We would all love to use our competition cars all year around, but the lengths of championships, as well as budget and family pressures mean this rarely happens – With the exception of a lucky few who compete every weekend and live and breathe motorsport. It would be lovely if you could just put the car away and then bring it the next season ready to go, with nothing left to do. Unfortunately, there are many things that can deteriorate when the car is put into storage. The steps below will lessen any issues after hibernation.
The first step is to give the car a thorough clean and degrease, followed by a thorough drying; a warm dry day with a bit of a breeze is ideal. A clean car means that any issues will show up much easier, many of which will be spotted during a thorough clean. A hand wash is preferable for this reason. A good bodywork wax will keep the paint protected. Other materials such as leather can be protected with an appropriate polish or cleaner. The engine bay should be cleaned with a good degreaser, and this will highlight any leaks that require attention. A gentle wash off with a hosepipe is better than a power washer, as these can force water where it should not go and mean it will take much longer to dry off.
Exposed steel or alloy will corrode if exposed to air and moisture, and this will be worse if the car storage space is damp. Any exposed steel that is normally painted, plated or powder coated should be refinished to prevent the problem spreading. Metal finishes such as chrome or nickel plating can be covered with corrosion protection spray or covered with a good quality metal polish.
Engine & gearbox
The oil and filter should be changed, and a high-quality oil used as these tend to cling to engine components. Used oil can hold lots of nasties, so you don’t want to leave it festering in the engine! The gearbox oil should be changed as well, and all gears then run though to make sure the oil clings to each gear. The same applies to the differential if separate. Older cars that are not very oil-tight are worth sitting over a drip tray or oil drainer. Spill kits can clear up any mess if you forget.
There are two schools of thought on fuel: the fuel system can be drained as this will prevent fuel lines and seals being damaged by harmful additives such as ethanol, but the only downside is that the fuel system is exposed to air and this can cause corrosion issues. The alternative is to fill the system with fresh fuel and add a fuel stabiliser that will protect all the parts likely to be affected.
If the car is to be stored in a cold area, it would be wise to check the anti-freeze strength and replace if necessary. The anti-freeze also protects against system corrosion. In addition, it might be a good opportunity to replace with a waterless coolant. Brake and clutch fluid levels should be checked and, if not replaced recently, a change is recommended. This will remove any water that would otherwise cause corrosion. If possible, it is worth running the engine up to temperature every few weeks as this will circulate the oil and further protect the components.
The battery should be fully charged before storage and preferably completely disconnected from the car electrics to prevent any current drain. A typical race battery will stay in charge for a long time if isolated, due to its low internal resistance. However, a good battery conditioner will both fully charge and maintain the charge while the car is stored. It is worth checking the voltage during the storage period to check it is being maintained correctly, as some budget systems do not fully charge the battery, and this can cause the battery to sulphate over a long period.
The handbrake should be left off if fitted, as the friction material can corrode to the disc or drum. Brake pads, shoes and brake lines should be inspected and replaced as necessary. A change of brake fluid will remove any moisture that can cause internal corrosion.
The condition and expiry date of the harnesses should be checked and replaced if necessary. Harnesses are normally easy to remove, so they can be stored separately if the storage area is damp. The fire extinguisher cable or electrics are worth disconnecting or disabling and the service date checked. It’s best to have these serviced in the quiet period rather than three days before the first meeting!
The seat or seats should be checked for any damage and the material cleaned if necessary. The dates should also be checked if applicable. The electrical cut out wiring should be checked to make sure that there are no breaks in the insulation and that the wires are not loose. It is a good idea to cut out the electrics for storage to stop any current draw, and this doubles as a security measure if the key is removable.
The wheels, tyres and bearings should be checked for damage and replaced if necessary. Availability of competition tyres is generally better off season, so it’s better to order then rather than leave it until the pre-season rush. Tyres should be inflated to normal pressures and the vehicle lifted off the ground or put onto a tyre flat stopper, so that the tyre does not go out of shape. If the tyre is likely to be in direct sunlight, it is a good policy to cover or remove it and store in a dark dry area.
Location, Location, Location
The most important requirement is that the storage area is as dry as possible. If this is not achievable then good airflow will help, either by careful ventilation or enclosing the car in its own dry ventilated enclosure. This can be an indoor or outdoor car storage enclosure. A dehumidifier can also help but care must be exercised not to dry things too much; rubber seals, leather seats and anything made of vinyl or soft plastic can become brittle and crack, as well as anything made with wood, such as veneer dashboards, which can warp and in turn force the veneer to crack.
A good car shelter will dry out a wet car and you can help keep it dry by constant monitoring. The storage floor should ideally be concrete, preferably painted, or with floor tiles to stop moisture corroding the underside. If the floor is earth or damp, putting down a tarpaulin or ground sheet is a good policy. This also makes accessing the underneath of the car much easier. Axle or chassis stands are useful to allow safe working on the car and improving airflow underneath. If you decide to use a cover, make sure it is breathable and not too tight fitting, otherwise it can stop air flowing. Access to safe electrical power is useful for battery conditioners, lighting or car enclosures, and particularly useful if you wish to work on the car while stored.
Security is, of course, another important consideration. Good locks are invaluable and making any attempted entry noisy and time consuming will help to put off the opportunist. A good outside light with a PIR sensor will also help stop undesirables doing their worst in darkness. If the garage has windows covering these with curtains or using reflective film can stop any unwelcome attention. A garage alarm is a great idea as thieves do not like noise alerting people to their presence.
If the car is being stored with the wheels off, it is a good idea to store these out of sight or, even better, elsewhere. A car without wheels is unlikely to go far, especially if the steering wheel is removed as well. Thought should be given to those tiny four-legged critters that can chew on wiring, plastics, trim, seats, brake and fuel line and also make cosy nests in your induction system. If this has been an issue for you before, traps or preventative sprays can help.
In summary, thoughtful storage will keep the car ready to use and holds it value, with the added benefit that there will be much less to do next season. Hopefully this gives you a good idea of how to store your competition car during the off-season, but if you have any vehicle storage tips and observations of your own, we’d be only too happy to hear them!