To Garage or Not to Garage

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 11, 2012

Dear Tom and Ray:

My boyfriend and I disagree on whether to keep the car in the garage. He thinks it cuts down on the life of the car (something about cooling the engine). I think a car lives longer if kept in a garage. I understand that a heated garage is not a good idea --but what about just a regular attached garage? Please advise.

-- Evelyn

TOM: Your boyfriend is being an oil stain on the garage floor of your life, Evelyn. Garages are great for cars -- and for their drivers.

RAY: At the very least, a garage will protect the exterior of your car from the elements, including those acidic pigeon and pterodactyl droppings. And if it spends every night -- or half its life -- under a roof, it'll look good for about twice as long.

TOM: From what we see in real life, that's about right. Cars we work on that are garaged look a lot better than non-garaged cars their age.

RAY: I have no idea what your boyfriend is talking about regarding engine cooling. Maybe he thinks the engine won't cool down as fast if it's closed in a garage? Or that the heat of the engine will warm up the garage and shorten ITS life?

TOM: The length of time it takes the engine to cool down makes no difference to anything. So, as far as we know, there's absolutely no downside to keeping your car in an unheated garage.

RAY: A heated garage is even better, even though it does create one downside for the car. If you live in the part of the country where it snows and they use salt on the roads, by storing it in a warm garage every night, you may slightly speed up the rusting process.

TOM: How? Well, let's say you drive on a cold, snowy day, and you get salty ice and slush all over the car. Then you get home at night and pull into your heated garage. What happens? The ice melts. And you're left with salt, water and warm air -- perfect ingredients for oxidation (i.e., rust).

RAY: Whereas if you leave the car outside, and the temperature stays below freezing, oxidation is inhibited by the lower temperatures, and the rusting process slows down a tiny bit.

TOM: On the other hand, if it's snowy and icy and miserable, who cares? That's when you really want to have a heated garage! You want that stuff to melt off overnight so you don't have to kick it out of your wheel wells like Nanook of the North does with his dogsled.

RAY: Plus, there are some very real mechanical advantages to parking your car in a heated garage overnight. Most notably, because the oil remains warmer and less viscous, it does a much better job of lubricating your engine from the moment you start the car. You prevent a lot of long-term damage to the engine that way.

TOM: And because the coolant also is kept warmer, the heat comes faster and your butt doesn't freeze to the seats, requiring an embarrassing call to AAA and the accompanying blowtorch extraction.

RAY: Plus, you don't have to clean snow or ice off the car, so your visibility always will be excellent. And because you're not bundled up in four hats, six hoods and 35 layers of Bronko Nagurski Long Underwear, you can actually move your neck and turn your head, which helps you be a better driver.

TOM: So, by all means, use your garage, Evelyn. And if you've got a heated garage, use that, too, with the caveat that it's a good idea to get your car washed and get rid of the salt after a week in which the roads have been salted.

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