It’s migration time for snowbirds, and folks from around the country will soon flock to sunnier, warmer locations to wait out the winter. While you’re taking a break from your rest-of-the-year routine, so, too, is the car that you’re leaving behind—and if you don’t properly store that vehicle before you go, you could be faced with serious problems when you get back. After all, whether it’s weather damage, a dead battery or live pests that have turned your vehicle into their own winter home, a lot can happen when you’re away. Here are a few tips to keep your car protected.
Snowbirds, These 6 Tips Will Keep Your Car In Good Shape
1. Clean Your Car Inside and Out
Give the interior a thorough cleaning: Toss out cutter and food wrappers and vacuum up dirt and crumbs to make it less attractive to mice and vermin. On the outside, be sure to scrub off things like bird droppings and tree sap, which can damage your vehicle’s finish if left too long.
2. Check the Fluids
Because contaminants can put your engine at risk, you should change your car’s oil before storing it. In fact, top off all the fluids, particularly the coolant, and fill the gas tank. Edmunds.com notes that this will prevent moisture from building up inside the tank. Some experts further advise staying away from ethanol-blended gasoline, as the ethanol can absorb water from the atmosphere at a much higher rate than unblended fuel. In any case, add a fuel stabilizer as well, to help prevent corrosion and keep the gasoline fresh.
3. Take Charge of the Battery
For a car that will be off the road for a while, the battery must also be protected. You can simply remove the battery and store it in a dry, cool place. You can also connect the battery to a battery tender or trickle charger, either while inside or outside of the car. To use a tender or charger without removing your battery, open your hood slightly or thread the charger’s connectors up through the engine bay from below. The all-in solution is to take out the battery, place it on a piece of wood for insulation purposes, and then hook it up to the outside electricity source. Just remember that in a growing number of newer cars, fully disconnecting the battery can affect the vehicle’s onboard computer memory.
4. Keep up the Pressure
Tire pressure, that is. It’s natural for tires to lose air over time, and this happens quicker in colder temperatures. With a car’s full weight pressing down, the result can be flat spots that may or may not disappear once a vehicle is driven again in the spring. Starting with the recommended amount of air in your tires—but not over-inflating them—is the easiest way to guard against the issue. Amateur mechanics also may want to remove the wheels altogether, putting the vehicle up on jack stands. While this isn’t necessarily a difficult task, the right placement for those stands is vital, since you don’t want to leave the suspension unsupported or otherwise damage the vehicle.
5. Watch Out for the Weather
Your car doesn’t like staying out in the winter weather any more than you do. Protect it from the elements with at least a high-quality vehicle cover, although parking in a garage is no doubt a better choice. If it is kept outside, it can be easier for a neighbor to check on the car occasionally, or perhaps take it out for a drive. (Just keep in mind that although a little winter exercise can be a good thing, if the car is going back into extended storage afterward, it will have to go through the whole preparation process again.)
You can also look into a public storage facility or one of the growing number of private garages. The M1 Concourse in the Detroit area, for example, is a community of “car condos” for enthusiasts that’s located next to its own racetrack.
6. Ensure Your Car Is Properly Insured
Finally, along with keeping your car covered physically, you’ll want to keep it covered insurance-wise, too. For one thing, you want to avoid gaps in your insurance coverage, which can lead to higher rates when you re-insure; and for another thing, you still need to protect against theft or vandalism, fire, natural disasters and the like. That said, talk to your insurance agent about modifying your policy during winter months: Dropping collision coverage, for example, can be a money-saving idea.
Charles Krome is a car expert who enjoys sharing travel and car maintenance tips as a writer for CARFAX and Autobytel. To learn more about Charles, visit his Facebook page, Krome on Cars.