My rocky relationship with warehouse storage

Rob Siegel

Last year, I wrote about losing the storage spaces that I’d had for nearly a decade. These five small individual one-car bays, each with its own roll-up door, were located in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. I found them when I outgrew my three-car garage in Newton and needed more space, and I was put off by the $300-ish per month I’d need to pay in suburban Boston for restricted-access space. I found that the farther west of Boston I looked, the farther rent dropped off. Fitchburg is about 50 minutes from my house, but it’s a nice drive out Rt. 2, and for $50/month, the garage there was a great trade-off on the cost-distance-access curve. Initially only one bay in the five-car garage was available, but by the end of my tenancy, I was renting all five. The rent for each bay later went up to $75/month, but still, $375/month for five individual bays with 24-hour access was dirt cheap. “The Fitchburg Swap”—taking two hours to drive one cool old car out on a Sunday morning and grab a different one—became a cherished part of my weekend routine.

bmw cars garaged
My dearly departed Fitchburg spaces. Rob Siegel

And then it ended. The house hosting the garages was sold, and it was only a matter of time before the new owners wanted the spaces for their tenants. I scrambled and found space in a cavernous warehouse in Monson, Massachusetts, on the Massachusetts-Connecticut border. On paper, it was—like the Fitchburg space—a slam-dunk; the cost was just $70 per car per month, the warehouse was 70 miles from my house in Newton, and most of that was a straight shot out the Mass Pike (I-90), so with zero traffic, Google Maps estimated the drive at only 15 minutes beyond the Fitchburg spaces. The downside was that it’s not only shared warehouse space but space that’s rented primarily to RVs, trailers, and boats, so when the cars are blocked in for the winter, you’d need a really good reason to have to get one of them out.

warehouse storage aerial
The warehouse in which five of my cars now reside. Ellis Mills Monson

It’s been about 15 months, so I now have enough experience to offer up the following assessment.


It’s like a marriage you stay in for the kids.

Don’t get me wrong. Cost-wise, at $350/month for five cars, I’ve yet to find anything that approaches it. It’s expandable—if I buy another car and need somewhere to stash it, I can pony up another $70/month: boom, problem solved. And the guy who owns the warehouse is great. The building does triple duty for his irrigation business, his own cars (he’s into oddball French stuff—that’s redundant, right?) and commercial storage, and he’s been very flexible when I’ve needed to get a car out at times other than normal business hours.

But the sum-total of the 15-month experience is that it’s decidedly less convenient for me than the old spaces in Fitchburg were. If I had a better option, I’d be practicing my “it’s not you, it’s me” lines. But I don’t. So I stay. For “the kids.” Romantic, huh?

The first issue is the distance. Google Maps may say that it’s only 1:05 from my house with no traffic, but I’ve yet to clock it at under 1:15, and with the usual non-rush-hour traffic, it’s more like an hour and a half. At rush hour, it can be over two hours. And on certain peak weekends, like when the kids are coming back to school at UMass Amherst or during prime leaf-peeping in the fall, it can make you cry. And even though I thought the straight shot out the Pike would offset the longer distance, in fact it’s been the opposite—the highway drive is boring. The narrower, curvier, more-punctuated drive out Rt. 2 was much more enjoyable.

The second and much larger issue is the restricted access. Again, I’m glad to have found anything, but it’s been tough to go from the don’t-need-to-call-show-up-anytime-you-want freedom of the old Fitchburg individual garage bay spaces to a locked warehouse that’s surrounded by a locked fence, and inside your car may be blocked in. The blockage may be my own cars, someone else’s, or multiple boats and trailers. I avoid the latter by not even attempting to pull cars out until the owner tells me that most of the big stuff has left. The blocking-in by other cars is usually handled fairly efficiently by the owner’s employees by either putting the offending car in neutral and rolling it, or putting it on GoJak wheel dollies. The whole process is less formal than scheduling an actual appointment to come to the warehouse and pull out a car—whenever I contact the owner and ask him, the answer is usually “sure, someone is almost always here during the week.” That’s usually true and it usually goes quickly enough, unless everyone is in some far-flung corner of the warehouse and difficult to find. And weekends can be tough.

