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How to Store a Classic Car | Collector Car Storage Tips

Posted on 2020-01-21

From Corvettes and Beetles to Firebirds and Roadsters, classic cars are a symbol of timeless automobiles. Throughout decades of innovation, they have become a car enthusiast’s dream. Whether you own one classic or a handful, we know you work hard to keep your vehicle in mint condition. But how can you do the same when it’s in storage?

Proper maintenance before, during and after stowing away your vehicle is essential. Until you’re ready to drive your car again, prepping the engine, interior and exterior components are part of the process. Volo created collector car storage tips to help you when winter approaches. Our experts also provide advice on how to preserve your classic for short and long-term requirements.

how to store a classic car

Tips for Storing a Collector Car

Depending on how long you’re storing your car, it will require different methods.

  • Short-term — three months or less
  • Up to one year
  • More than one year — indefinitely

All three stages contain many of the same procedures as the previous. Throughout the guide, you can assume anything done in the preceding step will also hold for the following phases. For example, what you perform for short-term storage also applies to one-year and indefinite applications. The same goes for one-year stowing — it contains applicable tips for long-term plans.

preparing for short and long term storage

We will discuss your different options throughout the piece to help you determine what is right for your specific situation.

What Type of Building to Store the Car In

Universal storage techniques exist, no matter how long you’re putting away your car. Without the proper indoor storage facility, your car can undergo severe damage and leave you with expensive repairs and replacements. Several characteristics of an ideal storage space include:

  • Dry
  • Insulated
  • Temperature-regulated
  • Ventilated

Your best bet is to keep your classic car — or any vehicle — away from the elements like rain, snow, heat and ice. Even when the seasons are against your favor, you will want your car to remain in pristine condition.

The sun’s UV rays can destroy rubber and vinyl while also fading your classic car’s paint. Rain and snow can also cause rust and unwanted water spots. Although different weather patterns can break down your vehicle’s finish, the right storage facility can help you avoid the worst.

However, keeping your classic indoors doesn’t mean it’s safe from all the elements. You need to consider the varying temperatures within the building that can wear the vehicle. If the temperature inside fluctuates, it can affect the automobile’s oil, rubber and detailing. Vinyl expands and contracts when extreme levels of heat and cold are present, causing it to crack. Without a steady temperature, your car’s surface can weather.

Storing a classic car in a heated garage is one of the best ways to protect it from the elements. A heated storage area kept at 50 degrees Fahrenheit helps your classic stay in proper condition. It’s also easier to maintain your vehicle in a temperature-regulated area when you need to get to the engine or undercarriage.

If you have an unheated building, it is still significantly better than keeping your car outside. Storing a classic car in an unheated garage requires gravel underfoot instead of concrete. Gravel can control and decrease moisture better when you can’t regulate the temperature on your own terms. If a building has fresh concrete, the composite gives off more moisture than when it’s settled. In any case, you will want to place a plastic tarp underneath your car to insulate the undercarriage from humidity.

storing your car in heated garage

Keeping your classic automobile on a dirt floor is not recommended. But if it’s your only option, place a barrier under the vehicle and tires. Place a tarp underneath as you would in an unheated garage. Then, place plywood or carpet under the tires to avoid dry rot. You will also need to keep the vehicle away from UV rays because prolonged exposure can cause the rubber to crack.

Make sure your storage room has proper ventilation, especially if you plan on painting, starting the engine or draining the gas or oil. You don’t want the toxic fumes to settle in a confined area. Check your space for a vented roof and eaves, along with proper window and door openings to ensure airflow. Does your flooring also have a drainage system? Washing your car inside can come in handy during long-term storage.

Keep a notebook of your storage details and repairs to help when you pull it out or for future buyers. Investing in the ideal storage facility can make the maintenance and storage process more accessible, whether you’re stowing your classic for a few months or several years.

What Materials Do I Need?

storing a car takes maintenance

Storing your classic vehicle involves much more than moving it indoors and throwing a cover over the top. Instead, it takes time and maintenance to prepare it for short or long-term hibernation. You will need to prep the engine, as well as various interior and exterior components. A list of materials to have on hand include:

  • 2x4
  • Baking soda
  • Battery tools
  • Car cover
  • Car wash
  • Diesel or gasoline
  • Engine oil
  • Fogging oil
  • Fuel stabilizer
  • Grease
  • Jack stands
  • Oil filter
  • Pedal jack
  • Rust preventative
  • Silicone spray
  • Transmission, coolant and brake fluids
  • Trickle charger
  • Wax
  • White gas

Each tool, material and piece of equipment is key in adapting your vehicle for storage. It doesn’t matter how long you plan on keeping it off the road — what matters is how you maintain your classic while it’s off-duty. You already work to keep it in immaculate care, so storage is no different.

