Everything to know about storing a car for winter and beyond

Chris Teague

Chris Teague

car storage

Car ownership takes a lot of thought and care, but storing a car for winter and other times isn’t something most people think about until they need it. Life circumstances change, people move, and sometimes families end up with an extra car they don’t often use but don’t want to sell. Putting a car into storage is pretty straightforward, but there is much to know if you’ve never been through the steps. Let’s get rolling and find out all about car storage.

Determining if you need car storage

Having an extra vehicle can be a great benefit for some people, but not everyone has the time or need to use all the cars in their driveway regularly. When tripping over a car to get out of your house, it might be time to consider storage. Keep in mind that it’s not super easy to put a car in storage and pull it out often, so you’ll want to be sure that you won’t need the vehicle soon after putting it away.

That said, the benefits of storing a car are numerous. The most noticeable difference is that you’ll have far more space in your driveway. Storing a rarely-used car can help prolong the vehicle’s life and prevent costly repairs for rust and paint damage if you live in a place that receives legitimate winter weather. If it’s a collector car or classic auto, storage is a great way to ensure it’s always in top shape for your next drive.

car storage

Types of car storage

When it comes to putting your car away for a while, you have a few options. The cheapest choice may be the most tempting, but remember, you get what you pay for.

Indoor vehicle car storage

Indoor storage is likely your best bet if you own a classic or rare car. There are facilities across the country that offer climate-controlled storage in a space that protects your vehicle against the elements, thieves, and other damage. Some collector car insurance policies require that you store your car indoors, so one of the many storage facilities may be your best bet if you don’t have garage space at home.

Indoor vehicle storage is an energy- and space-intensive activity, so you should expect to pay more for the extra effort and protection. Many storage facilities offer add-on services, such as tire rotation and inflation services, detailing and cleaning, and maintenance. Pricing also varies based on the vehicle’s type, size, and condition.

Covered outdoor car storage

If you need indoor storage but can’t find or afford a local facility, covered outdoor storage is the next best thing. You’ll get protection from the worst outdoor elements, such as sun, rain, and snow, but there are often no walls or side protection to keep wind and dirt from blowing through. Covered outdoor storage also lacks climate controls, so your car is at the mercy of the outdoor temperatures.

Covered outdoor storage is more expensive than storing without a cover, but it’s often far less costly than an indoor facility. Pricing again depends on the size and type of your vehicle. Don’t expect a ton of add-on services here, as you’ll likely only get a parking space out of the process. It’s also best to buy a car cover to protect against the worst conditions the overhead cover can’t stop.

Outdoor car storage

Outdoor car storage is the simplest and cheapest way to get the vehicle out of your way. Many self-storage facilities offer vehicle storage in a separate area, but there is nothing to protect it from any weather conditions. Even so, it’s more protected from thieves and people inside the fenced-in storage area.

As you might imagine, outdoor car storage is the cheapest option, but you still may pay more for larger or specialty vehicles. Since you’ll essentially be parking the car in an open lot, you’ll want to take precautions to protect it, such as a car cover. You will still need to worry about the temperature and moisture, but at least the vehicle will be protected from much of the worst weather.

storing a car for winter

How much does storing a car cost?

Car storage prices can vary wildly from place to place and between types of storage. In general, count on spending between $30 and $50 for the cheapest outdoor storage. High-end indoor storage facilities can cost up to $500 or more, depending on the facility and add-on services you choose.

Beyond the storage costs, budget for basic maintenance, a full tank of fuel, a car cover, and jack stands if you’re storing the car for an extended period. If outdoor storage seems like a bargain because it’s far cheaper than anything else, be sure to factor in the cost of a car cover and any recovery maintenance you’ll need after letting it sit outside for a while. You may be surprised to see that the cost difference between types of storage isn’t that drastic.

How to prepare your car for storage

Choosing a type of storage and location is only part of the process. You’ll need to take steps to prepare your car to ensure that it’s still in great shape when you take it out.