I hate to keep playing the old-guy-with-bad-back card, but that’s the third issue. When I’ve had an urgent need for access on a weekend when no one’s around, the owner has been kind enough to tell me how to get into the building, but the gate is one of those 20-foot-long sliders, and it’s not motorized—you need to manually slide it on its less-than-perfect rollers. Between this, the non-motorized roll-up door, and rolling around my own cars so I don’t foul up the air inside, a swap leaves me with back pain longing for the old individual bay doors of Fitchburg. And, of course, if I go through all that to find that the car I want to drive is blocked in, I’m out of luck.

industrial transfer storage location warehouse exterior
I have a particular lack of fondness for this gate. Rob Siegel

Now, I’ll freely admit that I look at the years the cars spent in Fitchburg through rose-colored glasses. Yes, the 24-hour access and individual bays with roll-up doors were great, but the low price reflected ceilings that leaked until the roof was fixed, and the garages were in a part of town that wasn’t great. (I joked with my wife about the lovely proposition I once received from a lovely redheaded young woman. I thought it was a lot funnier than she did). As much as I tried to do “The Fitchburg Swap” without attracting attention, there’s nothing subtle about vintage BMWs and a ’74 Lotus Europa Twin Cam Special, and when folks walking by ask you about the cars, you can either act like an aloof rich guy (I’m neither) or you can take the time to answer questions and make friends. It all worked out, and nothing ever happened to me or the cars, but I was keenly aware of the less-than-secure situation, and it had been years since I’d stored my BMW 3.0CSi out there.

Still, The Fitchburg Swap could be done in two hours. In contrast, The Monson Swap, best case, is more like four. Again, it doesn’t sound like much, but there’s a significant difference between something that can be knocked off between breakfast and lunch and something that takes half a day.

For all these reasons, I hadn’t been out to the Monson warehouse since Thanksgiving. That’s six months. My previous visit was in September, when I needed to grab my Bavaria and drive it out to upstate New York to be used in a movie. The three other cars in the warehouse—two 2002s and a 635CSi—hadn’t even been started and driven since I moved them there from Fitchburg a year ago.

I was beginning to feel like a negligent hoarder.

Even worse—I, the guy who owns 13 vehicles but keeps insisting he’s “not a collector,” felt like I was having what I could only describe as a crisis of automotive faith. I mean, if I wasn’t driving these cars, why do I even own them? Hell, forget driving—I wasn’t even visiting them.

warehouse storage interior cars under cover
The cars in the Monson warehouse as I’d left them last fall. Rob Siegel

So, last week, out I drove to Monson in “Hampton,” my 49,000-mile ’73 2002. The plan was to check on the cars, drive them, get any inspected that needed it, empty the water from the DampRid containers, and do a “Monson Swap,” driving a different car home. I brought my usual road tool box, a cigarette-lighter tire inflator, starting fluid, fresh DampRid, fresh Bounce dryer sheets to keep the rodents at bay, a portable battery jump pack, and jumper cables just in case the jump pack wasn’t enough. Note that there isn’t access to electricity in the warehouse to run trickle chargers, and my days of pulling batteries out and bringing them home are behind me, so I simply unhook the batteries and hope for the best. I’ve never had problems doing this for a four- or five-month winter sit; I reconnect the negative terminal and the cars usually crank over fine. A year, though, is pushing it, and some of the cars did need the help from the jump pack.

One of the owner’s employees directed me to my cars (they’d been moved within the warehouse to make room for some building repairs). Initially I waived him off, but the warehouse is huge and a bit warren-like, and it would’ve taken me a while to find them if I just wandered around. Plus, even my beloved boxy little BMW 2002s aren’t as recognizable under covers as one might think.

warehouse storage cars under cover
My cars actually were under there. Somewhere. Rob Siegel

The first thing I did was lift the covers off all five cars and take inventory of the inspection stickers. I knew that those on the cars that had been sitting for over a year were expired. I didn’t expect the total to go four out of the five. My new status as negligent hoarder was now officially conferred.

Fortunately, there’s an inspection station less than a quarter mile from the warehouse. Car by car, I checked the fluids, verified that there weren’t mice nesting in the air cleaners, reattached the front license plates, woke the cars from their slumber, looked underneath for puddles, eased the cars out of the warehouse, stopped at the end of the street, checked for leaks and puddles again, then got the cars inspected. I did the Bavaria first, then “Bertha,” the patina-laden 2002.

BMW Patina
Inspection technicians often look at Bertha and make a face that says, “THIS? You want me to inspect THIS?” Rob Siegel

Only “Louie,” the ’72 2002tii, did something surprising. As I was driving it out of the warehouse, I noticed that the brake warning light was on. This is usually due to the handbrake not being fully released. I stopped and jiggled the handbrake lever, even pulled up the rubber boot to manually pull the spring back on the switch, but couldn’t make the light go out. I opened up the hood, thinking that maybe the float in the brake reservoir was erroneously reporting a low fluid level. I was stunned to find that the fluid was not only low, it was below the level of the pipe to the clutch master cylinder.

