With winter looming, is it best to take classics off the road and, if so, how can we ensure they emerge pristine in the spring?
So you think it doesn’t really matter? You’ll think again when you go to get your gleaming classic out of its garage, only to find the paint ruined by blisters and the leather covered in mould.
Classic vehicle preservation is a complex issue, as cars are made up of very different materials. Some need to be kept as dry as possible to avoid corrosion, while others may go hard and crack if kept too dry. Some will tolerate sitting immobile for months or years without problems, while others need to be moved regularly to avoid damage.
First, find somewhere dry to keep your car. A heated garage integral with the house is ideal; if the garage is not integral, timber is the best material and concrete the worst as it soaks up moisture and sweats it out later, adding salts that accelerate corrosion. Ventilation is important in an unheated garage – sealing it up is not a good move.
If you don’t have a garage, a waterproof and breathable car cover is the minimum basic protection but far better is something like an outdoor cocoon (several types are available and include controlled air circulation) or, if you want to be able to get at the car during storage, a temporary garage structure or folding garage.
Having established a dry environment, your only major enemy is condensation, which forms everywhere on metal surfaces as temperatures rise after a cold night. This can cause horrendous problems, from corrosion destroying polished aluminium surfaces such as cam covers to micro-blistering appearing underneath even the highest quality paintwork – especially if you have covered the car in a heavy dust sheet that traps the moisture on the surface of the bodywork. The ideal way to control condensation is to keep the temperature of the garage constant, maintain around 50% relative humidity with a dehumidifier or, better still, do both. If your only option is a lock-up without power, insulate the walls, door and roof to minimise temperature fluctuations. Using a dust-free cocoon inside the garage, with air circulation, is a great option as the moving air will collect and remove moisture.
Protection will also make a big difference, especially if your storage options are compromised. Polish the bodywork thoroughly with a high-build sealing polish to keep moisture from penetrating. Coat any bare aluminium and chromework (as well as the inside of the fuse box and distributor cap) with WD40 or similar and get the underside and box sections treated with wax/oil-based preservatives. Especially if the car is prone to seizing brake cylinders, change the brake fluid and if the clutch is prone to sticking, wedge the pedal down – and don’t leave the handbrake on. Hide food will help to protect leather seats. Don’t forget to put plenty of appropriate antifreezes in the coolant and the washer bottle. Blow the tyres up to well above normal pressure (or put the car on axle stands) and, if the car will be standing for several months, change the oil. Except on modern cars where it must stay connected (in which case, use a battery conditioner), disconnect the battery.
Bad storage can actually be worse for your car than keeping it in use and regularly washed through the winter – but good storage will ensure it makes it through the bad weather unscathed. If your storage is less than perfect, don’t leave the car there all winter: whenever there’s a dry day with no salt on the roads, get the car out and give it a good run, long enough to get it thoroughly warm and evaporate any hidden condensation.