The average American spends 8 percent more time in their vehicles today than they did five years ago (1). The nation is also spending more money than ever their cars, with the average transaction price of a new vehicle now coming in at $36,000 (2). When you’ve invested so much money and spend so much time in your automobile, it’s essential that you have an ample supply of car products to hand so that you maintain your set of wheels. How do you store these car products safely and do they have a shelf life?
Car Washing Products
Car shampoo can be purchased in handy 500 ml bottles, or in supersize containers of 10 liters or more. You can usually bag a great deal when buying in bulk, too, however, you should be cautious about how many you buy as they don’t last as long as you might think. ASTM testing shows that once a car shampoo is opened it has a shelf life of just 18 months, whereas unopened bottles are good to use for 36 months (3).
If you wash your car with shampoo which has been stored for longer, then it’s unlikely to go as soapy when mixed with water. It may also thicken and start to go clumpy, which has the potential to ruin your car’s paintwork. You should also consider how you store car shampoo as containers should be kept upright on a flat surface. Stacking should be avoided to reduce the risk of spills.
Waxing is a crucial part of your car cleaning regimen as it protects your paintwork from the elements, as well as daily wear and tear from the roads. You might not think that this is important, but you could regret it when the time comes to sell your set of wheels. When it comes to storing car wax, it requires a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight and away from extreme temperatures.
Wax shouldn’t be stored in temperatures below 40F or in temperatures exceeding 80F. It must not be allowed to freeze either, as this can affect the composition of the wax and render it useless. Always ensure that the cap is firmly screwed on to avoid air particles affecting the chemicals within the wax and to prevent dirt and debris from entering the bottle. As a general rule, so long as the wax is stored in the appropriate conditions, it will have a shelf life of between two and three years.
Wheels & Tires
The tires on your car require cleaning in order to protect them from turning brown and to stop the rubber from breaking down and potentially causing a blowout. Specialized wheel and tire cleaners are commonly used to keep tires spick and span, but to ensure they do their job right they need to be stored correctly.
Thankfully, it’s difficult to get wheel and tire cleaner storage wrong. As long as they are kept in cool, dry conditions and don’t freeze over, they’re good to use indefinitely. These cleaners consist of very few chemicals as they need to be gentle on tires to keep them in optimum condition, so very little care is required.
It’s becoming increasingly common for new cars not to come with a spare tire. According to the AAA, 36% of cars manufactured in 2015 didn’t have a spare, while 28% of 2017 models don’t have one (4). As a spare tire is a crucial component when you experience a flat or blowout, car owners are encouraged to keep one handy, even if it’s in their home.
It’s recommended that tires are placed in a moisture-free airtight plastic bag, before being stored away from sunlight in a cool, dry basement. Vehicle owners tend to keep tires in their garages, but the varying humidity in such an environment can take its toll. Where possible, tires should be raised off the ground and placed in a horizontal position as this reduces the stress on them (5).
Under the Hood
Coolant and antifreeze are crucial products for your car as they keep the engine at a suitable temperature, whatever the weather. However, as these products contain ethylene glycol, which is poisonous (6) to both humans and animals, it is essential that it is stored safely and correctly.
You should always keep coolant and antifreeze in its original packaging and ensure that the lid is secure and firmly on at all times. It’s also wise to store these products in locations which are inaccessible to children and animals, such as the garage, secure shed, or in a locked cupboard.
Even if you don’t have children or pets, these guidelines should be followed to prevent other people’s loved ones from accidently coming into contact with any coolant and antifreeze kept on your property. After all, antifreeze has a shelf life of up to eight years (7), so it’s a product you could easily forget about.
Your car’s engine oil should be regularly checked and topped up as necessary to keep everything in full working order. Engine oil doesn’t have a strict shelf life, however, and it can be kept for years when the following guidelines are followed. One of the most important factors to consider when you’re looking to preserve the life of engine oil is the temperature in which you store it.
