Storing Your Car In Winter 101
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It's always a sad day when summer is over and the weather is changing and it's time to put away your classic car that has been so fun to drive over the warmer weather months. You can't just put your car away for the winter without first getting it prepared for storage. If you do put away your car without getting it ready first, you probably won't like what you will find next season... it's a total gamble and chances are you will regret not getting your car prepped and ready for winter storage.
We are going to make a lot of suggestions for you. Depending on how attentive to detail you are and how much you actually want to do before winter you can take all of our suggestions, or none of them. It's up to you.
- Think through where you are planning to store your car. You don't just want to park the car on the side of the street somewhere. Instead, you are going to want to find a safe, dry building or garage to house your car during the cold winter months. If you don't have a place readily available, then you may want to check out local storage locations in your area. Make sure the storage area is clean and dry with concrete floors. You don't want to have a bare earth floor or ground like in the back of a yard or in an old barn. Ideally your storage place would be climate controlled, but it's not a necessity. Make sure you have a flat surface to store your car on.
- Wash and detail your car thoroughly one last time. Clean the inside and the outside. You don't want to put a dirty car away. This is a good opportunity to get rid of any spots, tree sap, bird poop or anything else that may be on the car. Polish up the chrome areas and be sure to apply a good coat of wax to the paint. You may also want to get some WD-40 or a rubberized undercoating that you can spray on any metal places that are unpainted on the underside of your car that may be prone to rust. You will want to give it a protective coat and then reapply it every year before you winterize and put away your car. Just don't spray it on or around the exhaust or any other part of the car that gets very hot. These products are generally very flammable and you will want to be careful. You may want to put steel wool, a rag or a sock in the exhaust pipe to keep rodents, bugs or any other creepy crawly things out that often times are looking for a new place to hang out during the winter months. Remember to remove it come spring though, that would not be good to try to drive your car around with something shoved up the exhaust. If you are going to steam clean your carpets do it in the spring time or at least far enough in advance to winterizing it that you avoid any moisture build up because otherwise it can mold and sour and that won't be good. Desiccants will help with this issue as well and they can be purchased easily at any store (we will cover them again in a moment). You may want to consider a good set of seat covers. Also, clean out the interior of the car and be sure you vacuum everything out. Crumbs or old food bags or anything you leave can be a huge incentive for mice and other rodents to break into your car. This is particularly bad if they decide to make themselves at home and chew through your wires. Many people have suggested putting mousetraps around your car, filling socks with mothballs and placing those in the interior and around the car, or getting a lot of dryer sheets and putting them in the interior and around the exterior of your car. All of those things can help keep rodents away. You probably don't want to put mouse traps inside your car though- dead mouse guts all over the interior plus the months it sat there to decay... let's just say, gross. Other people also use rodent poison but we'd suggest not putting it in the interior for the same reason as above. Also, if you are storing your car at home- be extra careful if you have pets otherwise you might have a lot more on your hands then a few dead mice.
- You will want to park your car on a tarp. The last thing you want to worry about is having to scrub out leaky stains or oil stains on your floor. But you never know what might leak sitting over the winter and so we suggest putting a tarp down under the engine or any other place that could leak to save your self some time and hassle in the spring time. This tarp also helps to act as a moisture barrier.
- Just like you would want to suck moisture out of anything else you might store, you are going to want to use a good desiccant in the interior of your car. These usually come in either clay or gel packs and help suck the moisture out of the air so that you don't come back to a moldy, musty, smelly mess when it's time to re-open the car in the springtime. You can even get some that have a pleasant scent as well.
- You may want to consider putting your car up on jack stands or chocking the wheels. You want to make sure your car is stable and parked and won't roll or move while it's being stored. No parking brake is ever full-proof, and most suggest you leave the park brake disengaged anyway so you may want extra peace of mind of knowing that your car won't go anywhere while you are away. You can either put something in front of the wheels or jack it up in the air, whatever you prefer. Also, putting your car on jack stands will take the pressure off of your tires, wheels and suspension and can also help protect older tires and keep them from getting flat spots.
- Some people like to roll their windows down an inch to give the car some air ventilation and prevent moisture build up. That totally depends on where you are storing the car and your personal preference. Personally, we always leave the windows up. It gives us more peace of mind that the car is safe and secure and not accumulating other little creatures that may want to crawl in the open window and find a new place to burrow in.
- Check your oil. If you are due for an oil change or the oil is dirty, then we suggest you change the oil and your oil filter before you put your car away for storing. Most oils are stable for up to a year in an engine and so if you want to put the car away and change the oil in the Spring to start the season off with fresh oil then that's an option as well. Some experts suggest that you fog your engine before you store it, however that doesn't need to be done unless you are planning to store the car for more than a year.
