Southwest Florida is growing leaps and bounds as people from all over the country purchase second homes in Bonita Springs, Estero, Marco Island, and Naples to reap the benefits of a warm winter while escaping the frigid cold up north. After a few years of making the drive each season most snowbirds start to think storing a car in Southwest Florida (SWFL) full-time. If only it was as simple as just leaving your car in the garage until you came back but preparing your car for when you leave is critical in SWFL to avoid issues with your engine, tires, mold, and more. Below we have laid out the answers to the most commonly asked questions we get asked at Halo Home Watch by our clients.
Where you store your vehicle is important and we know each client’s situation is different. Depending on your circumstances determines the necessary steps you should take.
The worst thing you can do is leave your vehicle outdoors for an extended period, but we realize for some clients this may be their only option.
If this is the case, it is important that you secure your car with an all-purpose weather cover to not just protect your car from the elements but also from pests. This is especially true in SWFL (Bonita Springs, Estero, Marco Island, Naples) as Palm Rats and other pests can make their way inside your car and can damage vital internal parts. We even recommend putting repellent inside the hood of your car as a deterrent.
Further, avoiding direct sunlight is important as it will fade the exterior paint of your car, the color of the interior, and most importantly increase the internal temperature of the car which can be an ingredient for mold. We will talk about that shortly. Therefore, park your vehicle underneath a carport. If a carport is not available parking underneath trees can also help protect your vehicle from the direct sunlight.
But, be wary, if you are going to be gone during storm season, June 1 to Nov. 30, do not park your car under any trees with heavy branches to avoid potential damage. Remember, we said this would not be easy!
Mold can be a serious issue for your car in SWFL because Mold growth within cars can begin when the relative humidity reaches 55%. During the hot and humid summer months in Southwest Florida the relative humidity can average 89% during peak hours. Therefore, storing your car outdoors is always a last resort solution.
The best option is leaving your vehicle within an indoor air-conditioned storage unit. Though we understand this is not realistic in most circumstances. Leaving your car in a garage is the next best option. However, simply storing your car in your garage for an extended period is just step one to prevent mold or other issues.
Most garages are not climate controlled, so it is important to take steps to manage the humidity. One trick is to help maintain airflow in the garage to lower the humidity. One example is to use a box fan that can be purchased at any local hardware store. Along with the box fan you will also want to purchase a manual programmed timer. This timer will allow you to set the time of day for when the fan is operating. Since you need the fan operating during the most humid times of the day you can program the timer to operate the fan for around 4 to 5 hours a day during the early afternoon.
An important note to keep in mind is that you want both the fan and timer plugged into a GFCI outlet also known as a GFI outlet. A GFCI outlet is important to use in locations with an increased risk of water. The GFCI will monitor the electric current and shut it off when it detects an imbalance.
Another option is to purchase a dehumidifier and program it to maintain a relative humidity below 55%. Anything below 35% will cause drying and cracking to leather seats and material, while as previously stated anything over 55% can lead to mold growth. When using a dehumidifier, whether it is a self-emptying unit or a manual unit it is important to have your home watch professional monitoring and or emptying the unit if necessary, in your absence.
It is imperative that you keep your windows and air vents closed while engaging your air recirculation button. The humidity outside of the car will be higher than the relative humidity inside the vehicle. Therefore, the last thing you want to do is allow that external air to get inside your car, this is especially true if water finds a way into your garage, a small leak with high humidity can spell disaster for your vehicle/car if the windows and vents are not closed and air recirculation is not engaged.
Remember, mold loves to feast on organic materials (i.e. body oil, skin cells, leather, etc). Therefore, once the humidity in the car is above 55% and mold spores are able to get inside your car you will see rapid growth on any leather or places you traditionally rest your arms and hands.
We always recommend keeping your windows and air vents closed to avoid moisture, mold, and pest from entering your vehicle.
The last thing you want is to return to Southwest Florida and discover your car will not start. Homeowner’s who chose to do nothing risk the high summer temperatures causing their battery to drain or flatten out. If this happens the battery will require a charge or jump-start, or even both, which will decrease the life of your battery or may force you to replaced the battery altogether. Therefore, it is vital to take preventative measures to protect your vehicle while you are away.
Using a battery maintainer is a good option when leaving your vehicle idle for an extended period. A battery maintainer is known vernacularly as a trickle-charger. A trickle-charger provides a slight charge that counteracts any self-discharge, while not being too massive that it will threaten to overcharge your battery destroying it.
A quality battery maintainer may cost you anywhere between $30 – $90 and, if adequately used, may increase the life of your battery by up to 5 years.
View the top battery maintainers on Amazon.
Part of having a professional Home Watch company is to observe and ensure the operability of your trickle charger (battery maintainer). Your Home Watch professional should know what to look for and should be taking pictures each time, so you have peace of mind.
Flat spots occur when the weight of your vehicle is on the same location of your tires for an extended period— this will change the circumference of the tires itself over time.
It is recommended that you add at least 5 to 10 pounds of air pressure above the standard manufacturer recommendations on all four tires, but keep in mind to decrease the tire pressure back to the manufacture recommendations when you return to drive your vehicle.
Park each tire on a thick piece of carpet. The reason for this is so the tires are not in direct contact with the varying temperatures of the garage floor. This will also help with removing some of the additional pressure placed on the tires as well.
Even following all the best practices, it is still not uncommon to find mold growth within your vehicle. Having someone within the home watch industry who is knowledgeable and trustworthy routinely inspecting your vehicle remains crucial to providing you the peace of mind you deserve.
Further, it is recommended to occasionally move the car in and out of the garage, so the weight of the car is not always resting on the same spot.
This is commonly called Auto Starting Services in the Home Watch Industry. Your Home Watch Professional should be able to perform the above service.
Knowledge is power, and moving to a new place is always challenging, Southwest Florida (Bonita Springs, Estero, Marco Island, Naples) even more so. There is a lot to think about when leaving a car down here during the warm summer months and the last thing you ever want to do is damage your vehicle. Make sure to discuss all the above with your Home Watch Professional, they should have a deep knowledge of the issues related to storing a vehicle in this climate and should be able to explain all the different services they offer!