How to prepare your car for storage

  • Most new or nearly-new cars will be fine for a month
  • But older cars benefit from preparation
  • Quick tips and gadgets to store your car without stress

Going on a cruise, an extended stay overseas or coping with the consequences of an unprecedented pandemic? Chances are, you'll want your car to still be in good condition after the extended period of disuse; from three months to a year, there are a few things you can do to make sure it's fit and healthy when you need to use it again.

A few things will help you prepare for storage, though it's possible to store a car for three months without any additional equipment. We've linked to the right categories on Amazon, but you can also get products delivered from Halfords during the UK's measures against Coronavirus COVID-19.

What do you need to think about when storing a car?

To keep the battery from discharging you'll need a trickle charger. A solar charger (10W Eco-Worthy from around £26.99) is ideal if you're parking the car outdoors without access to a powerpoint. A smart charger conditions and tops up the battery, and is a sensible tool to have anyway - these start from around £25 on Amazon as well; much less than a replacement battery.

Connecting a trickle charger to an EV to keep the accessory battery charged

Electric cars need this too – even if the main batteries are fully charged, there's a conventional 12V type that provides power for accessories, door locks and other systems.

Tyres will lose pressure and get flat spots. You should inflate the tyres to 40 PSI, and roll the car back and forth weekly. Allow a couple of feet to roll it around in if you can. A portable tyre inflater will let you top up - many, like this VonHaus for £39, now feature rechargeable batteries so you don't need to start the car.

Get a disposable dehumidifier tub (from £7.98 for five). These inexpensive kits capture moisture from the air and trap it without needing power, and will help prevent the car from smelling damp or getting mould if there are any leaks or blocked drains.

You shouldn't need to do anything with the fuel and fluids for a 12-week break – though do check there are no leaks, and if the period of storage is longer than a year lower-quality petrol can go stale, making the car harder to start. For that reason we recommend not leaving too much petrol in the tank – about quarter is fine – making it easier to add fresh fuel.

If you have a classic car, look for specialist advice, as leaving less fuel in can cause moisture and rust in older metal tanks.

It's worth investing in a good car cover - from around £30. One that will cover the glass and roof is enough to protect the interior from sunlight, but a full cover is advisable when storing under trees or bushes where sap and bird lime will be a risk to the paintwork. Don't just use a tarpaulin! There's no harm in using a tarp over a cover for belt-and-braces protection though.

You should leave a window open slightly to aid ventilation; cover it with a window net or a pillowcase. If you're worried about theft or damage to the car, particularly if it's parked outside on a solid driveway or carpark, it should be okay for a few months with the windows closed.

If your car is stored somewhere insecure, particularly with public access, it's worth investing in a highly visible steering wheel lock. Diskloks are the best, but at £129 might be a bit much for short term use - the Stoplock at £29,99 will be enough to deter casual interest and opportunists.

If you're storing on the road, your car needs to have a current MoT for the duration of the storage (from 30 March 2020, MoT expiry dates are extended by six months so there's no need to worry if it expires during exceptional measures), be kept taxed, and have visible number plates. Conversely, if you're storing on secure private land, you can declare the car SORN and if the MoT lapses, it's not an issue – you can still drive it to the garage to get it tested.

Some insurance policies offer laid-up cover at a much reduced rate, if you have a garage or secure storage.

How to prepare the car for storage

If you can, make sure the car has been recently serviced; at the very least make sure the oil is clean and at the correct level, the oil filter is recent, and the coolant does not need replacing (it has chemicals in to prevent corrosion inside the engine).

Clean coolant isn't a cause for concern. If it's murky pink/red, black, or dark green/blue, it should be changed. Green/blue coolant is harmful to wildlife if it leaks

It's worth cleaning the car thoroughly, and waxing, if you can. It'll protect the paint, and it gives you a chance to make sure all the door seals, window rubbers and wipers are in good condition. It's more important to make sure the drain holes below the windscreen and for the roof on a convertible are clear – particularly if storing outdoors.

Windscreen vents below the wipers should be kept clear of debris

Open the bonnet and clear out any leaves and debris. Run water down the windscreen – it should run out underneath, rather than pooling.

Cars with air conditioning have an additional drain, where moisture condenses and runs away below the car. It may not be accessible, but if you can see a rubber drain in the space behind the engine, squeeze it a couple of times.

Once you know the car is free of water traps, is clean and waxed if you have time, you can store it.

What to do when storing the car

If putting it in covered storage, make sure it's dry first. If you're storing in winter when roads are salted, make sure you've washed and dried the car even more thoroughly.

Switch off everything that tries to start up when you switch the car on – fans, air conditioning, radio and interior lights/automatic headlights and wipers. Check heated rear window and heated seat switches are off, too.

If you have a car that drops the windows when you open the door, leave them dropped slightly.

Wipe everything with an antibacterial cloth – and clean up any sticky spills of melted sweets or drinks; they'll go mouldy if left unattended.

You can disable an electric parking brake, like the one in this Renault Zoe, to prevent the brakes from sticking on

Leave the handbrake off, and put blocks of wood or wedges to stop the wheels turning - unless you plan on returning to the car regularly and releasing the brake yourself. Most cars with electric handbrakes have a mode where you can lock the brake off – check your owners manual or Google, as the procedure varies.

If you have an automatic car, check that it can start in neutral and leave it there if it can. Many autos won't be able to move out of park if the battery is flat, so trickle-charging is particularly important here.

Fit your steering lock, if you have one.

Most cars have easy to access battery terminals, clearly marked - even electric cars have a 12V battery

Connect your trickle charger – directly to the battery or jump-start terminals if you can – lock the car, and take a set of pictures so you can keep an eye on tyres and environmental damage. Put the cover on, if you have one, and say goodbye!

Looking after your stored car

Go out weekly and check for leaks under the car that might not have been noticed before. Pay attention to antifreeze in particular – it's toxic to wildlife.

If safe to do so, remove the wheel blocks and roll it forward or backward. Remember that the brakes will need a lot of force with the engine off, so don't risk it on slopes.

If it's not covered with a car cover, wash any bird droppings or tree sap off, and clear the wipers of leaves and dirt.

Check your trickle charger is working. If in doubt, disconnect it and let the car run for 15 minutes - but don't start the car needlessly, it's worse for it than just letting it sit.

Dream of when you're able to drive it again, and play some driving simulators.

More car storage advice from Parkers

>> How to start your car after storage

>> How to declare SORN or tax your car online

>> Coronavirus: COVID-19 advice for drivers