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How To Store Your Car for Winter

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by Huw Evans  More from Author

Tips to ensure your prized possession is tucked away safely.

If you live north of the Mason-Dixon line, you know the scenario all too well. As we head towards the end of September, the leaves on the trees are starting to turn. The nights are getting cooler and there’s the first sign of frost. Before you know it, snow is on the ground and, in the North East and Great Lakes especially, local county road commissions are wasting no time pouring tons of rock salt and sand on the roads, to melt the white stuff and keep them clear. Combine this, with the slushy mess resulting after a major winter storm, and it’s the perfect formula for ruining paint and devouring automotive sheetmetal–no wonder this part of the world is often referred to as the land of the missing rocker panel! Not surprisingly, many of us who own classics and collector cars do our best to make sure our rides are safely tucked away during the winter months. But in order to ensure that our cars are ready come the first nice day of spring, there are a few things to consider when putting your classic away so that once the snows do subside you can be out driving it once again.


KEEP IT FULL

Moisture is the natural enemy of any classic car, and there are a few things you can do to keep it at bay. One of them; is to keep the gas tank full of fuel as often as possible, especially when you’re storing it for extended periods. As your car burns fuel, the tank is drained and gasoline is pumped through the fuel lines to the carburetor or injectors. As the level of fuel in the tank drops, it offers the right conditions for moisture to form on the inside of the tank walls. If the tank isn’t filled regularly, that moisture starts to react with the steel on the inside of the tank, causing it to oxidize. Eventually the corrosion can become so severe; that when you fill the car up with fuel, if it hasn’t been done regularly, fuel will seep out of the top part of the tank and onto the ground, which at worse, can cause a major environmental hazard and at best wreck your driveway or the floor of your garage.

If you’ve recently purchased a classic that still has its original fuel tank, 25 plus years of use will likely have caused sediment to form at the bottom of the tank. If you run the tank close to dry, not only will you cause moisture to form in the tank and fuel lines, but when you start the car, all that sediment will get dragged up through the car’s fuel system by the pump, clogging up the lines. The result is a car that will run very poorly or not run at all, because the carburetor jets or injectors can’t squirt enough fuel into the manifold and combustion chambers to mix with the air and spark. It also means that you’ll have to do a complete fuel system flush; carburetor service and tune-up, which is time consuming and the last thing you need before putting your car away for winter–the author speaks from personal experience on this one! So make sure you fill your tank right to the brim before you put the car in storage for winter.


KEEP IT FRESH

Compared to when many of our cars were built, modern gasoline is not particularly well formulated, nor high in octane. The structure of gasoline molecules can alter in less than 60 days, causing the water and petroleum elements to separate, resulting in a stale fuel that won’t burn properly and can gum up the fuel lines, injectors and carburetor jets. As a result, because ample fuel can’t reach the engine’s combustion chamber, the car won’t start. The problem is amplified if your car is sitting in storage for five to six months over the course of winter, since the fuel isn’t being replenished and the car run regularly. One way to get around this problem is to fill the tank with fresh fuel before you put it away, generally use the highest octane you can (the fuel burns more slowly and combusts more efficiently) and then add a fuel stabilizer like Sta-Bil. This helps stabilize the composition of gasoline over extended periods, keeping it fresh for up to a full year. So, come spring, when it’s time to fire up your car, it will start on the button.


CHANGE THE FLUIDS

Here’s another no-brainer. Mineral oil breaks down over time and absorbs foreign deposits in the engine’s lube passages. If not changed regularly it can cause premature wear on the motor’s moving parts, resulting in loss of compression and increased oil consumption. Before you put your car away, make sure you take it on a good run to warm it up, before draining the old oil and pouring in new lube, along with changing the oil filter (if it has one). That way, come spring, the car is ready to go off the bat with relatively fresh oil still in the engine.

If the engine is water-cooled and the coolant hasn’t been changed in a while (more than two or three years), it’s a good idea to flush and replace it. Make sure that you use at least a 50/50 mixture of ethylene-glycol and water do NOT use any more than 50 percent water (cool winter temperatures cause water to expand which will crack the block around the water jacket passages). If your car is primarily used for racing and normally runs water in the summer months with an additive like Redline Water Wetter, change to a 50/50 water/antifreeze mix for storage in winter. Also change the transmission fluid and differential oil if it hasn’t been done for a few years, before you put the car away. If you’ve got time, another good tip is to bleed the brakes, to dispel moisture from the lines.


