While we’re all sheltering in place, we’ve come to realize how much this adversity has affected nearly every function of our daily lives. Staying in and limiting our trips to stores for essential supplies is certainly the best course of action, but we’re now seeing unexpected outcomes from doing so and I’m not talking about all our canceled events. Staying in means we aren’t driving our cars regularly, if at all, and our ‘fun’ cars that have been in storage since the first cold weather last year will be in hibernation even longer. We know that the latest reports don’t have a definite date for the re-opening of states, but it’s a good idea to prepare. Just like taking precautions against spreading or contracting COVID-19, we need to ensure our cars are ready for use again. We are here to help you with that. Here is our checklist of all the maintenance, service, and inspections you need to perform to guarantee your cars are ready when we get to enjoy them.
You will fall into one or both of the two sections here depending on your car situation. If you just have the trusty daily driver that has been stagnant for a few weeks to a few months, pay attention to the first section where we will outline your checklist. For those of you with cars that have been stored since late fall last year, you’ll want to follow the entire guide since it will all apply. Let’s dig in.
Short-Term Storage Checklist
Storing a car for a few weeks isn’t going to be extremely detrimental, especially if it has seen at least some driving during that time. However, that doesn’t mean it’s perfectly ready for normal use, especially if our shelter-in-place orders persist longer. Here’s what you should check and what you may need to address.
Before you do anything, you’ll need to know if your car will start and run as it should. When modern cars sit, they don’t entirely turn off power to everything unless the battery has been removed. There are systems that run in the background and eventually will drain your battery if it has not experienced a charging cycle by running and driving in a while. You can use a Voltmeter to check the voltage at your battery if you haven’t had it on a trickle charger/tender since parking it. If you see less than 12v, you know your battery is draining or drained. German cars, especially BMWs, don’t like jump starts. Jump starting your car should be a last resort. Grab a Schwaben Battery Charger and bring your battery back to full charge before you try to start your car so your alternator doesn’t work overtime.
If you didn’t follow this advice and already experienced some weirdness as a result of low voltage, you may notice a few check system/check engine lights. This is your alternator working too hard to charge the system and keep all your electronics working. You should check those codes with a Schwaben Scan Tool, but they’re more than likely the result of a weak battery. Go ahead and recharge it with the battery tender before you do any more starts and clear those codes.
You may notice, especially with an outdoor-stored car, that your brake rotors have a hearty coating of rust on the surface. Don’t panic: that’s fairly normal. Most modern rotors have a coating to prevent rust, but that wears over time. Unless you see distinct pitting, scoring, or notice a thick ‘lip’ around the edge of the rotor, they’re fine. By driving the car and using the brakes, that rust will wear right off and leave shiny rotors underneath.
However, if your brakes have stuck and seized, you have a different problem. It is time to replace your calipers, pads, and rotors in that case. Assembled by ECS Brake Service Kits are your best bet here. Some folks just do the bare minimum and replace stuck caliper slides or rebuild the seals in the stuck caliper, but the fact is, if one has stuck, the others are probably due for service as well. Just replace them all and ensure you won’t have to worry about it if you find that one or more of your calipers has seized.
If your e-brake has been up the entire time, it may also have become stuck. You can adjust it easily, but it may be time for new e-brake pads. With electronic parking brake cars, you can use the Schwaben Scan Tool to actuate the e-brake repeatedly to unstick it as well.
Details, details, details:
Give your car a bath! If you’ve disinfected the interior, you definitely need to rejuvenate any leather or vinyl that could have been dried by the disinfecting alcohol-based products. Washing and detailing your car will ensure your paint and trim isn’t harmed by dust, pollen, tree sap, or whatever may have accumulated on it, depending on where it has been parked. We suggest you perform a full detail. In this case, especially if it has been outside, you’ll need to rinse the car well and use multiple buckets to prevent any material or gunk you pull from the car so it doesn’t contaminate your wash mitt or sponges.
Ideally, a pre-rinse followed by a foam cannon and a followup rinse is your best bet. Foam cannons coat the car and allow you to wash most of the particles that you may or may not see off the car before you even touch it with a sponge.
With three buckets, one for soapy water, one for rinsing, and one for rinsing your wheel cleaning brushes, you can further ensure nothing will scratch your paint.
A wax should follow the wash for the exterior. If you want to take it a step further, ceramic coating your paint is an excellent way to keep it clean and free of contaminants.
After the exterior, move into the interior. Leather protectants, cleaners, and softeners are your friends here. If you’ve done the right thing and disinfected your car at all, you’ll certainly need them. Your steering wheel, e-brake handle, seats, and other leather/vinyl areas may already exhibit some drying from disinfectant wipes. Bring the softness and condition of the leather to factory-fresh with a proper interior detailing and leather treatment.
Whether your car has been sitting for six weeks or six months, your wiper blades might have stuck to the glass. Before you use them, inspect them! If they’re cracking, peeling, or look to be in poor condition, it’s a good idea to replace them with fresh blades so they work when you need them to.
Tires and Tire Pressure:
Sitting for a few weeks as the temperature has risen may have changed the pressure in your tires. Before you go for a drive, check all four tires, and ensure they are at the correct pressure. If you don’t know what that pressure is supposed to be, check your driver’s door jamb. There will be a manufacturer’s sticker that indicates front and rear pressure for summer and winter, as well as the same chart in your owner’s manual.
While you’re checking the pressure, also inspect the tires for cracking or dry rotting. This likely won’t happen in such a short time, but if you have old tires, this may have been the last bit of time they needed to become unusable. If you find your tires have developed cracking or hardness, you will need to replace them. Our wheel and tire program is the perfect way to grab a new set of wheels and tires already mounted and balanced so all you have to do is throw them on your car and drive.
