Storm prep: Car storage and evacuation
This native Houstonian recently dodged a bullet, so my heart goes out to everyone east of me on the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Laura. That said, my time protecting my classic(ish) cars from this hurricane makes a good refresher course for those who live where catastrophic flooding and high winds threatens your property every year. This will be far from a comprehensive guide, so read the comments section for words of wisdom from our Hagerty Community.
To get the ball rolling, this story’s gonna have two sides: Prepping for your classics and getting your daily driver ready in the event of an evacuation. Before we dig in, all of your property (not just cars) should be photographed before the storm, as it might be needed later to assess its pre-storm condition by an insurance claims adjuster.
Vehicle prep (without a garage):
First, try to find covered parking: Get on the Nextdoor app and ask your neighbors for a huuuge favor. An even better alternative is seeking nearby office buildings with adjacent parking structures. You must get permission from the building’s property manager first for obvious reasons, especially since garages close to car dealerships “sell” their spots to savvy dealership management looking to protect their inventory. If you get approval, park on the second floor (or higher) and against the inner walls, farthest away from wind damage.
If that fails, park against stronger structures located away from trees, power lines, and from as much stuff on the ground that could turn into speedy projectiles when the wind catches them. Creativity is the key here. We don’t know what’s around your neighborhood: If you live in the ‘burbs and your ride fits between two suburban patio homes, get your neighbor’s permission so you can have at least two sides protected by the wind!
No matter where you park, disconnect the battery (who knows how long you will be away), consider raising it on jack stands, install a protective cover (remove pointy things like antennas), and finish it off with a plastic tarp over that cover. If you can’t get the covers on tightly with rope or the provided fasteners, get 2-3 light duty ratchet straps and GENTLY strap one over the roof, hood and trunk.
Vehicle prep (with a garage):
If you’re lucky enough to have a garage that isn’t likely to collapse under its own weight (check for rotted wood, loose fasteners, etc) park your vehicle, disconnect the battery, install a cover, and remove anything from shelves/walls/ceiling that could fall on it. Modern homes often use thin gauge metal garage doors that fail in high winds, so consider attaching braces behind them.
If there’s one thing I learned from Hurricane Harvey, putting your vehicle on jack stands is worth the effort, even if your neighborhood has never flooded before. To wit, the photo above is my friend Mark’s stunning Subaru SVX with a WRX powertrain swap: the blue dot shows where flood waters reached after the local reservoir failed to manage Harvey’s devastating rainfall. No doubt the Subie would have been a total loss had he lacked the foresight to put it in the air. Storage bubbles are a great idea, but they ain’t cheap compared to a set of multi-use jack stands.
That said, let’s consider hyper-localized flooding: Clean all gutters, drains, etc. around the property. Sandbags in front of the doors might be helpful, if your garage seems well sealed elsewhere. I’ve entertained the notion of having a bilge pump installed in low-lying parts of my property, too.
Evacuation vehicle prep:
If you are using a classic vehicle as your escape pod, read this detailed writeup to ensure it is roadworthy. Most evacuation vehicles are newer and therefore need less attention, but ensure yours has received the maintenance (as per owner’s manual) needed, check fluid levels/tire air pressure (including the spare!), and consider replacing marginally healthy rubber parts (tires, belts, hoses, wiper blades). There’s no need to freak out, but hey, you might enjoy the hushed perfection of brand new wiper blades during a big ‘ol storm.
Don’t forget addressing items that keep your sanity: You can be stuck in miles of traffic, so make sure your air conditioning is up to speed. Now let’s consider what you should pack for your trip, for the sake of you and your car:
- Car: Engine, transmission, coolant, etc. fluids (if you know you have a leak)
- You: Potential medications needed, stored in a cooler with plenty of water/milk/snacks/etc needed to safely take the medication.
- Car: The typical roadside emergency kit (flares, flashlight, gas can, jumper cables, blanket, first aid kit, etc.) with multiple cans of tire sealant (i.e. Fix-A-Flat), because how many cars even have a spare tire these days? There will be plenty of debris on the roads!
- You: Reflective windshield visor, so your A/C doesn’t work as hard when parked.
- Car: Full tank of gas, consider adding a larger gas can (5-gallon) to the aforementioned emergency kit if your intended travels take you far away from cities/towns.
- You: USB cables for phone charging, and a cigarette lighter to USB charger for older vehicles without USB charging.
- You: If you don’t have in-car connectivity, consider a Bluetooth/cassette adapter so you can stream music from your phone. Install a traffic app like Waze or Google Maps on your phone, and perform a software update.
- You: a healthy mix of snacks for several days, 2+ days of clothes/toiletries, umbrella, etc.
- You: Checkbook, because credit cards usually aren’t accepted if the power/internet goes out.
- Car: A basic set of sockets, screwdrivers and a multi-tool (like a Leatherman).
And what about when you come back home to assess any property damage? Photograph anything amiss and send the before/after photos to your insurance agent and/or their disaster response team: The latter is often a bus parked in a nearby shopping mall. Obviously the home is your first priority, but get the ball rolling with your classic vehicles, too. (And of course, Hagerty customers can file a claim using the information here.)