"Places to Store Cars, or How I Thought it Was Safe, What Happened?"

By David Grainger


So have you ever been sucked in by a gimmick? Bet you have. I know I have a few gimmicky things lying about including some miracle tools offered by a large retail chain and promoted by a famous do it yourselfer which not only don't improve on the original tool, they don't even come close to being able to do anything other than look good laying at the bottom of the toolbox.

Some gimmicks however can cost you a lot of money when they fail to work properly. Recently I had occasion to see one such device.

A few years ago a new automobile storage system was offered to the hobby. It is composed of a large storage bag made from plastic into which you place your car by driving it onto the bottom panel and then zipping the top on. You then hook up a supplied fan and the car shelter inflates itself, ballooning around the car to create a little mini garage. There is also a dry pack of silica gel that you are supposed to pack inside and which removes moisture from the air. The catch with the dry pack is that you have to change it every six months or it loses its effectiveness.

So it sounds like a great idea for storing a car doesn't it? I admit that the initial concept is probably fairly sound although you can certainly replicate its better points far more cheaply if long term storage of your car is in the cards. For short term or winter storage I think that it is a total waste of time. It is also not without its dangers.

I had occasion in the last week to go and look at a wonderful 1914 Renault Victoria Landau. This is a magnificent car and certainly a valuable one and is deserving of the finest in care, so the owner bought one of these shelter systems.

When we opened it up I was horrified, as was he, to see the car. Every surface which was not either brass or paint was covered in an eighth of an inch of gray mold. The rear seats which are fabric were uniformly soiled, the front seats in leather covered completely as was every other piece of leather, fabric and believe it or not rubber including a fair amount on the tires.

I have come across this particular mold once before on a 1921 Packard Roadster which had been stored in similar heated conditions. Although it appears to wipe off, you are just wiping off the top of the organism. The part that is actually destroying the fabric or leather is inside breaking it down and converting it into more mold. The solution is that every part of the car that has been infected has to be rubbed down with a cleaner designed for killing mold and then dressed to nourish and revitalize the leather, and fabric has to be thoroughly cleaned if possible or replaced if the damage is too extensive. Unfortunately you have to also treat the cushioning and padding where the mold may have penetrated. This can be a fairly expensive procedure as you can well imagine.

So how did this happen? The shelter had created almost perfect conditions for this kind of mold. It seems to prefer dark, fairly dry, warm and well ventilated conditions. The plastic shelter provided it with perfect conditions in which to grow and prosper, and considering that in places it was really dense, especially in areas right in the air flow of the fan, it really likes a good supply of fresh air, which is probably what introduced it into the shelter in the first place.

Now before you think, yeah, but where was the shelter, in some dusty, dirty old barn perhaps, let me tell you that the car was stored in a fully finished and heated warehouse in which wood work is performed, so it was spotless, dry, and aside from a little fresh sawdust around a work bench, quite dust free.

I think that the car would probably have fared far better if it had just been left on blocks with a cotton dust cover on it, so what we have is another gimmick which is not only not an improvement, but is actually injurious to the car that the owner is trying to protect.

If you are storing your car in a heated building, don't wrap it in plastic. Let the car breathe naturally with just a light cotton car cover on it at the most. If you don't mind a little natural dust then even that is not needed, and you should always remember that as soon as you put a car cover on a car it becomes a table so if your car is stored in an area where other things are going on such as a family garage you can expect to find it being used for many things which, lacking the cover, most people wouldn't dream of using it for.

Now at this time of year many owners rent storage areas to put their car into for the winter season and in some cases those areas that they rent are in heated underground garages under apartment buildings and other structures.

This kind of storage is just about the worst winter storage that I can think of, unless you intend to rent a space in the local roads department salt storage buildings.

Underground garages are not only heated, they are humid. The air is usually circulated through the garages after being used in other places in the building. Now on a nice snowy day when the roads have been well salted you have all kinds of cars coming and going with those huge junks of dirty gray slush dangling from behind their front and rear wheels. During their stay the heated air in the garage causes these lumps to fall off and melt on the floor. They salty water then permeates the air and acts as a wonderful carrier to deliver salt and moisture into every recess in the cars stored there. I have had many people say that they store their cars in underground garages but that those garages are dry and clean. They might appear to be dry and clean in the area rented to them but what you have to remember is that those spaces would not have been rented if that was a busy floor. The rental areas are usually in the lowest levels where the building manager does not have full occupancy, but on the floors above the garage can be quite busy with in and out and overnight parking. The air which carries the salt and humidity is common to the whole garage, whether you think it is dry or not. If you can possibly avoid it steer clear of underground parking storage for your classic car. Personally I think that a car is better off parked outside and covered in snow than it is underground during a Canadian winter.

So how about barns. Are they a good place to store your car? Not bad if you take the right precautions. I don't like the downstairs part of a barn because like an underground garage it is often quite humid. The loft areas though can be ideal if you bear in mind that the car may not be the only thing over wintering. If you are storing in a barn you have to remember the small furry creatures which can absolutely ruin your car's interior if they decide to move in. To stop them forget the moth balls inside the car, the smell of those is almost as bad as mouse urine, although scattering them under the car may be a good idea.

What you must do is build a surround to keep the mice out, and this can be done quite simply with heavy gauge plastic onto which the car can be driven and then the sides, front and rear should be pulled up and taped to door handles and other non painted surfaces to create a barrier to rodents who for the most part aren't smart enough to chew through the plastic and get in as there are so many other spots in the barn for them to go. Don't forget the pigeons. A good water proof car cover which you can wash is a good idea to prevent droppings from burning your paint or staining your convertible roof. Also, when a car is stored in a barn where air passes quite freely from the outside to the inside it is a good idea to keep all your windows open a half inch or so to eliminate condensation and to keep the car aired out.

If you are going to store your car outside beside the house, just get it as far away from the nearest road and its airborne salt spray as you can. Don't tarp it up or put a car cover on it unless you can tape it or secure it so that even the strongest winds won't cause it to flap which damages paint by sanding it right off the car. Clear snow from the car so that it doesn't cause a lot of humidity inside and under the hood and in the trunk. Melting snow seems to be more invasive than rain as well so it does not hurt to clear the car off once in an while.

Most cars just get stored in the family garage, and in most cases this is just fine.


David C. Grainger

President, The Guild of Automotive Restorers.

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