- Check your fluids and top them off. Check and make sure your anti-freeze is full and also fill your tank up with gas. You will want to add a fuel stabilizer to the gas tank and allow the car to run for at least five minutes to make sure the stabilizer has been run through the entire fuel system. Most ethanol blended fuels only have a shelf life of about three months so adding the fuel stabilizer is going to help prevent your engine and fuel lines from corroding over the winter months.
- Opinions about what you should do with your battery when you store your car vary widely. Some people think you should just connect the battery to a tender or charger. If you are going to do that then you can run the tenders cables up under the engine bay so that you can connect it and still keep your hood closed and your car cover on. If you are going to remove the battery and store it and connect it to a battery tender or trickle charger then you will want to make sure you set it on a piece of wood and attach it to the charger or tender. Make sure whatever you are using has an automatic shut off or float mode so that you are battery doesn't get over charged. Don't lose track of the two battery bolts, keep those in a safe place so that you have them when you need them again. Some of the newer cars require that they stay connected to the battery at all times to help preserve the cars computer memory. Either way, keeping your cars battery charged will prolong the life of your battery and keep it running longer and smoother. It will also be easier to get your car ready to be driven again in the springtime without wondering why you have a dead battery that won't start. If you are worried about your battery freezing and cracking, then you can also remove it and store it in a warm place in your home.
- When it comes to your tires, you probably don't want to remove your tires and put your car up on blocks and leave the stress on the suspension and leave it hanging for a long period of time. We suggest you inflate your tires to a higher air pressure because it will keep your tires from getting flat spots, and many tires lose pressure over time especially during temperature changes. You don't need to exceed the maximum tire pressure that is on the sidewall of your tire. Replace any tires that have a hole or a leak before you store it because you don't want the air to deflate while it's in storage and cause the car to sit unbalanced or kneel on it's tire rim. That will hurt the rim. You are better off not engaging the parking break to leave a car stored for months on end. The brake can be difficult to disengage and can become frozen. Again, you can get some wheel chocks or blocks of wood to put against your tires to make sure your car stays in place while you store it.
- Get a good car cover. Use car covers that is securely attached to your car and breathable. If you are storing your car outside you will also want it to be waterproof. Either way, you want it breathable and keeping the moisture out. Don't ever cover your car with a tarp to store it. It will severely scratch your paint job and not protect your car the way you want it to. Get a good car cover that will keep the moisture, dust, dirt and rodents out. We suggest removing the antenna on your car before putting the cover on. We take ours off and store it in the trunk or backseat of the car where it's accessible to reattach come spring. Just make sure your car is cool and dry before you put the cover on it.
People also wonder if once they have gotten their car all ready for storage if they need to start the car and let it run every so often. The answer to that is, no. If you have done a proper job of winterizing the car then it doesn't need to be started but let's be honest, sometimes the winter months feels like a long time to wait to hear the sweet purr of your cherry picked car. We get it. Sometimes its fun to go out the garage, light up the engine and listen to it run. If you are going to start the car and let it run for any period of time there are some things you will want to remember. Never, let your car run in a garage with the door closed. Open the garage for ventilation. Also, take the cover all the way off of your car. Many people try to just peel the cover back until they can get in the drivers side, but it can be dangerous to run the car with the cover on, so take it all the way off. Also, remember the things that need to be unplugged or plugged back in; in order to start the car safely. Remember, you may have socks or steel wool crammed in the exhaust, and your battery is probably not in running condition. You'll then need to remember what needs to be done to your car again when you are done to return it to storage condition.
Once you get the car turned on and running then allow it to run for a while. Get it warmed up and let it run in it's operating temperature to cycle fresh oil through the engine and lubricate the parts and also remove any condensation that has built up. It can actually be detrimental to just fire up the engine and then turn it off again. You need to get the condensation that has built up in the various systems burnt off. If you can take it for a ride, that's better than letting it sit idle. If you are just going to let it sit idle then let it run long enough to burn off the condensation. Honestly, if you can just avoid the temptation to go out and mess with the car during the winter, that is going to be your best bet. Leave your car alone. It's a lot of work to get it all winterized, just to go out and undo it all and then have to do it all again.
One other thing to consider that might actually help you leave the car alone all winter is to drop your insurance coverage on it for the storage period. You can save money during the off-season by dropping collision and liability on your insurance policy. It might also incentivize you not to be tempted to take it out during the winter. You will still want to maintain your comprehensive insurance on it at all times, just to be safe. Check with your insurance providers and see what their options are for suspending part of your policy while the car is in storage. Just don't forget to readjust your coverage again when you are ready to take the car out of storage. These are just a few suggestions. Obviously there are many more things you can do to prepare your car for storage but if you do the things we have listed then you will certainly have enough protection for your car during those months that you are going to store the car and not have it out.