You may also find that classic cars require specific interior cleaning solutions. Depending on the upholstery fabric and dashboard components, different cleaners will work better. Refer to your manufacturer for the best products. Some may even have tailored solutions for your exact needs. If you choose to go another route, be aware of any harsh chemicals that can fade the fabric or increase the chances of mildew.

How to Prepare the Engine for Storage

maintain the engine during storage

Maintaining your classic car’s engine is fundamental if you want it to start when you’re ready to drive again. If you neglect pre-storage care, your engine can wear and damage over time. It can succumb to rust, corrosion, clogging, freezing, deterioration and even rodent infestations. To preserve the life of your engine, you can take numerous steps such as:

  • Change or top-up the fluids like fuel, oil, brake, coolant and transmission
  • Maintain the battery
  • Seal vents
  • Add protective compounds

By taking the right steps according to the length of storage time, you can prevent any mishaps and keep your classic in good condition through the winter.

Short-Term Engine Maintenance

If you plan on stowing your car for a limited time, start by filling your fuel tank. Topping up your gas will help prevent condensation. Even the smallest amount of humidity can cause the tank to rust, leading to contaminated fluid. Short-term storage also requires you to change your car’s oil and oil filter. It’s best to drain the fluid while the engine is warm because oil can pick up internal pollutants. By flushing out the impurities and high levels of acidity from the old oil, you can sidestep corrosion. Run the engine to circulate the new oil through the system. Polyester oil is also a trusted solution during short-term storage because it bonds to the cylinder walls, coating them to prevent rust and oxidation. 

fill the fuel tank for short term storage

One-Year Engine Maintenance

If you’re storing your classic car for more than three months, you will want to drain the fuel tank completely. Run the car to get any excess gas out of lines. If fuel becomes stagnant for an extended period, it begins to oxidize. Oxidation can clog and varnish your engine’s valves and carburetor.

You can also choose to add white gas and run the engine for several minutes. The liquid will evaporate without leaving residue in the fuel tank and lines, creating a cleaner system. If adding white gas is not an option, add a fuel stabilizer to your regular gas. Run the engine, so the liquid reaches the fuel rails, carburetor, injectors and other components. A full tank of fuel combined with a stabilizer prevents air and moisture from contaminating the fluid and lessens the risk of a rusted tank.

drain the fuel tank for long term storage

Working with a diesel engine is similar to gas. Make sure to flush the old diesel, top up the fluid and add diesel biocide. Run the engine for several minutes to distribute the biocide through the car’s system to help prevent microbes from forming inside the fuel tank.

Storing your classic between three months and a year also requires you to maintain the transmission and coolant fluids. Drain both liquids, as well as the heater hose, then top them up. Make sure you have the right mixture of antifreeze and distilled water. If you’re storing your car during winter, you need the correct winterized solution to prevent the liquid from freezing. You should also leave the radiator cap off and petcock open to encourage air circulation.

Bleed the brakes during engine prep as well and refill them with new fluid to avoid deterioration.

When it comes to prepping your battery, leave it in the vehicle and install a battery tender or trickle charger if power is present. A trickle charger will keep the battery topped up without overcharging it.

Long-Term Engine Maintenance

Engine storage tips from the previous phases are applicable for long-term or indefinite storage. Owners of classic cars looking to store their prized possession for more than one year can start by implementing the following:

  • Coat metal parts of the chassis like the suspension and springs using lithium grease
  • Loosen the V-belts
  • Seal the transmission and differential vents with duct tape

Similar to one-year storage techniques, you will want to drain and refill the cooling system — except this time, you do not want to add water. Make sure you refill the tanks with 100% coolant.

Long-term engine preparation also involves taking out the spark plugs and spraying motor oil into the cylinders to prevent the engine’s bores from rusting. Crank the engine to distribute the oil into the cylinders, then reinstall the spark plugs.

maintaining the engine long term

Your other option is to spray fogging oil into the cylinders as the engine is running until it stalls out. Fogging oil coats engine parts with a protective, anti-corrosive compound. The layer also helps lubricate the pistons.