Ideally, the temperature should fall between 40F and 80F (8). Should the temperature deviate more than this, the viscosity of the oil will be impacted which will affect its performance. Other than that, engine oil should always be stored in cool, dry conditions, away from moisture sources.
Windshield washer provides drivers the opportunity to stay safe in all weathers, thanks to its powerful cleaning properties. Windshield washer typically comes in large containers, so you’ll never get through a whole container in one go. As windshield washer usually contains between 30 and 50 percent methanol (9), it needs to be stored safely.
It should always be stored out of reach of children and pets, and care should be taken to ensure the cap is always tightly screwed on to prevent any mishaps.
Additionally, it should be stored in a cool, dry place. By following these instructions, you can expect the windshield washer to last approximately three years.
Hydraulic fluid, or brake fluid as it is otherwise known, keeps you, your car, and other road users safe on the road as it keeps your car’s brakes in full working order. There are currently two types of brake fluid which drivers rely on; glycol-based DOT brake fluid and mineral oil.
Once the air tight seal on a bottle of DOT brake fluid is broken, it begins to suck in the moisture from the air which impacts its performance. It is, therefore, best to purchase the smallest bottle of DOT brake fluid possible to avoid waste. It’s also recommended that you discard any unused product after 12 months (10). On the other hand, mineral oil is non-absorbent and, in most cases, can be used indefinitely.
The average car has 16 external bulbs. To stay road legal, these bulbs should be replaced as soon as they blow, so it’s worth having a stock of bulbs for your car handy. Some drivers like to carry spare bulbs in their car, especially headlight bulbs as these are heavily relied on.
Furthermore, in some countries, including France and Spain, carrying spare headlight bulbs is a legal requirement (11). You’ll obviously need to take extra care when transporting bulbs around due to their fragile nature, so it’s a good idea to wrap them up securely in newspaper or, even better, bubble wrap, before slotting them snugly in a hard plastic or wooden storage box in your vehicle.
Meanwhile, any spare bulbs which you keep at home should be stored side by side, rather than stacked. Keeping them in a cupboard is recommended as this removes the risk of them falling from a shelf or being accidently stood on.
Once rust has been eradicated, you’ll need to touch up the paint work on your vehicle using a specialized automotive bodywork paint. To get the color to match the rest of the car, you’ll need to take good care of tins of automotive paint. Thankfully, a new, sealed tin can last a lifetime, but an opened tin requires some TLC.
Always ensure that you secure the lid fully and firmly once opened. Even the smallest gap will allow air, moisture, and debris in to the paint which will affect the color, application and consistency. While there is no set timescale as to how long automotive paint can be stored, it’s best to use your own judgement – if it doesn’t look right when you open it, then it most likely isn’t.
The undercarriage of your car faces a significant amount of wear and tear due to its close proximity to the road. Yet it remains one of the most overlooked parts of a vehicle, largely because it can’t be seen. Once the undercarriage is thoroughly cleaned with water, degreaser, and a brush, you’ll need to use a lubricant, such as WD40.
Lubricants work wonders in protecting the undercarriage from moisture and will also keep salt from the roads at bay. Just make sure you only use it on components such as nuts and bolts and not on any parts of the engine as this could cause damage.
Lubricants have a reasonable shelf life of around five years (12), which makes them a highly affordable and effective product. Store the product between 39F and 129F and, in most cases, you’ll find that it lasts even longer.
To adequately apply the majority of these automotive products to your vehicle, you’ll need to use cloths. Chamois leather is usually used to aid the drying process after washing a car, but to prolong the life of this cloth, it needs to be properly looked after. After each use, it should be washed in soapy water and left to dry.
However, drying needs to take place away from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures as hot and cold will destroy the leather (13). Once the chamois leather is fully dried, it can be folded up and stored away in a cool, dry place, ready for its next use.
All car owners need to take reasonable care of their car to prolong its time on the road. However, it’s important to note that the products required to provide this care all have their own storage instructions and shelf lives. Educate yourself on how these products work and understand the associated dangers in order to safeguard your vehicle, yourself, and others around you.