CLEAN FROM TOP TO BOTTOM

A good way of protecting your prized ride is to clean and wash it regularly. Before putting the car away, a good plan is to clean it from top to bottom, like you’re getting ready for the biggest car show in the world. Use a good quality car shampoo and get into every nook and cranny, including the door jams, rocker panels, trunk and fuel filler door. Once you’ve dried the car, make sure that you use a cleaner and then a wax to shine up the bodywork and protect the paint. Using a good quality wax will help prevent dust and other foreign objects from getting into the paint surface, while the car is in storage. Make sure the wax is thoroughly rubbed in; otherwise it will leave behind a residue, which will be very hard to remove come spring. Also make sure you clean the interior as well, that goes for the seats, door panels, dash and carpet. Use a good quality upholstery cleaner and shampoo for the carpet and clean the floor mats (if it has rubber ones). When you’re finished, a good idea is to throw in some bags of silica gel or other decalescent to help ward off moisture–there’s nothing worse than damp automotive carpet, either from a smell standpoint, or moisture trapped beneath the rug, which often causes floorpans to start rusting. Also make sure you do the trunk as well!


LUBE

Another good idea is to lube all the hinges, latches and locks if the car is going to be sitting for several months, to prevent them from seizing up, especially if the storage location is damp and cold (not everybody has access to a heated garage). Also, use a light layer of grease to coat the weatherstripping on the doors, trunk and body. This will keep it moist and prevent it from cracking or splitting over the winter months. Tatty weatherstripping not only detracts from the overall appearance of your classic; in some cases it can be a real hassle to replace.


CLEAN OUT THE STORAGE AREA

Before you put the car away, make sure you spend time cleaning out the storage area. In the case of a garage, sweep the floor, to make sure you get rid of any traces of dust, dirt and animals, insects or rodents, as the latter often like to make classic cars their home during winter. It’s also preferable to store the car in a place where it will remain relatively undisturbed during the winter months–someplace where the door isn’t being constantly opened and closed and daily driven cars aren’t regularly being parked in the same location. The latter is particularly bad, because if said vehicles are used in the snow and slush, parking them in the garage overnight, leaves excessive amounts of salt and moisture behind, which provide the ideal environment for things to start rusting.


PLASTIC SHEETING

Even if the car is parked in garage with a concrete or laminated floor, a good idea is to place plastic sheeting, or at the very least, old carpet on the floor, over the area where your classic will be stored. This will reduce the risk of moisture rising from the floor, which can cause rusting on the car’s underbelly, exhaust, suspension, brake and driveline components. If you can afford it, a drive-on car cocoon that completely encases the car and zips up like a tent is a very good idea, as it makes for a dry, virtually moisture free sealed chamber while the car is in storage. To prevent further moisture and critters from making in-roads, make sure you fill the ends of the tailpipes with oily rags, or preferably, steel wool.


JACK IT UP

Once the storage area is prepared you can drive the car in and park it on the plastic sheeting. You’ll then need to jack it up to take load off the tires and suspension components. This helps prevent the tires from flat spotting and reduces stress on the springs, shocks and bushings when sitting for extended periods. You should use a good quality trolley jack (that’s capable of supporting the weight of your vehicle–check the loadings on the jack you’re planning to use). Once you’ve jacked up the car, use some good quality axle stands, both front and back to keep the body/chassis securely elevated (do not store the car with the trolley jack). This author also likes to put wooden blocks under the tires, so the suspension isn’t fully extended, while the car is being stored. Once you’ve done that, make sure the transmission is in Neutral and disengage the parking brake, otherwise (particularly if the storage area is very cold), the mechanism can bind over time and the rear brakes will lock, not something you’ll want to deal with when taking the car out of storage in the spring.


REMOVE THE BATTERY

Automotive batteries don’t like the cold too much as they require chemical energy to convert into kinetic energy and vice versa. In colder temperatures they’re taxed more heavily, which can shorten battery life and puts greater stress on the cells contained within the battery. Cold weather, combined with a stationary car, where the battery isn’t getting recharged by the alternator, means it drains of energy very quickly. So when you’re storing your car for winter, make sure you remove the battery and store it in a warmer area, like part of the house, apartment or basement, preferably on blocks of wood to reduce the risk of energy draining from it. A good idea is also to put it on a trickle charge, to prevent it from discharging, so come spring, it’s still got ample energy stored in it to start the car when put back in place and hooked up to the vehicle’s electrical system.