Unhook the battery from the negative cable first, then the positive. Store it separately from the engine, making sure not to place it anywhere it can freeze like a concrete floor. Keep it off the ground and on a trickle charger.

Storing your classic car starts by preparing your engine for cold weather and extended periods. Whether you’re stowing your automobile for three months or three years, maintaining your collector car will help keep it in pristine condition.

How to Prepare the Exterior for Storage

The exterior components of your classic car demand the same amount of prep as the engine. Maintenance demands a bit more attention to detail when you want to ensure your car lasts through each season. Consider the upkeep of different exterior features such as:

  • Washing and waxing
  • Using a car cover
  • Setting wheel chocks
  • Inflating tires
  • Spraying silicone solution
  • Greasing joints, fittings and bearings
  • Covering all outlets
  • Installing jack stands
  • Depressing the clutch

The longer you need to stow away your car, the more pre-maintenance it requires.

prepare the exterior for storage

Short-Term Exterior Upkeep

Collectors often resort to temporary storage planning when the colder months roll around. Rain, snow, sleet, ice and varying temperatures can get the best of your classic’s exterior.

One of the best things you can do to prep your automobile for storage is to wash and wax it, no matter how long you stow it away. Do this before placing a cover over the top. If the vehicle is dirty, the cover can contact the debris and scratch your car’s paint.

Get rid of road salt, dirt and contaminants resting on the car’s exterior, fenders and undercarriage. Try not to use a high-pressure washer during cleaning to keep soap and water out of the lubrication seals. Rinse off the detergent and soap to avoid any residue.

When everything is clean and dry, crack several windows and put on a form-fitting car cover. The cover should not be loose but fitting to inhibit trapped moisture. If you own a classic convertible, make sure the top is up. Otherwise, compression can cause it to wear and shrink.

wash and wax car before storage

Choosing the right cover fabric is necessary to protect your classic’s surface and paint job. A soft and breathable material like cotton is crucial since it promotes air circulation while remaining gentle on paint.

Avoid cotton-polyester blends and plastic because both materials can trap heat and moisture. They don’t allow the car to breathe and increase the likelihood of rust.

As a final tip, don’t use the parking brake — instead, set wheel chocks behind the tires to take the pressure off the brake. Also, add air to your tires according to the manufacturer’s manual, then slightly overinflate them to compensate for deflation.

One-Year Exterior Upkeep

A more extensive storage plan requires preparation such as:

  • Removing wiper blades
  • Spraying the door, trunk, hood and weather stripping with silicone spray
  • Greasing universal joints, as well as the steering fittings and front wheel bearings

You can do several things to keep out insects and other animals. Place a plastic bag or aluminum foil over the air cleaner and outlet, plus the exhaust pipe and intake duct. Mothballs are another solution to thwart off rodents. Place them in the tailpipe and around your car.

Storing your classic automobile for up to a year places a lot of stress on various components. To avoid unnecessary damage and tension, put the vehicle on jack stands to help prevent flat tires. Taking the pressure off the car also increases the longevity of the suspension system. If the stands are on unsteady ground like gravel, place wood planks under the jacks.

put vehicle on jack stands to avoid damage

Long-Term Exterior Upkeep

For long-term storage, you will also want to place your collector car on jack stands, but this time, take off the tires and stack them between cardboard. If necessary, you can even deflate the tires to keep them from forming flat areas. Since they won’t be used for an extended time, cover the tires with a proper car cover.

If you have a manual classic, you will want to depress the clutch then lock it into position to inhibit the clutch plates from sticking. It also helps prevent moisture from reaching the wheel cylinders. You can depress the clutch by placing a pedal jack or 2x4 between the clutch pedal and the seat.

The final step for exterior maintenance is to coat the brake rotors and brake drums with a rust preventative and to install corrosion-proof brake calipers.

Classic car owners know all too well how much time and effort goes into preserving classic cars, and the effort continues even when placing it in storage.

What Do I Need to Do to the Interior?

what to do to interior to prep for storage

Learning how to store a classic car in the winter is simple when you make the right provisions. While your engine and exterior are at the forefront of your storage concerns, you can’t forget about other crucial components like the car’s interior features. Preparing the inside of you classic necessitates the right cleaning methods and solutions to care for components such as:

  • Upholstery
  • Flooring
  • Windows
  • Dashboard

Even when you’re not storing your classic, cleaning its interior throughout the year will retain the classic’s timeless look.

