The Most Important Thing about Keeping a Car for a Long Time

Regular maintenance is essential. Driving habits are important, but the most crucial thing if you want your car to last a long time is keeping it garaged when you’re not driving it.


First of all, because it’s dry in there as opposed to wet outside. All cars get wet sometimes unless you never drive them when it rains. But cars parked outside stay wet, even after the rain ends.

This causes them to rust faster.

You may not see where the rust is forming but rest assured it is. Especially where you can’t easily see. Brake and fuel lines, nuts and bolts underside. Most of these bits and pieces are regular steel (not stainless) and only superficially protected.

These bits and pieces can add up to big hassles and bills once the rust has developed beyond the superficial. If you’ve ever had to deal with rusted-out brake/fuel lines, you already know all about it. If you’ve had to pay to get a  dealer to replace them, you’ll know even more about it.

A car parked outside is certain to be wet more often and stay wet for longer, and it will inevitably rust faster and sooner and worse.

Parking indoors keeps it dryer and gives it a chance to dry off. This will hold off rust longer. Even if it rarely rains.

Condensation or dew does not usually form indoors, but it does form regularly outdoors. A car parked outside will thus get wet practically every day, even when it hasn’t rained for days, including under the hood, where, in a modern car,  there are lots of electronic bits and pieces that don’t like moisture. They are insulated, of course. But the insulation is generally made of rubber and plastic, which ages faster in the weather.

It’s more temperate inside than out. The extremes of heat and cold are moderated by a shelter.

It may not be toasty warm inside an unheated garage during the winter months, but it is probably not as cold as outside. There is no wind, and even an unheated garage mooches some heat off the house if it’s attached. If it’s 70 inside, it’s probably at least 40 in the garage instead of 20 outside.

Where would you rather sleep in January?

Cold can be just as hard on a car as it is on you. Remember how your skin dries up and cracks when exposed to the bitter cold?

How there is shrinkage?

The same basic thing happens to synthetic skin, rubber and plastic when exposed to bitter cold. But unlike chapped skin, cracks in the dash don’t heal when it warms up. Cracked weatherstrip doesn’t seal, either, and now the car is vulnerable to getting wet inside.

Nothing says old car like the smell of the musty, moldy carpet.

Frigid weather is also tough on paint due to expansion and contraction, leading to cracks, which can mean even more rust if water gets at the unprotected metal underneath.

Chipping away at accumulated ice can also cause damage (ask the people who sailed on Titanic about the abrasive properties of frozen water).

Hail can total your car if it’s parked outside.

Hail may not be a worry when it’s warm, but biological hail is a constant threat when a car is left outside. Bird poop is even more abrasive than ice and caustic. Wind and the dust carried by it aren’t good for your car’s finish, either.

It’s not just the cold or the wet that constitute threats.

High heat and direct sunlight are the accelerated wear yin to the accelerated wear yang of extreme cold (and soggy wet). Long-term exposure to high heat dries out rubber/plastic faster. When the flexibility is lost, the cracks begin. Your car’s interior will look shabbier sooner. The finish will also fade quicker, and once it does, it can’t be buffed back to shiny if it’s a modern clear-coat finish. No matter how hard you rub, it will still look dull because the thing that gave it its shine (the translucent clear coat) has been burned away by the scorching rays of the sun.

The only fix once it gets to that point is to repaint the car.

The effects of both are largely eliminated by parking indoors.

You’ll also be able to keep your car looking good with less work. A wax job lasts longer, and it’s easier to clean a vehicle that isn’t as dirty.

A twenty-year-old car that’s parked inside may still look like a five-year-old car. But a five-year-old vehicle parked outside is very likely to look older than its years.

You may not especially care how it looks, but you probably care about what it’s worth. A car that looks good is almost always worth more than a car that doesn’t. It’s also likely to last longer, and given the price of cars, whether new or used that’s arguably well worth whatever it costs to find a way to keep the one you’ve got parked indoors.

Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Not an NMA Member yet?

Join today and get these great benefits!

Leave a Comment