How to store your classic car

There’s a knack to safe and effective historic-vehicle storage, whether it’s seasonal or long term. Follow our guidelines to get it right

Classic cars may vary in value and desirability, but the majority share one common feature – a propensity to corrode away before your very eyes if not properly cared for.

Regular preventative maintenance can greatly extend the life of your pride and joy when it is in use. However, there are also some useful guidelines that should be followed when you decide to store it away for extended periods.

Many specialists will gladly store a car almost indefinitely in purpose-built warehouses, which is ideal for those classic enthusiasts who have the wherewithal to do so. For the rest of us, the prospect of a (relatively) empty garage is as good as it gets. Following some simple procedures, though, will give your classic car a similar level of protection – and all for a fraction of the cost.

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Ways to store a classic car

A dry and damp-free garage is perhaps rather obviously the ideal spot for extended vehicle storage, although if space is at a premium there are a number of great inflatable car covers that can be used outdoors, too. Some even have controllers for temperature (under 70ºF is ideal) and humidity (aim for 40-50%), which can keep the plastic and rubber trim from perishing.

High-quality car covers can also help protect the paintwork, but if you are parking outside the undercarriage may still be susceptible to rodents and other pests crawling into the engine bay and interior. Placing mothballs around the engine bay and in various cavities helps keep most bugs and curious animals at bay. You can either purchase these online or, if you are the DIY type and hate the smell of naphthalene, you can make a herbal equivalent by packing cloves and dried rosemary and ginseng into a small muslin bag.

Mechanical preparations

Regular fluid changes are considered good practice when running a classic, and they should also be refreshed periodically or drained entirely depending on the length of time the car will be stored for.

Differential oils and power-steering fluid can last for up to two years without ill effect, although brake fluid will absorb moisture over time. If the car will be left standing for a long period (two years or more), it is best to drain the brake system completely by using a bleeding kit. This puts the reservoir under pressure so you can empty the fluid via the bleed nipples.

Oil starts to degrade the moment it’s exposed to air, and it should generally be drained, too. Correctly mixed coolant will last for years, but minor leaks can corrode the engine block so it may be best to drain it if you won’t be driving the car for a while. A note taped to the steering wheel is advisable to remind you of which fluids require replacing.

The fuel tank should be left full, as most older cars will have a build-up of dirt and residue that can get disturbed and clog up the filter and fuel lines if you leave the tank totally empty. The addition of a fuel stabiliser is not universally recommended, and it seems to be more useful in preventing the corroding effects of high-ethanol unleaded fuels.

There is no exact sell-by date for petrol, but the consensus is that it will start to lose its octane rating after only a few months and its deterioration is accelerated if the fuel tank is not airtight. That said, some classic car owners have found that their classics drove just fine with petrol that had sat in the tanks for two years or more.

Rubber water hoses and drive belts can perish over time, and are especially susceptible to extreme temperatures. However, they should not require removal if they are in good condition.

Preventing corrosion

Start off with a comprehensive wash and polish of the exterior, and pay particular attention to bubbling paintwork and evidence of developing rust. Touching up stone chips and removing all dirt and grime for the body cavities is a good way to prevent any corrosion from taking hold while your car is out of action. Drainage holes, footwells and the areas surrounding the window frames require particular attention.

Placing a sheet of paper between the windscreen wipers and the window glass can reduce the likelihood of the rubber tearing. If you have recently resprayed your car, then be aware that some coarser car covers can cause damage, as the finish may not have completely hardened yet.

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Protect your car's interior

The cabin should also receive a good clean, while leather surfaces should be treated. All crumbs and food remnants (no, we don’t eat in our cars either) should be removed, as this will attract some unwanted interest from hungry critters. All the windows should be closed, and if your car has a convertible top it should be stored with the roof up as this will minimise fabric shrinkage.

Looking after classic car tyres

Most modern classics will be rolling on radial tyres. These tend not to lose much air over extended periods, although placing rubber blocks under the jacking points will prevent flat spots from developing if they do deflate a little.

If you have something a lot older, it will probably have crossply tyres. These should be removed, as they deflate sooner and have a tendency to go oval as a result. The good news is that unless the car has been sitting on totally deflated tyres for months on end, a short drive after re-inflation tends to get them back into shape.

It stands to reason that a good portable tyre pump should be a part of your classic-maintenance kit; remember to leave your tyres fully inflated even if they have been removed from the car.

Brakes, suspension and transmission

Drum brakes can seize if the actuating spring becomes rusty, while disc brakes quickly form a superficial layer of rust on their surface. Spraying a little WD40 on the affected parts before storage can prevent both issues. Applying the brakes once or twice once the car is recommissioned will wipe off this thin protective film.

Do not leave the car in gear, and leave the handbrake off as the brake shoes can bind to the drums. If you are storing your vehicle with its wheels off, ensure that the hubs are not hanging down. This can put unnecessary strain on the dampers and suspension components.

How to keep a car battery healthy

For short storage periods the battery can be hooked up to a trickle charger. This is the recommended solution for many modern classics, as these may have ECUs that do not respond well to a complete lack of power.

Unsealed batteries should be topped up with distilled water, while applying a layer of grease to the terminals will prevent oxidation from occurring. Running a car periodically can help keep the battery and ECU primed, but this will also cause accelerated wear to the internals and may result in condensation occurring in the exhaust system.

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