Just kidding. I don't own a car!
September 1, 2011 3:16 PM   Subscribe

I just bought a new car! It's a 2011 Honda Civic EX sedan; AM/FM/CD stereo system, moon roof, the works! I just drove it home from the dealer and my plan is to park it my garage and not drive it again for fifty years. Any tips on making this work?

As you can guess, I don't own this car or have this plan. My question is how best to go about mothballing a car for an extended period of time and keeping it in as close to perfect shape as possible.

My uncle once told me a story about cleaning out a neighbor's garage in Chicago in the 1980's; the neighbor had died and had been quite a hoarder. In the garage, hidden under mountains of crap, they found an old Plymouth from the late 1940s that started right up and could be driven out into the alley after the spark plugs were changed out. This may be an apocryphal story, but it got me thinking.

So if I bought a new car and wanted to preserve it for fifty years or so, what would be the best way to do that? Ideally, the car could be driven at the moments notice (so no removing the engine or tires) but would draining the gas tank help? removing the battery?

I look forward to your ideas!
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
An expat describes what they did to mothball their car for a period of 1-2 years - it should be mostly applicable (there are some continuous maintenance steps that you would want to follow).
posted by muddgirl at 3:20 PM on September 1, 2011

First and foremost, make sure to keep water out!
posted by The Deej at 3:22 PM on September 1, 2011

Put the car inside. Make sure the area is relatively dry or install a dehumidifier. Maybe also a heater to prevent the room getting below freezing for any extended period. The more stable the temperature, the easier it is to prevent problems.

Fuel: Drain the fuel cell - petrol goes crappy after a few years. Run the car until it runs out of fuel to empty the rail and engine internals of fuel. There may be fuel stabilisers that will help in the relatively short term, but I'd just drain it. or ignore it for less than two years (leave the fuel tank relatively low and fill with new fuel to dilute the old crap when you want to start it).

Tyres: If you are storing the car for more than 5 years, then just over-inflate them and leave them where they are. After that length of time they'll be crap anyway so there's not much point trying to save them in any way in terms of time and effort. You may as well just let them sit there and buy new ones when you want to run it. Chances are they'll be ok to drive to the nearest tyre shop anyway. If you're storing the car less than 5 years, then I'd take them off and store them out of direct sunlight or just move the car every few months (just back and forth a few yards).

Engine: Spray a light oil over all the surfaces and shut the bonnet (hood to you, possibly). Not WD40 (it evaporates) but Duck Oil or similar. This will protect all the fasteners and the like.

Water system: Strong concentration of anti-freeze will prevent corrosion.

Battery: If storing more than 5 years, take it off and sell it. Chances of it being crap by that time are extremely high anyway. Just buy a new one when you want to move it again.

Basically, there's only so much you can do. Make the environment as benign as possible and remove the things that kill cars (rust, prolonged moisture, UV rays etc).
posted by Brockles at 3:29 PM on September 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also, totally ignore the advice on that ex-pat page for 'spraying WD40 in the engine' through the aprak plug holes. That's horrifically bad advice (although the intention is good). WD40 will wash the oil off the internals and then evaporate. This will be bad. Any light oil would have been better - Duck Oil, 3 in 1 oil, anything really. It just needs to coat the internals a bit.
posted by Brockles at 3:37 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

"...they found an old Plymouth from the late 1940s that started right up and could be driven out into the alley after the spark plugs were changed out..."

They didn't necessarily find a Plymouth that hadn't been driven since the 40's only one that was made in the 40's. I doubt the battery would work, or the gas would be good after 50 years. I don't think you can do anything, other than routine maintenance, that would allow you to drive it out of the garage 50 years later (with only changing the spark plugs...)
posted by pwb503 at 4:20 PM on September 1, 2011

Additionally, spark plugs are pretty robust. If they went south from just being stored, then something else will have been more prone to giving up. I think that story is significantly incomplete.
posted by Brockles at 4:22 PM on September 1, 2011

Fuel: Drain the fuel cell - petrol goes crappy after a few years.

I'm sure you are correct, but I also heard that an empty fuel tank promotes condensation, which will in turn likely promote rust. "I heard" doesn't count for much, though, I'm just throwing it out there like an old cat.

