Storing That Vehicle
Many of us have multiple vehicles we do not use on a daily basis — motorcycles, RVs, collector cars, and vehicles we keep for specific, but occasional purposes — that sometimes need to be “dry docked.” In the land of snow, ice, and lavish spreads of salt, winter storage is a common experience. Here are a few tips that will improve your chances of retrieving the same vehicle, with the same attributes it had when you tucked it away for safe keeping.
Insurance: It saves money to drop liability, and (usually) collision insurance, if you are not going to be driving a vehicle for a month or more. It seldom takes more than a quick phone call to your agent or insurance company to put your coverage on hold. However, comprehensive coverage (protection against theft, fire, and “acts of god”) should be continued if the vehicle has significant value. Comprehensive coverage (sometimes called “other than collision”) is usually quite inexpensive and worth maintaining on a stored vehicle.
Fuel: It’s common knowledge that a vehicle should usually be stored with a full fuel tank, to avoid a buildup of condensation. It is not quite as well known that fuels containing ethanol do not store well and can often cause corrosion and damage to components in the fuel system. To avoid this, locate a source for non-ethanol fuel (often times available in premium grades) for filling your tank before storage. If you are having trouble finding non-ethanol fuel you may want to check with private pilot friends or a local civil aviation airport to obtain access to fuel minus the alcohol. Adding fuel stabilizer is also advisable if the vehicle will be stored more than a month or two.
Tires: If a vehicle is going to be stored for a long time, for example, a year or more, there’s a chance the tires will develop flat spots that will subsequently provide a lumpy ride. Putting the car up on jack stands will avoid this problem. Adding a little air pressure will increase your chances of driving the car out of storage — before having to hunt down a tire pump.
Rodents (and other vermin): Mice are the bane of all vehicle collectors. They devour upholstery, eat the insulation off of wiring, plug up ventilation systems with nests and nuts, and apply urine to every corrodible surface. They will collect moth balls like young boys accumulate marbles. Dryer sheets are used for nesting material. And, the devices that produce sounds the mice aren’t supposed to like apparently don’t penetrate the heater ducts, headliners, or engine compartments of automobiles. Cats are some of nature’s best conservationists — they never exceed the reproduction capacity of the rodent population so as to maintain a perpetual food supply. The only surefire solution is a structure or container that mice cannot enter. Some moderately useful strategies include leaving the hood and trunk open (mice like dark enclosures), maintaining a trap line (metal box-like traps with no bait that will hold six mice or a couple chipmunks at one time work well), and there’s the old stand-by, poison. Of course, if the victims die in the heater vent, it’s a hollow victory. Rodents remain a challenge.
Battery: Any vehicle with so much as a clock in it will reduce a battery to a sullen hunk of dead lead in a month. Either disconnect it or put a maintenance charger on it — the kind used to keep batteries at a constant charge. If you can, remove the battery and store it in a dry, warm location. Even a stored battery should be periodically charged.
Fogging the cylinders: In most typical storage situations, it is not really necessary to put oil into the upper cylinders of a vehicle stored for the season. Perhaps for long term storage this may be desirable. The more likely outcome is fouling the plugs and not being able to start the vehicle when it’s time to remove it from storage. Removing sparkplugs from most modern vehicles is not for the faint of heart. An alternative to fogging is to add a small amount of upper cylinder lubricant to the fuel system and then run the engine sufficiently to introduce the mixture to the cylinders. Some fuel stabilizers include lubricants for this purpose.
Oil and filter: Store the vehicle with fresh oil and a new filter.
Coolant: If the vehicle is about due for new coolant, change it before, not after, storage.
Periodic starting and running of motor: Generally, once the vehicle is prepped for storage, leave it alone. If it is started, make sure the engine is run long enough to come up to full operating temperature so that there is no residual moisture in the exhaust system, unless you feel compelled to support the local muffler shop. (Also, the heat will attract rodents looking for a warm nesting spot.)
Many of these suggestions are just as applicable to lawn and garden equipment, outboard motors, and snowmobiles or personal watercraft. Needless to say, if you’re storing a Toyota Prius you can skip the part about removing the battery for storage.
The NMA received the following email regarding this newsletter:
I am a member of NMA and a pilot of small airplanes.
Your email #98 advice to seek non-ethanol fuel from pilot friends or neaby airports is extremely dangerous and should be retracted immediately.
By far the most common fuel for light aircraft is 100 LL, which is 100 octane “low lead.” “Low” is a relative term, As of Jan 2010, 100LL has a TEL content of 1.2 to 2 grams Tetra-Ethyl Lead (TEL).
That much lead will destroy nearly any catalytic converter in a very short period of time.
The other grades of aviation fuel are not available. 82 UL has no lead but is not being produced as of 2010. 80/87 avgas has a maximum of 0.5 gram lead per U.S. gallon, still enough to harm catalytic converters. This grade is very limited availability in any case.
I realize you were attempting to help motorists, but this advice will almost certainly destroy more cars than it saves.
We did check with a local civil aviation facility before sending out the newsletter, and were told that lead and alcohol free aviation fuels are available. The member correctly points out, however, that the more common aviation fuels do contain lead and those fuels should not be used in vehicles with catalytic converters. Historic and collector vehicles that do not have catalytic converters are often stored for prolonged periods of time and are more likely to be harmed by fuels containing ethanol.
Our thanks go out to member Steve for emphasizing that aviation fuels with lead will damage vehicles with catalytic converters.