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Imagine that the DMV's driver licensing division gave your grandmother the boot at 87 years old, just after she bought a shiny new, fire-red Dodge Intrepid. Grandma made it to 91, but the car just sat in the driveway day after day baking in the hot Florida sun.
Of course, Grandma knew how you loved fire-red cars and she remembered your wild spirit, so she willed you the thing so you would always remember her. You're the new owner (once the title is transferred) of a hot new car, with a scintilla of miles on the odometer.
However, you quickly learn that cars have wheels for a reason. And while Grandma did have a tarp over the car to protect the paint job, it still sat motionless for years in the sun like a one-ton steel raisin.
It doesn't take long to figure out exactly what happens to a vehicle that has sat motionless in the elements for an extended period of time. Some of the problems are easy to see: cracking vinyl of the dashboard and seats, faded exterior paint, rusting on the body panels, and discoloring of the interior. And if you crank the stereo too loud too quickly, you might have to buy all new speakers thanks to brittle paper in the speaker cones.
However, other adverse effects may be harder to notice. The tires could be history. The rubber, especially in the treads, simply tends to break down from exposure. The brake pads can quickly fall apart once the vehicle is in motion again. Of course, the unlubricated engine might suffer the most from disuse.
A permanently parked vehicle can amount to doom if the corrosive process takes hold. And if when you first start the vehicle after a long period a major puff of black smoke shoots into the air, you might want to head to the nearest garage for some quick car maintenance. Most likely an assortment of fluids will need changing, but this fix should give the engine a second wind.
Winter wreaks as much havoc as summer on a vehicle, especially if you live in a snow belt. Magnesium chloride, road salts, sand, and all the other street muck latches to a car like leeches. An entire winter immobile on the street might create a thick coat of sediment that will slowly find a way into every nook and cranny of the car. If the process is left unchecked, corrosion could occur, especially with the chloride chemicals.
Storing the Right Way
It's not uncommon for people to stop driving a vehicle for a long time, either due to a license suspension, temporary relocation, or the availability of another car. Hopefully, before the day comes you will have time to prepare the vehicle for the extended hibernation. Just a bit of preparation might save you thousands of dollars in the long run.
Indoor vs. Outdoor
First, if at all possible, store the vehicle indoors in a cool, dry environment. And make sure, whether it is indoors or outdoors, that the vehicle is impeccably clean. Think about how classic car collectors manage to keep vintage vehicles constantly in prime shape. An indoor setting is the ultimate protection.
A garage will do fine. Private companies also offer storage space. Do a search of the local phone book or online to find a company near you. Some larger parking garages will also drive the car from time to time to keep it in shape. Of course, the fee is higher, but the service aids a vehicle immensely.
If the vehicle must endure the elements, the next best thing is to put a thick car cover or tarp over the entire vehicle frame. However, outdoor storage is still a gamble because of the higher risk of wear and deterioration.
One of the best ways of preventing the interior destruction of the engine is by making sure all of the fluids are fresh and full. Purchase a fuel stabilizer, which prevents gasoline breakdown (causing damage to the engine and fuel line) and allows you to keep the tank relatively full, which keeps out extra airspace. Airspace can lead to moisture and rust.
Take out the spark plugs and line the cylinder housings with oil. Again, this measure prevents corrosion. Change the oil and oil filter. Old oil has all sorts of byproducts and acids that can cause damage.
If you are off gallivanting around the world and the old clunker at home will be left for up to a year or more without motion, take a couple of extra precautions. First, take the battery out and make sure to clean all of the connections. You might also want to jack the vehicle up on a jack stand and add about 10 pounds of pressure to each tire (if they are to remain on). This prevents flat spots. A good waxing prior to your departure will add extra durability to the paint job. Finally, take the wipers off so they do not become a permanent attachment to the windshield.
Critters Love Cars
The last thing you want is to get the vehicle back on the road, only to find that it's now the cozy home for two squirrels, three rats, and a large colony of mice.
However, even though it is difficult to seal every crack a mouse could crawl through, it's easy to cover the noticeable holes (such as the tailpipe). If no one is taking the vehicle out for the occasional spin, drop moth balls around the outside for added critter protection.