Also, I imagine that most of the rubber components in the engine (and anywhere else) would be quite rotted to pieces after half a century.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:40 PM on September 1, 2011

Assuming the room is not in direct sunlight and the temp is kept constant, what happens to all the plastic (body panels, interior plastics, light covers, etc)? I have a vision of a perfectly clean car with lots of white oxidized plastic parts. Is there any kind of sealer for that?
posted by doctor_negative at 4:42 PM on September 1, 2011

Note: WD-40 doesn't evaporate; that's a myth. While WD-40 is about 50% mineral spirits which will evaporate in just a few days, it's also about 15% mineral oil which will evaporate sometime very long after you're dead. It's not the best spray oil in the world, but it does, in fact, leave a proper oil coat. (For long-term metal preservation, something like LPS-3 or another cosmoline clone is key, but you have to make a proper job of cleaning it off when you're ready to use the item.)

Also, never ever run the fuel lines dry on a diesel engine. Flushing air out of the fuel lines is a hugely royal pain.

The basic story for conservation: dry, dry, dry, cool but not too cold, minimize temperature fluctuations. In most environments, expect the car to accumulate mouse nests and excrement in the interior. Plan accordingly.
posted by introp at 4:54 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you are not going to move it, put it up on jackstands so there is no weight on the tires and suspension. This will preserve the tires a little longer and keep the springs from taking a set, and the bushings will be in a little better shape. I would get some gas that is 100% actual gas, not 10% ethonal and fill up the tank and run the engine lone enough to make sure all the ethonal mix is out of the lines. Ethonal is hydroscopic (it likes to hold on to water) and will promote rust and rot and fungus in your lines. 100% gas does not. Put in some stabilizier and it might be able to run for several years on it. Half empty or empty gas tanks to tend to rust. You might need to replace the filter and injectors after several years of being full of gas, but you might not either, gas can be a little unpredictable. Disconnect and remove the battery so it won't corrode or outgas or anything under the hood. put new synthetic oil in the engine and run it just enough to coat everything. I wouldn't put anything else in the oil or spark plug holes. Modern cars are well sealed and don't really need it if they have good oil. Put in a couple of anti-corrision additive bottles in the radiator. as long as you have 50/50 water-antifreeze mix you will be good for like -50. Make sure the windows are up and the doors shut good and put something over the vents right in front of the windshield to prevent stuff getting in their.
posted by bartonlong at 6:10 PM on September 1, 2011

Note introp's warning of mouse nests! It was *extremely* difficult to get rid of the smell when mice nested in our stored auto. I stripped everything out, then pressure-washed with hot water and industrial cleaners, and still the smell lingered. I wish I'd left access for the cat to the car.
posted by anadem at 8:37 PM on September 1, 2011

Rodents and water are your biggest enemies, as noted above. Water can be liquid or just high humidity, which will kill the car just as fast.

I have a motorbike I restored which had be left to sit for 30 years. A couple of interesting things: Because no one had turned the engine or gearbox around, the internals were all in great condition below the oil level and in terrible condition above it. I'd say the best thing you could do to preserve the mechanical pieces would be to turn the engine, gearbox, wheels and other rotating parts regularly; don't run the car, though, as a few minutes at a time isn't great for it.

I personally would probably drain the cooling system; but modern coolants have pretty good corrosion protection.

If I couldn't turn the mechanical bits around regularly, I would be very tempted to fill everything which takes oil up to the tippy-top and leave notes around saying "over-filled, drain and refill before starting!"

I'm not convinced putting the car on blocks is any better than not; when the suspension is hanging on its stops, you're putting a lot of unusual strain on components designed to be stressed in the other direction. I imagine the ideal compromise would be to place supports under the car which take a lot of the weight but leave the suspension components somewhere close to the usual geometry.

Definitely get rid of the battery, it will eventually leak and that will be bad. A/C systems will undoubtedly lose their charge, I'm not sure what the best way to preserve those are.

And as someone noted, time is simply going to kill some of the rubber and plastic bits, and on a modern car, I wouldn't be putting a lot of money on the electronics surviving well over time, no matter how benign the environment.

All in all, I bet you could preserve the big metal pieces indefinitely; it's going to be the soft trim and fancy gadgets that will be the hardest hit by entropy.
posted by maxwelton at 11:03 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fascinating! Thanks, everyone!
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 2:42 PM on September 2, 2011

« Older What is this damn loud ass bug?   |   Front Yard Fruiting Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.