Clean the vehicle

You wouldn’t want to go to bed covered in dirt and grime, and neither does your car. Bird droppings, pollen, leaves, and other debris can damage the paint if left sitting for extended periods. Give your car a good wash before storing it. That includes thoroughly cleaning the wheel wells, underbody, and interior. Be sure to remove trash from the cabin, especially food waste, as you’ll want to avoid drawing the attention of local wildlife. Removing as much as possible from the interior is also best to prevent unwanted odors while the vehicle is parked with doors and windows closed for long periods.

Handle routine maintenance before car storage

Even if your vehicle isn’t due for an oil change and other common maintenance routines, it’s best to get them done before storage. Have the oil changed to help remove impurities or contaminants that can build up in the lubricant over time. This also includes making sure the other fluids are topped off and that your battery can take a charge (more on this in a moment).

Protect your tires

Leaving a vehicle sitting in one spot for a long time can cause flat spots in the tires. This is of particular concern for vehicles stored outside, as cold temperatures tend to accelerate the flattening process. Some storage facilities offer occasional driving services, which would help give the car some exercise and prevent flat spots. If you’re leaving the vehicle in storage for more than a month, the best move is to place it on jack stands at all four corners and remove the wheels and tires. This is a little more effort, but not having the vehicle’s weight on the tires is the best insurance against flat spots.

Mind the battery during car storage

Car batteries lose charge over time even if the vehicle is turned off and not using any power equipment. This is primarily a concern if you want someone to move your car occasionally, but losing radio presets and other stored information can also be annoying. Keeping charged is an easy fix and only takes an affordable battery tender, which trickles just enough juice to prevent the battery from completely dying.

Fill up with fuel

Leaving a vehicle sitting with a low fuel level for a long time can cause moisture accumulation. You may also want to consider a fuel stabilizer to prevent gum and rust while the vehicle is parked.

How to get your stored vehicle ready for the road

Once winter’s over and you’re ready to get back on the road, take a minute to ensure it’s ready for action. If you’ve removed the wheels and placed it on jack stands, replace the wheels and tires and lower the vehicle. Check for signs of damage from rodents and other animals if it’s been parked outside, and make sure the tires are road ready if you didn’t remove them.

Take a moment to inspect the seals and soft rubber components on the exterior for damage, especially if the vehicle has been parked outside all winter. The worst time to find out your window seal is cracked is when it’s raining. This includes your windshield wipers and around exterior light fixtures.

Check your fluids and under-hood area to ensure there are no leaks or visually damaged components. Peek under the vehicle to see if any fluids have leaked. Remove the battery tender if you used one, and check the battery charge to ensure you have power. Turn on exterior lights to make sure everything works.

Car Storage Frequently Asked Questions

Can I store my car in a standard storage unit?

In most cases, yes. As long as it will fit. Check with your desired storage facility to make sure it allows car storage in a standard unit. All the same preparation steps apply, and you’ll need enough room to move around the car inside the unit.

Can I work on my car in a storage unit?

While many facilities allow car storage, working on or repairing vehicles is against most places’ policies. The risk of something happening, either to you or the facility, is too great.

How long can I store my car?

The information we’ve provided here is intended for vehicles stored for less than a year. If you need to put a car away for an extended period, there are additional steps you’ll need to take to ensure that it’s operational when you pull it out of storage and prep it for road use.

Can I drive with flat spots on my tires?

While moving the car with flat spots on the tires might be physically possible, it’s not a good idea. Beyond a bumpy ride, flat spots can lead to blowouts and may impact the tire’s safety. If you’ve let the car sit long enough for the tires to change shape, it’s time for new tires.

storing a car for winter

Can I drive with year-old gas in my car?

Gas is generally fine for a couple of months, maybe a little longer if you used a fuel stabilizer, but old fuel can cause various problems. Engine knock, clogged injectors, and more can all come from using old gas.

What about storing a car in my backyard?

You can store the car wherever you have space, but parking it on grass or bare dirt can lead to some issues. Moisture from the ground can cause rust across the underbody, and that’s before we get to the dead spot you’ll cause on your lawn.

Can I store my car parked on a hill?

Parking on a hill for long periods can cause issues with the drivetrain and suspension components. Fluids in the engine and other parts of the car can move to places where they aren’t supposed to be, and you’ll likely need an emergency brake replacement after a while.

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