Short-Term Interior Care

Several ways to store a classic car are to clean the interior upholstery, flooring, windows and dashboard parts. With the right cleaning products and a bit of elbow grease, you can maintain the mint condition of your classic, whether it has cherry detailing or more modern restorations. Before you begin cleaning the inside, replace any worn, cracked or damaged areas.

For short-term storage plans, wipe down your dashboard and steering wheel, vacuum the flooring and dab or vacuum the seating upholstery. You will also want to take any personal items out of the vehicle. In the winter, various things can freeze and burst, and during hotter temperatures, objects can melt, rupture or mold.

preparing the interior for the classic car storage

Giving your car a complete wipe down and clean out will help sustain a fresh environment for you and your passengers.

One-Year and Long-Term Interior Care

If you’re stowing your classic automobile for more than several months, you can take your interior care a step further. Depending on your collector’s interior, it will demand different cleaning techniques. The four materials found in classic cars include:

  • Genuine leather
  • Natural or synthetic fabric
  • Coated fabric
  • Polyurethane foam

You can clean genuine leather and coated fabrics, like vinyl and nylon, by using a dry cloth to remove dust and surface dirt. If a dry cloth doesn’t remove the grime, use cheesecloth with warm water and neutral soap. Lather the soap onto the surface of your upholstery, then remove the cleanser with a damp cloth. Make sure the interior is dry before storing your car.

Fabric care is a bit different compared to leather and vinyl maintenance. Some tips to keep in mind include:

  • Stay away from water solutions — excessive amounts of liquid can remain in the material and cause mold and musty odors
  • Don’t use hazardous chemicals as sanitizing agents
  • Avoid laundry soaps and bleach that can discolor and weaken the fabric

If your classic car has a fabric interior, the best way to clean the material is by vacuuming the dust and dirt. If you find vacuuming doesn’t remove embedded stains, common fabric cleaners include synthetic detergents, colorless liquids and neutral soaps. However, your best bet is to work with an approved car cleaner to maintain the integrity of your interior.

Cleaning polyurethane foam involves a detergent and water solution that you should wipe away with an upholstery cleaner. Make sure you rinse off the solution with a damp cloth.

No matter what type of interior your classic has, make sure to dry the inside using a dehumidifier to ensure no moisture remains.

Car collectors also have to consider how to store a classic car that has a convertible top. Use neutral soap with warm water and a soft-bristle brush. This method also works well with vinyl roofs. Keep the solution from running into the interior and body of the car. Then, rinse the convertible top and let it dry to avoid mildew and wrinkles.

Carpet and window cleaning is also simple. The idea is to remove any dirt, dust, food, hair, stains and other contaminants from the car’s internal features to prevent mold, odors and corrosion.

You can also place baking soda packages in the automobile’s interior and trunk to absorb any moisture. Baking soda will help inhibit mildew and corrosion.

Classic car storage tips for the interior workings of your car reach beyond a quick clean. Make sure you’re working with the correct solutions depending on your interior’s fabric and guarantee the inside is dry before placing the automobile in long-term storage. When you take care of your classic, it will remain untouched through the winter.

What to Do During Storage

After it’s all said and done, your classic is ready for storage — but the job doesn’t end there. Storing a classic car over the winter requires regular maintenance like it would if you drove the car every day. Components to consider when the car is in storage include:

  • Maintaining battery voltage
  • Checking fluids
  • Repairing tarnished sections
  • Lubricating engine parts

Tend to your battery whether you leave it in the engine or store it in a separate area. Make sure to check the fluids such as oil, brake, coolant and transmission, topping them up as necessary. If you turn on your car and the fluid levels are low or empty, it can cause severe engine damage.

storing a classic car over winter requires maintenance

During regular storage upkeep, check for rusted and corroded areas. Treat them right away by applying a lubricant to halt the process and prevent further wear.

While general maintenance holds no matter how long your car is dormant, there are varying theories about starting your car while it’s stored. Many experts claim that running your automobile once per month or every two weeks helps keep the pumps and other engine parts lubricated. Others claim that starting your engine in a dormant state can increase moisture levels and cause corrosion.

Ideally, you should run your car based on your unique situation and ability to ensure moisture is not present. How long will the vehicle be in storage, what type of facility do you have and what do your future driving plans include?

