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Who is right--long term car storage

We are moving from LA to NY and need to either ship our 2008 mazda5 across the country (so we can use it in NY) or park it in LA for a few months (3-6 months). I said it’s not good for a car to be parked for such a long period without being driven, my husband disagreed.

Nothing terrible will happen to a car parked 3-6 months. When you return, simply charge up the battery or get a jump start. Then you drive off as always. The car will respond as it always has done.

If you have the option of leaving the Mazda in LA and occasionally renting a car in NY, that would be a better choice then bringing the Mazda along simply for its own protection.

In addition to what Steve suggested, I will add that you should fill the gas tank and add a bottle of fuel stabilizer to the tank when you park it. A full tank will be less likely to build up condensation, and the fuel stabilizer will keep the gas from causing a build-up of varnish in the tank and the fuel system.

If you have a trusted person to drive it 5 miles, once a week, that would be best. There may be car services which will “walk” your car once a week. Check Yellow Pages.

If you are going to be in new york city most, or all of your time, it’d be better to just leave the car at home. The kind of stop and go traffic in the city would probably be worse on the car than just letting it sit.

While it certainly will not hurt, I would consider it a minor consideration for a car being stored for less than four months.

Likewise it is not a bid deal, but I would disconnect the battery (make sure you have any security codes you might need later) and remove it from the car. That is better for the battery (no drain) and it also makes the car more difficult to steal. BTW remember that you can cancel the expensive part of your auto insurance while you are away, unless you are going to need it for driving rentals etc. Check with your agent.

Storage for 3-6 months is not a big deal unless it is really humid or there are dramatic temperature changes where you are storing it. I would just turn off the key and walk away, and expect it to start normally when I returned. If I suspected an electrical drain (more stuff running than just the clock), I would disconnect the battery for a six month storage so I would be confident that it would crank when I returned. Storage for a year or more is when you start to get worried about condensation, fuel degradation, and so forth.

In the midwest, we have multiple farm implements that sit for 8-10 months every year between uses, and we just pull them in the shed and turn them off. Admittedly, most of them are diesels, which are a bit more tolerant of long term storage than gasoline vehicles.

Unless you can keep it charged, plan on buying a new battery when you get back. The battery will only hold charge for a few week, a month at most, then the small currents the electronics draw will have completely discharged it.

And car batteries don’t respond well to a complete discharge, they die.

You can get a solar cell charger for $20-50 that plugs into your cig lighter socket and will keep it charged, if you can put the charger somewhere it gets a few hours of sun per day. Or if it’s in a garage, get a $20 trickle charger that plugs into 120 volts and will keep it charged.

And put in fuel stabilizer, and you are all set.

Of course then you would need to keep your insurance active.

[b] The battery will only hold charge for a few week, a month at most [/b] 

My experience is different.  Most cases you can count one at least a month with the battery connected and at least 6 months with the battery disconnected.  If you use a battery tender as you suggested, that will eliminate the problem.

“You can get a solar cell charger for $20-50 that plugs into your cig lighter socket and will keep it charged, if you can put the charger somewhere it gets a few hours of sun per day.”

That is a very good idea, but of course, it will only work if the cigarette lighter socket is always “hot”, even when the ignition is off. Alternatively, there may be some solar chargers that can be connected directly to the battery terminals.

I agree with those who are concerned with the battery. Some recent cars have little battery power drain when parked and others have more; enough to kill the battery in a month; you could ask your dealer about it or if you are handy with a digital multimeter, you could measure it yourself and post back here with the number. Mine is done in a month with a 75 ma drain. If you have power nearby, an option other than disconnecting the battery or a solar charger is to use a 25 dollar battery tender, not a trickle charger.

Vehicle engines do not have to be periodically exercised in my experience. Parking under cover where there is frequent rain is good as is a locking gas cap as appropriate. In the bad old days with carburetors and before fuel injection, starting after long term parking could be difficult as the volatile portion of the fuel in the carburetor needed for easy starting would evaporate off. With fuel injection, this evaporation does not happen. My fuel injection car starts after 5 months of summer storage like it was last run yesterday. I use no gasoline stabilizer.

It’s only about 3000 miles to NY from LA. You could drive it and enjoy an adventure along the way, and on the way back (it looks like your NY adventure is 3 to 6 months). Consider the cost of leasing a car in NY if you need one (no way in the city). If it’s NYC, it will cost a lot to park the Mazda and may not be worth it. The only place that you should consider relying only on public transportation is NYC. Otherwise, take the car, even if you live in NJ or CT and take the train to work.

BTW, it’s hard to offer advice. NYC is just a couple of percent of the area of NY at most. It’s a big state, and only in NCY should you forgo a car.

75 mA is a lot of drain, but if I did the math correctly in my head, that still works out to 1 year of storage to completely drain a moderately-sized car battery - or about 9 months to a no-start condition. With a 75 mA drain, you would want to disconnect the battery for a six month storage.

Also, though I said above that six months is no big deal, I should add, in the interest of full disclosure, that sitting still is not particularly good for used car batteries. The acid tends to stratify, particularly if they are discharged, which causes chemical reactions that degrade battery life. This chemistry is the source of the old wive’s tale about concrete floors and batteries. It is not the concrete, it is the sitting still and the temperature differential that stratifies the acid solution and kills the battery.

Batteries live longer if they are kept charged and they get giggled around every so often.

Everyone is very concerned about the battery, but in 3 months you could develop flat spots on your tires. These might be hard to work out - that is, they might be permanent.

Try inflating the tires to the max sidewall pressure just before parking it - and don’t forget to lower the pressure when you get back.

3 months is nothing and 6 is just starting to get to the point where putting Stabil into the gas is a good idea. The battery will probably be fine if you disconnect it. The worst thing you could do is have someone drive 5 miles once a week or so. Just park it. It will be fine.