USE A GOOD QUALITY CAR COVER

The last thing you need to do, before locking the door and walking away, is drape the car with a good quality cover. This is one area where you simply can’t skip. Use a good quality, breathable cover that allows any moisture that gets trapped between the bodywork and the cover, to escape. Non-breathable covers are often cheaper, but they don’t dispel moisture effectively and after several months of storage it’s not uncommon to find oxidizing paint and even surface rust forming. If you can, get a cover that’s fitted to the car, to prevent excessive dust and dirt from getting between the cover and the car. With that, you’re prized ride is all set for winter hibernation and will be ready to go once the weather breaks again.


STARTING YOUR CAR

Most automobiles function better when they’re used regularly. When a car is in storage, it’s often difficult to do because of the outside weather conditions or logistics. For many classic car owners up north, one option is to start and run the car, roughly once every other month. If you plan on doing this, pick a day when the outside temperatures are slightly warmer (preferably above 40 degrees F). Keep the garage or storage unit door wide open and when you start the car, run it for around 30 minutes, to ensure the battery is charged and that the engine is decently warmed up. Also test the brakes and if the car has a manual gearbox, row through the gears a few times. Frequent starting can cause wear on the engine and electrical components, so you shouldn’t do it more than once a month.



Before you put your classic or collector car away for the winter, take it for a drive and fill the gas tank to the brim, in order to prevent moisture build up in the car’s fuel system.



Try and use the best quality fuel you can with the highest octane, as it combusts more efficiently and helps the car run better, which will make it easier to start come spring. For our sample Mustang, we elected to use Sunoco Ultra 94.



Once the tank is full, add some fuel stabilizer to preserve the gasoline and prevent it from breaking down. Without additives like Sta-bil, the composition of gas breaks down in as little as 30 days, which can clog up your car’s fuel system, making it hard to start.



Filling the crankcase with fresh motor oil will help protect the moving parts and ensures that, come spring, you literally drive the car straight out of storage without having to change the oil.



Once you’ve changed your oil and other fluids (if required), it’s time to treat the car to a good, thorough washing, to remove any tree sap, tar or other contaminants that can attack and ruin the paint. First of all, you need to rinse the body to get rid of any loose dirt of debris.



Next, use a good quality car shampoo and wash mit. Do every inch of the car, including the door jams, gas filler door, trunk and rocker panels. Once you’ve rinsed and dried the car with a towel or detailing cloth, treat it to a very good wax to protect the paint while it’s in storage.



Once you’ve done the outside, it’s time to turn your attention to the interior. Make sure you tackle the carpet, door panels, dash and seats–don’t skip out on anything.



Cleaning and shampooing the carpet not only gets rid of ugly stains; it also removes nasty odors. Once you’re done, through in some decalescent to keep mildew and mold from forming while the car is put away for the winter.



Once you’ve done the interior, turn your attention to the trunk area and repeat the process. Also make sure you put some decalescent in here as well, as trunk areas are notorious moisture traps on most cars.



When you put the car away, it’s a good idea to jack it up and take the load off the tires. However, before you do, you need to make sure the jack you’re using is designed to hold the weight of your vehicle. This service jack is designed to hold vehicles up to two tons. If you have a big older car, or pick up, you’ll likely need something with a three- to five-ton capacity.



Although you can use the jack to elevate the car, in order to keep it securely off the ground in storage, you’ll need some good quality axle stands. Make sure you position these under the car’s recommended jacking points, otherwise you can damage the underside.



Moisture tends to rise, so before you park the vehicle, lay the ground beneath where it will sit, either with old carpet (shown) or even better, plastic sheeting. This helps prevent moisture from rising up and coating the vehicle’s underbelly, where it can rust exhaust systems, fuel and brake lines among other things.



Some people prefer to leave their car supporting their own weight when storing it. If you choose to do that, a good idea is to bump up the tire pressure to prevent them from flat spotting during extended storage. On a car like this SVO, bumping up pressure from 30 to 40 psi is recommended. Make sure you deflate the tires to the normal pressure before driving it again in the spring!



If you do choose to jack up the car, make sure you do one wheel at a time and secure an axle stand in place before moving on.



Some people choose to remove the wheels when storing their rides and stack them. If you decide to do this, make sure you cover the brakes to help prevent moisture from condensing on them. Also remember to release the parking brake to prevent it from locking the rear wheels, which can happen if the mechanism is engaged while the car is sitting for extended periods.



Using a good quality car cover is a must when storing your vehicle. Make sure you get a breathable cover with holes that allow moisture to escape. A tailored car cover, that’s designed to fit your vehicle also helps keep out dust and other foreign objects.



Besides storage, winter north of the Mason-Dixon is also a good time to work your vehicle if you’ve got the right space and conditions. This Shelby G.T. 500E is being treated to a full engine rebuild and new interior trim.

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