With Covid-related lockdown laws biting for far longer than we all imagined, it can mean our beloved cars are feeling neglected – as they’re not used as much as they would be in a normal world. This can lead to bigger problems down the line if they’re not cared-for while they remain immobile, so here are our top tips on how to keep your car in tip-top condition during long periods of storage.
KEEP IT COVERED
If you’ve got a garage on your property, great; park the car in there to protect it from the elements while it stands around doing nothing. You might think it’s a hassle to keep getting it in and out of a garage time and time again, especially if you need to open and close the garage doors manually every time you go in and out – but, as this piece suggests, you’re not likely to be going in and out in your car on a regular basis in lockdown, so a few moments of inconvenience on each journey is not as bad as having to repair a car’s bodywork when it has been left out in the weather.
If you haven’t got a garage, try and invest in a decent car cover instead, for the same reason. Repeated wind, rain and snow doesn’t do much for a car’s appearance and, if you’re not driving it regularly, you might not be tempted to be bothered cleaning this stuff off your vehicle from time to time. Therefore, it’s better if you can put it away or cover it up in good condition, as it’ll save you repeated work maintaining the aesthetics of a vehicle you’re not driving. And that leads us onto…
Following on from the above tip, if you’re keeping the car outside then you should wash it regularly. Absolutely do not leave it encrusted in the road grime and salt of its last journey you made pre-lockdown, whenever that was, because it will just eat into the paintwork and metal, potentially bringing pricey lacquer-coat and corrosion issues into play. Furthermore, things like leaves can mulch down on the paintwork and in drainage gutters if left too long, which might cause more visual problems and even water ingress in the cabin if the water channels are blocked by rotting matter. Tree sap is also bad to leave on paint, as is bird muck. In essence, the preferred thing to do is wash it thoroughly, dry it completely and then park it in a garage or under a good car cover.
CLEAN IT OUT
If you’re keeping the outside of the car looking spick-and-span, why would you let the interior be a festering pit of refuse? Any rubbish you leave in the interior could start to decompose and make horrid smells that will be hard to eradicate in the longer term, and this counts double for any rubbish that’s related to foodstuffs. If you’re not in the car on a regular basis, you won’t know what’s happening inside until it’s too late, so just clean it out thoroughly once and then store it away. It’ll be even nicer when you finally do get to drive it and you climb into a spotless interior, won’t it?
KEEP IT TOPPED UP WITH FLUIDS…
All of the oil, washer fluid and other vital liquids, such as brake and power steering fluids, should be checked and topped up, if necessary. This is because any empty space in these fluid systems (air pockets) can invite moulds or fungus to build up, which might clog various lines and feed systems. For cars with air conditioning, it’s well worth getting into the vehicle on occasion while it’s stored and firing up the engine, then letting the air-con run on full power for a while. Otherwise, germs can build up in the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) that could make you ill when you get into the car after a prolonged period of time.
…AND, MORE IMPORTANTLY, FUEL
The most important one is the fuel, though. If you know you’re about to store it for a long stretch, fill it up with fuel at your nearest, cheapest filling station and then drive straight home. Air in the fuel tank can lead to the build-up of condensation over time, which is water. And when water gets into your fuel and then gets into your engine, it can have devastating consequences for your wallet – you might think saving a few tens of Euro might not be a bad idea, instead of filling your car due for storage, but if you have to have a full engine rebuild or replacement because you got too much water in your tank as a result, then that’s a massively false economy, isn’t it?
MAINTAIN THE BATTERY
The best way to do this is to invest in a decent trickle charger/conditioner. They’re widely available online and even the best ones shouldn’t cost more than €100, really. You attach them to your car’s battery terminals via crocodile clips, plug the unit into the mains and it will keep your battery at optimum levels until you need it. Various chargers can even recondition a worn-down battery (to a degree), so they’re well worth investing in – especially if you have a classic or modern classic that, even in normal times, you’d only use for six months of the year.
If you can’t buy one of those, you need to commit to getting into the car and turning its engine over on a regular basis. Something like every two weeks for 15-20 minutes ought to do it, allowing the car’s alternator to replenish the battery’s charge. Obviously, letting a combustion-powered car idle for 20 minutes isn’t the most environmentally friendly option, hence why you’d be better off with a battery charger, but these are extraordinary times and sometimes, extraordinary measures are required to protect your investment.
JACK IT UP, PUMP ‘EM UP
If you can afford them, buy some axle stands for the car if it’s going to stand for a long period of time without moving at all. If you do let a car sit in one position indefinitely, it can flat-spot the tyres and you’ll need to replace all four of them to sort the problem out. The best bet is to get the wheels off the floor, hence the axle stands, but if you can’t do that then marginally over-inflate the tyres (check the pressures for your car’s tyres either in the owner’s handbook or, usually, on the panel in the door jamb that tells you of the pressures required for inflation) before you store the car, it should prevent flat-spotting. Ideally, though, you should roll the car backwards and forward under its own power from time to time, during longer storage periods. In fact, if you’ve got a decent length private driveway (we’re only talking sort of four or five car lengths, then slowly manoeuvring the car backwards and forward on the drive frequently will help prevent it from seizing up, flat-spotting its tyres and draining its battery to unrecoverable levels.