Lastly, flat spots may have developed on the bottom of your tires if your car hasn’t moved in weeks at all. This isn’t the end of your tires (unless they’ve dry-rotted) but you might notice during your first drive that your car feels like it has imbalanced wheels, like they’ve thrown a wheel weight. You’re likely feeling flat spots. Just drive the car around a bit at city speeds and let them round back out. You’ll be fine. Unless they’re dry-rotten, in which case, refer to the previous paragraph.
It’s always a good idea to check fluids regularly. Whether your car has been sitting a few weeks or a few months, you should still check them. If you don’t remember the last time you serviced any of those systems, you might want to go ahead and do so now before you drive it. If your car hasn’t been sitting for long, it’s probably fine, but if you want to be safe, this is the best time to address those systems so you can start fresh. We suggest:
LIQUI MOLY engine flush, oil service, and CERATEC treatment. The engine flush will clean out any carbon buildup or sludgy oil, which will drain with your old oil. New oil with their CERATEC additive will then have a clean engine to lubricate, which makes it more efficient and effective at protecting your metal surfaces and bushings from premature wear. Assembled by ECS Oil Service Kits are a great place to start.
Brake Fluid level
Brake fluid is only designed to last two years and perform as advertised. If you don’t remember your last brake fluid flush, now is a good time to do it. You can do this with a friend’s help, but if you don’t want to be near anyone for a while, we understand. Our Schwaben Brake Fluid Pressure Bleeder allows you to pressure bleed the brake system by yourself with ease.
Assembled by ECS coolant service kits are the easiest way to bring your coolant system back up to snuff. You may just need a coolant flush, but you could need everything from a water pump and thermostat to new hoses and a new radiator. The longer your car sits, the more brittle that stuff becomes. Your thermostat could have become stuck, as could your water pump. In this case, it’s probably better to be proactive than reactive. If anything, our national response to the situation that spurred all this should be proof enough for that course of action.
Power Steering Fluid Level
Check this system for any leaks at the reservoir, pump, or lines just like the cooling system. If you notice gunky buildup or drips, you should probably service it. If your fluid is low, you might notice a whining or a heavier steering feel. That means your pump is working overtime and will quickly burn up. It’s best to top it off if it looks low and prepare to replace any leaking components.
Long Term Storage Checklist:
If your car has been in hibernation for six months or longer, you have a few extra things to check. Of course, you need to go through the short-term checklist and perform those inspections/services, but these additional considerations likely apply to you as well.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Storage:
Depending on where you stored your car, you may have more to check. If you stored your car outside, especially on grass, gravel, or concrete, you should check for any moisture buildup and rust spots starting. It’s a good idea to tackle those early.
Whether your car was inside or outside this whole time, you should also make sure to check for any evidence of bugs or rodents. Look for tufts of fur or wadded up fabric materials, mouse poop, or nests of any kind. Mice and squirrels love to chew wires and can use just about everything inside your car to build nests. Because wiring looms are cased in soy-based casings, they attract mice. If you notice anything that indicates you might have hosted an uninvited winter resident, be prepared to look out for shorts or wiring faults. Pay attention to all your systems for a while and make sure you don’t blow any fuses. If you do find that you have some new electrical gremlins, bust out your trusty voltmeter and start tracing.
If your car has been sitting for months or even longer, you should check underneath the car for any new leaks. Oil spots, coolant, power steering, etc. You will, of course, check your fluid levels, but you’ll need to see where the puddle is to start searching for any leaks that have developed. If you were proactive, you placed a piece of cardboard or a tarp underneath your car before storing it for the winter, which will hold the leaking fluid in place and give you a good idea of what might have started leaking.
Modern gasoline has a short shelf life. While it depends on a few external factors, any gas that has been left stagnant for longer than seven to nine months is probably bad. You don’t want to start your car with that old fuel in your system, as it could foul your injectors and clog your filters. With the Schwaben Fluid Extractor or just a simple hand-pump siphon, you can remove any gas in your tank. Add new gas and throw in a LIQUI MOLY injector cleaner additive for good measure before you start your car again. It may need to prime for a while, so just be patient. Let the pump prime and then go for that first crank.
While your car sits, your filters like the engine air filter, cabin air filter, and fuel filters are possibly aging and collecting dust. It’s not likely that they will deteriorate by just sitting, but if you don’t remember the last time you changed your filters or cleaned any reusable ones, you should replace them. Old filters can collect moisture and become moldy. Moldy, dirty, uncleaned air entering your cabin is obviously not ideal.
This is more critical for those who stored their cars outside. Inspect the weather stripping around your windows and door sills. Look for cracking, dry-rotting, and shrinking as indicators that they have worn out. If you find that they have, you might notice the inside of your car is now damp and no longer keeps water from finding a way inside the cabin. Not addressing the weather stripping is one of the fastest ways to guarantee your car starts to rust from the inside-out; and quickly. It is imperative that you inspect your weather stripping and seals. Replace them if they are worn out. Seriously.
The key takeaways of this checklist are as follows:
Check battery voltage
Check fluids (oil, coolant, power steering, brake fluid)
Wash, wax, disinfect, detail
Long Term Storage Extras:
Check gasoline/injector cleaner
Check for leaks
Check for evidence of rodents/bugs
If you follow this guide and hit all the points on the checklist, you will be ready to drive your car without worry. While we’re all stuck at home, it’s a great opportunity to go ahead and tackle a lot of this maintenance so when we are ready to drive again you don’t have much to do before jumping in your car for a drive.
Tools used in this article: