on interiors -- dashboards, vinyl, etc.

* Prep the guts -- This means the vehicle's mechanical systems, principally the drivetrain and its related components.

Begin with an oil and filter change; doing this removes contaminants such as raw gas and water that may be in the crankcase -- as well as provides a fresh coating of clean oil (and the fresh additives it contains), which will protect internal surfaces, such as bearings and cylinder walls.

Next, get some Sta-Bil (or equivalent) fuel stabilizer and add the appropriate amount to your tank, then fill her up completely. (Do this part at a gas station; don't put the Sta-Bil in until you're ready to add fresh gas.) Sta-Bil keeps the fuel from deteriorating over time -- while the top-off helps prevent water from forming (from condensation) inside the tank. Never leave a vehicle with a partially full fuel tank or a tank full of untreated fuel for any extended period of time -- unless you like hard-starting and/or gummed-up, even rusted-up fuel lines. After adding the Stab-Bil, it's a good idea to drive the car for 10 minutes or so -- just long enough to let the Sta-Bil treated fuel work its way into the entire fuel system. This will also circulate the fresh oil you just added.

Now shut the engine off and go do something else for a couple of hours while the engine cools off. When you get back, pop the hood and treat all the rubber hoses to some of that Honda Pro Cleaner (or equivalent). Use WD-40 to coat the drive belts and make sure all fluids are topped-off (power steering, transmission fluid, brake fluid) and their caps/seals are tight. Remove the radiator cap and check the coolant level as well as its condition. If it's low, top off with a 50-50 mix of distilled water and the appropriate coolant (do not use tap water; it has contaminants that can accelerate internal corrosion and other problems). If the coolant in the radiator or recovery tank looks brown and gunky, consider doing a flush and fill -- or you may be dealing with a repair bill for a new radiator down the road. Coolant condition can be tested with a simple device called a hydrometer, which you can buy at any auto parts store for a couple of bucks. But in general, if your vehicle's less than three years old -- or you've had the system flushed/filled within three years -- you should be ok, provided the system's topped off and sealed tight.

For cars that will be left for more than a few months, it's a good idea to remove each spark plug (provided you can access them; on many newer model cars this is no easy thing) and shoot some WD-40 into each cylinder, then re-install the spark plug. The WD-40 forms a protective barrier on the exposed metal of the cylinder walls. It's not absolutely necessary to do this -- but if you can get to those plugs, it's definitely worth doing for long-term storage.

Now disconnect the battery and remove it from the vehicle. Put it someplace dry and secure, but don't leave it in the vehicle. Batteries left connected in unused cars will slowly drain -- and may leak acid/fumes that can corrode the battery tray and surrounding parts, etc. (For shorter-term storage -- less than two months -- it's ok to leave it in the car; ideally, hooked up to a trickle charger to maintain its state of charge.)

You're almost done now.

Assuming you've found a secure, dry (and hopefully, indoors) place to park the vehicle, the final steps are:

* Using a floor jack, raise the vehicle slightly at all four corners so that the weight of the car is taken off the suspension and tires, at least partially. Put jackstands under each corner to safely support the vehicle. Check the inflation pressure of all tires and add air to any that are low.

* Put some moisture-absorbing dessicant packets in the interior (and trunk) as well as some mothballs to ward off mice. (Homeless rodents love parked cars -- and will spend months happily chewing through wiring harnesses, upholstery and carpets while you're gone.) Dessicant packs can be obtained at for less than $10 or at marine supply shops; mothballs can be found at hardware stores, etc.

* Next, partially close all doors; just enough to get them to "catch" -- but not "full closed." This will keep the weatherstripping and door seals from being crushed down (and potentially, leaking when the car's put back into service).

* Finally, cover the entire vehicle with a high-quality car cover -- ideally, one with reinforced eye-holes that can be used to lock it into place with a cable. Caution: Be sure to use a clean cover -- or you risk scratching the finish.

Your vehicle's now ready for an extended nap -- and should be ready to go whenever you get back.