I walked back and looked at the spot where the car had been parked, but I didn’t see any puddles. Was it possible that I’d driven the car there a year ago with it that low on brake fluid? Or had the fluid leaked out and I couldn’t tell because all my cars had been relocated within the warehouse so the puddles were now somewhere else? I didn’t know. I hadn’t brought any brake fluid, so I drove the car back into the warehouse, grabbed another car, drove to the nearest auto parts store, topped off Louie, tested the brakes and clutch, didn’t see anything obviously leaking, drove the quarter mile to the inspection station, and left the mystery for another day.

green vintage bmw front three quarter
Louie, what brake-fluid-related secrets are you hiding? Rob Siegel

By the end of the day, I’d gotten three of the four cars inspected. I couldn’t do the ’79 Euro 635CSi because I’d left its renewed registration at home. I stashed Hampton in the warehouse and drove home in my ’99 BMW M Coupe (a.k.a. “the clown shoe”).

The next day, I did a second Monson Swap, this time driving out in the Lotus Europa with its newly-improved brakes, and bringing the up-to-date registration for the 635CSi. I got the 635 inspected, and drove it home for some R&R on its air-conditioning system (the last road trip I took it on in 2021, a fitting had loosened up on the compressor and it lost its refrigerant). If, on the drive out the Pike, the tiny feather-light Lotus felt like a 14-year-old girl lost in the big city, the 635CSi was in its Autobahn-inhaling element.

vintage silver bmw shark front three quarter warehouse
You have to admit that that’s a good-looking car. Rob Siegel

So, what began as my feeling like a negligent hoarder, and deepened into a crisis of automotive faith, suddenly was banished like a bad dream in the reassuring light of morning. I was on top of things again. All 13 cars were running and inspected, with eight of them at my house, and the other five just two or three or four episodes of Rick and Morty away. I thought, “Hey, maybe staying together for the kids isn’t so bad. Maybe we just need to spice things up a little bit.”

Maybe even add another kid?



Rob’s latest book, The Best of the Hack Mechanic™35 years of Hacks, Kluges, and Assorted Automotive Mayhem, is available on Amazon here. His other seven books are available here on Amazon, or you can order personally inscribed copies from Rob’s website,

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    This is why I have no desire for a large metro area. I have space for 5 vehicles under roof at my home. They are filled with my tools, heated and even sat TV. It is not just storage but a work space and social place all wrapped up in one garage and one shop.

    I would never be comfortable with a car stored in this kind of situation even if it was free.

    Sometimes some of us take for granted what we have and should remember how good we have it.

    You have a real estate problem: location, location, location. Overpriced spaces, too high taxes, crappy winters and too crowded.


    Depends on how close one needs/wants to be to family of course, but there are many places where Rob could move in the USA and have more driving months, indoor storage on his own property, a large shop and nice digs for less than the value of selling out of current location.

    Writing gigs are not current location dependent…

    Make sure it is multiple states away as you could do a series of road-tripping each car on a different route with interesting stops (and one hyper-miler most direct route version of the trip I suppose).

    Bryan M and Snailish, this is my wife’s and my home. And those “high taxes” pay for some of the best public education and health care in the country.

    Can’t really argue that. We haven’t cashed out and moved for the same reasons. But we have debated the pros and cons of doing it.

    Also, I should have specified I was agreeing with the location sentiment not the specifics. I have no idea if taxes are fair in your area or not.

    Some conveniences outweigh just price anyways. I personally don’t want to live 3 hours down a bush road from the nearest piece of civilization, no matter how nice the shop is.

    Snailish, sorry. I read both responses a little too quickly before I commented. Regarding the distance from civilization traded off against a big building, my wife agrees with you :^)

    I’ve been lucky living in a suburb of a big city. I have several senior living complexes near me and they are good at renting out unused indoor tenant parking under the buildings (parking spaces are not included in the rent and are available separately). The one closest to my house (1/2 mile away) has two buildings with underground parking with about 40 spaces each. Each building is at least 1/3 filled with collector cars.

    All the places I have are heated, secured, and have car wash areas. Prices are very reasonable, and I have been been at all of the ones I currently have for years.

    Rob, glad you got to give some attention to the “children”. As Bryan M said above times two. However you could do like our friend Mark here in DC area. He did not have room for his growing collection of cars so he purchased a small office building with a 30 car parking garage, near his office. He allocated 15 to the tenants and 15 to himself. Which worked out for a while until the tenants complained they needed more spaces. He finely relented and did like you. He purchased a small warehouse to keep the cars in, but it is further away. Anyway glad you got out the kids and gave them some exercise.

    PS Rob, were you pulling our leg about getting cars you don’t drive inspections? First, we don’t have inspections in Dixie but I know northerners and cars with antique plats or over 25 years old don’t need inspections. Also, did you not have to put fresh gas in the cars that had been sitting over a year as low test turns to varnish after a while. Just wondering?

    Even if you have the cars registered as antiques (which I don’t), that doesn’t exempt them from annual Massachusetts state inspections. I typically store cars with a full tank of gas, as that eliminates the space at the top of the tank where moisture can get in and react with the ethanol. I do use fuel stabilizer. I hope to use them enough this summer that I run a full tank through each one.