For example, short-term storage often doesn’t require regular startups. Allowing your classic to sit between one to three months won’t affect the engine. For one-year and long-term storage plans, starting your car once a month may match your situation if you have a ventilated storage area. Driving your car throughout the process also may be a possibility depending on the weather. Driving your car a short distance to lubricate the axle and transmission gears is beneficial. But if road salt, snow or rain is present, it may not be the best idea.

If the situation aligns with you to run your car, you need to confirm no condensation is left in the exhaust pipe or crankcase. Let your car idle for several minutes to warm up the engine. As the various components heat up, the high temperatures should evaporate any settled moisture. Make sure to run the car as long as it needs to expel any humidity. Never place your classic back in storage if the water is still dripping from the exhaust.

How to Bring the Car out of Storage

When it’s time to pull the cover off your classic ride, start with a complete inspection of the car. You want to ensure each system is functioning at its top performance level so you can hit the road as soon as possible.

  • Check for damage
  • Refill liquids
  • Inspect undercarriage
  • Grease chassis points
  • Examine the brake system
  • Test the battery
  • General maintenance

Examine the vehicle for signs of damage like chewed belts, hoses or wires, as well as rodent nests. You may have taken the right precautions, but it’s always smart to investigate in case you need to make replacements.

Check the undercarriage for coolant, transmission, oil and brake fluid leaks. Puddles on the floor can also indicate a liquid seeping through the system. If your car was in storage for more than a year, change the oil and oil filter before driving. Drain, flush and refill the coolant and brake fluids as well. The transmission, power steering and differential fluids often don’t need changing.

Because many collectors opt to use fuel stabilizer before placing their cars in storage, you will want to empty the gas tank and refill it with new gasoline. As you’re working with various liquids, dispose of the fluids according to your state’s recycling and disposal regulations.

Once you determine the state of your fluids, check the steering parts, exhaust and other undercarriage components. If your car isn’t already on jack stands, they can be helpful when inspecting the brakes and greasing the chassis points. Make sure you test the brakes before driving because steel brake lines can rust over time and leak. Animals can also chew through the rubber hoses, causing the system to fail.

Test the battery for the correct voltage and charge it for up to 24 hours. Attach the positive cable first, then the negative. Check the battery cables for corrosion, and if your battery fails to hold a charge, replace it.

Depending on short vs. extended storage plans, you may have kept the spark plugs in the engine. If you did, remove them before starting the engine and add oil to the cylinders to lubricate the components. You should also replace the plugs if they are corroded or damaged.

Other tips include:

  • Remove the coverings from the air cleaner, inlet and exhaust pipes
  • Take out the baking soda packets
  • Inspect for leaks inside the car
  • Make sure the tires have the right pressure
  • Check the windshield wipers for cracks

As soon as your classic car is ready to drive, start the engine and let it idle. As it’s warming up, check the internal mechanisms such as the climate control, windshield wipers, horn and lights. Although you already scrutinized the car’s fluids, you may be able to catch leaks you missed before as the car is running. Inspect further under the hood to ensure the belts, hoses and other components are working well.

Once the engine has warmed up, pull the car outside and clean the exterior, looking for blemishes, nicks and rust. Clean the car cover as well to remove settled dust and debris.

Have someone else check the headlights, turn signals, brake lights and flashers. If everything looks good, take it slow for the first mile to ensure proper lubrication of the transmission and rear-end components. Keep an ear out for odd sounds such as a ticking engine, which can show you need a valve adjustment. As you’re driving, also be aware of the gauges.

After your first drive, check again for leaks and make any necessary repairs.

It takes a high level of dedication to keep your classic in a pristine state. Make sure you understand the various degrees of storing and which stages match your circumstances. 

Find the Right Classic Car at Volo Museum Auto Sales

Family-owned and operated since 1960, Volo Museum Auto Sales is the oldest collector car dealer. With four generations to back up our industry experience, we also work to build a relationship with you to ensure you receive an incredible experience. If you’re looking to invest in a new classic for your collection, Volo has a large inventory of vehicles to choose from. Our on-site mechanics inspect each car to certify it’s in the best condition. We also offer post-purchase support, test drives and competitive prices.

Reach out to us online to learn more or fill out our car locator to see if we have what you want. We value your dedication as a classic car collector and are here to help you throughout the storage process.

contact Volo today