Help me store my seven cars for three years

December 1, 2011 | By Richard Prince


I will be taking a job out of the country for the next three years. My “fleet” of seven vehicles spanning 1958 to 2004 can’t come with me so I need to lay them up for three years of storage.

I have heard conflicting theories from generally knowledgeable folks on proper preparations for long-term storage. Everyone is in agreement on a float charger for the battery and Sea Foam in the gas tank.

The divergence of opinion comes on what to do with the tires and suspension, if anything. The three options presented are: 1. Keep the weight on the suspension, but off the tires, i.e. put the car up on blocks at the A-arms and rear spring shackles. 2. Unload the suspension by jacking the car up and putting blocks under the frame, tires can touch the ground but they won’t be carrying weight. 3. Last option—do nothing, the flat spots that form in the tires will work themselves out after a few miles of low speed driving. Buying new tires for all seven of them when I get back could bankrupt me, so I really need to know the pros and cons of the three options. Four of the cars have radial tires and three have bias ply tires.

Is there anything else I would need to do for successful storage? I’ve revived several cars I’ve purchased after anywhere from five to 24 years of storage with no prep by prior owners, and all needed tires, new or boiled-out gas tanks, and a cooling system chemical flush among other things.

My daughter can come down and start the cars every couple of months, but she is not planning to drive them. I apparently scared her enough about their proper care and feeding while she was growing up so she is now afraid to do anything with them.


Three years is a long time to leave cars in storage. In terms of keeping them in good operating condition (assuming they’re already in good operating condition) the best course of action is clearly to run and drive them regularly. Absent having someone to do that, you should take reasonable steps to prevent or at least minimize deterioration.

The fuel is a serious problem. Today’s pump gas will probably not last in your cars’ fuel systems for three years without causing trouble in at least some of them. I’m not a big fan of fuel stabilizer and longevity additives in general, and the brand you mention claims that its product is a fuel stabilizer for “up to two years.” So even if the product works as claimed it will not protect your fuel systems for three years. In my experience, the only fuel that lasts for a very long time without separating, gumming up parts, corroding the tank, and so on is fully leaded racing fuel. If I were in your position I would completely drain the fuel system in each vehicle and either leave them complete drained or, for those vehicles not equipped with catalytic converters and other “modern” emissions control components that can be damaged by the lead, fill the tanks with leaded racing fuel. Filling the tanks with high octane, leaded race gas will not be inexpensive but it will cost far less than fixing the damage that years-old regular pump gas will do.

You state that, “Everyone is in agreement on a float charger for the battery...” and that’s not quite true because I am adamantly opposed to leaving chargers on cars in long-term storage. Why? Because I used to do it and had a very bad experience. (See the above answer.)

Putting that aside, I would strongly advise against leaving any electrical devices plugged in and attached to cars that will remain in storage for three years. Quite simply stated, you can’t have an electrical fire without electricity so regardless of how unlikely a problem is you should weigh the potential downside against the potential upside.

And what is the upside of keeping the batteries charged for three years of storage? Any of the batteries that are already more than a couple of years old will be at or near their normal life expectancy in three years regardless of what you do. So how many batteries are you concerned with saving? If I were in your position and my cars were going to remain un-driven for three years I’d remove all of the batteries, donate whichever ones are already two or more years old to friends and family who can use them, and ask a car buddy to care for the others while I’m away.

As far as the suspension and tires go, I recommend supporting the cars under their chassis and taking nearly all of the mass off the suspension and tires. Just don’t let the suspension hang all the way or you risk damaging shock absorbers and possibly some bushings.

If the engines won’t be running, you should put a healthy dose of oil into each cylinder and if you have the ambition, loosen the valve adjusters to take tension off the valve springs.

Either completely drain the cooling systems or drain, flush and fill them with fresh antifreeze and distilled water.

Completely drain the brake systems and fill them with fresh brake fluid.

Place large drain pans under those vehicles that have automatic transmissions as it is common for fluid to eventually leak out when the units are dormant for a long time.

A dry, temperate, well-sealed structure will go a long way in preventing problems from occurring.

As you no doubt know, mice and other rodents can destroy cars while they are in storage so you should do something to keep the critters away. I’m sorry to say that the best solution is to kill any that get close to the cars. I sometimes wonder if setting traps with yummy bait attracts mice that wouldn’t otherwise be there but that’s a question not worth pondering, so I put the thoughts out of my head and lay down the traps.

If you’re extra ambitious, pull apart all of the electrical connections you can get to and give the contacts a good smear of dielectric grease on the contacts. This will go a long way in preventing corrosion from building up.

Thoroughly clean the interiors and exteriors and cover all of the vehicles to protect the paint from dust.

Do not put rubber or vinyl treatment products on the rubber and vinyl. Some of these will actually ruin the material they are applied to and some will support the growth of mold.