    Thanks for the reply, I guess Taxxachusetts wants to get every dime from the residents by making you go to the trouble of annual inspections. I have one question, why do you not put antique plates on your fleet? Antique plates in Dixie are good for 99 years, ie you never pay registration again.

    I have a few rules with my collection – one is if I don’t have space at my home to store it, I don’t need it. I have passed up a few deals because I am currently maxed out. Two, if I ever walk up on one with a dead battery, it’s time to consider moving something along. The combination of those two has kept me sensibly limited at 5. When I was in Urbania, the limit was 2

    HyperV6 is certainly right when he writes “Sometimes some of us take for granted what we have and should remember how good we have it”. When I did the math and realized that The Hack was paying out $4200 per year (plus gas and other costs to do his “swaps”), and then I thought, “when I needed more bays about 15 years ago, I spent about a month and $3000 to add on to my barn”. Oh, I suppose my taxes went up a tad somewhere along the way when the assessor noted the larger-sized outbuilding, but the taxes yo-yo so much around here it’s hard to tell if or how much.
    And true, if I built a similar sized addition at today’s lumber prices, it’d likely be twice the cost (and maybe twice the time, since I’m also 15 years older and have a bum hip and shoulder…) – but still!
    I simply cannot imagine living in an area where a) rental space is so expensive, and b) I might have to spend four hours (!) just to drive a different car. At one time, I had seven vehicles (now reduced to five plus a boat) under cover here, all with power for chargers within steps. And as far as I know, this isn’t costing me anything significant each month. After reading this article, I’m reminded that I’m indeed a lucky man, and I think I’ll go out and give each of my vehicle storage areas a figurative pat on the back and tell them “thanks”. 😍

    Rob while reading other comments I had an idea, why don’t you use the thousands in rent money to purchase a surplus enclosed portable parking lot from Reliable, or Horseless Carriage or Mecum and put it in you backyard behind the garage. Then you would have ready access to your fleet. Just an idea….

    Newton is an in-close suburb of Boston. Lot sizes here are quite small. I live on 6600 square feet. I ate up most of the usable space in my backyard building my 3.5-car garage. There’s no access to the backyard to put a storage crate back there, and even if there was access, there’s very little room. Plus, my wife would hate it.

    Hi Rob,
    I spent a lot of time in Fitchburgh area in the military and I think I remember exactly where the 5 car garage is. My wife is from Monson, and I recognize where you cars are. I had no idea they did that kind of storage. I read all the other posts about you moving down South or out West. I think you should just head out to West Mass where your cars are! We have easy access to all the best driving roads and easy access to the Pike. And you will get a serious step down in your cost of living. Maybe not as much as the deep South, but we still have great schools out here.

    Tom, small world. I’ve tried to convince my wife to move out to western MA or southern VT, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

    I got tired of renting about 6 years ago and even with dirt cheap rent ($40/mo for 2 cars) the drive and lack of power there got me to build a 24′ x 40′ storage building behind my garage. Best investment I made. Yes my taxes went up but it’s less than the rent was. I feel lucky when I read stuff like this!

    After reading this article I feel lucky. Large metros and are only meant for the wealthy car people. I live in the second largest city in Indiana and bought property years ago to get the two 40 X 60 barns. So much room we rent car storage space, beyond the eight cars we keep there. After 11 years and fixing up the old house we moved there, so the vehicles ( not just cars we now have two trucks) are 100 feet away, and still don’t drive them enough! Our rates are below market, we really want to help other car people, but have to turn people away every year. Again has worked our really well…not to get the house right.

    I too stored a car in an old warehouse. Storing my 1972 mercedes-benz 280sl was cheap…$75.00/month and took 10 minutes to retrieve. Did that for 8 years when someone working on a car in another bay (each with it’s own roll up door, caught the car on fire. Used 5 extinguishers in the building, then called the fire dept. Everything burned, 40+ cars, store inventories, all gone. This was in Oct of last year… still have tears. Glad I had insurance, hope you all do too.

    I’m glad you mentioned fire- mice are horrible but fire in car storage facilities is not uncommon. Four years ago in my hometown of Pittsburgh an inferno in a warehouse with a sprinkler system (it malfunctioned) wiped out $60 million dollars worth of collector cars. This occurred in a facility sold as a safe “state of the art” warehouse.

    Try living in Northern NJ. The best I could find was 1 spot in a 2 car garage for 175 a month. And still a mouse got into my heater box. Plenty of Bounce and traps after that!

    I’m down to 9 cars, and that’s without an intervention. The daily driver and the parts Celica live outdoors but the rest fit in my 30 x 40 heated garage. Lots of insulation and heated floors keep the electric bill down. Only 70 feet behind the house.

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