Jump straight to the second part of this article, Winter Car Storage – Part 2, if you are ready to wheel your car into its winter hibernation.
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On road or off road
There are definitely two schools of thought in the Off vs On debate. As with most things, it is never a straight forward black and white decision. I believe there are at least 40 shades of grey in between. And I have a definite bias for keeping your car on the road.
If you decide to put your car into winter car storage, you can protect it from the worst of the elements; the dreaded salted roads and the increased danger of accident through snow, ice and fog.
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You can potentially save on insurance (although you will still want to be covered for fire and theft) and road tax costs (don’t forget to SORN your car if you cash in the tax). You also get a great opportunity to carry out major maintenance or refresh tasks and have the car MOT’d before storing it so that you are ready to go as soon as hibernation ends.
If you decide to continue to use your car, you get the glorious opportunity to blow away the winter blues by going for a drive on a cold, crisp, sunny, blue sky day … it is pretty close to heaven.
One of the big arguments for continuing to use your car is … it’s easier ! All of the mechanical elements that you need to consider during winter car storage; turning the engine over, seized clutch, rodent damage, these all virtually disappear if you continue to use your car
These issues are, however, replaced by the need to meticulously clean your car, topside and underside, following a run over salty roads.
Hazy Shade of Winter
Why not mix and match ? Put your car into storage using my 35 tips for winter car storage, but keep it ready for a run out on those beautiful days.
What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.
35 tips for winter storage for cars
There are no hard and fast rules about winter storage for cars, and a couple of recommendations are downright contradictory. I will put all of the recommendations in front of you where I don’t have a clear answer, so that you can decide.
Many of these tips will also apply for long term car storage or if your car is unroadworthy for a protracted length of time (like mine!)
You can fill this in as you go and leave it in the car so that you know what to undo when you bring your car out in spring.
Probably the most important part of winter storage for your car is, where you store it. Many of us don’t have much say in where we store our cars; we have got what we have got!
Having said that, if you have a £1,000,000 Ferrari parked on the street in Chelsea, it is probably worth spending a bit on a professional storage facility to protect your car and investment.
At the other end of the scale (nearer to my end of the scale 🙂 ) if your £2000 MG Midget is parked on the street outside your house, it will still be worth investing in the best quality outdoor cover that you can afford.
Here are some of the options you might consider for winter car storage from most preferable to least.
- Professional storage facility, with heating and humidity control – nice, but way out of my price range.
- Dry barn – secure and airy.
- Garage – If you have the space and money, you could consider a carcoon to add dust-free, airy storage
- Private driveway – there are outdoor carcoons available as well.
- Public road – this really is not ideal.
1. Location, location, location
If you don’t have great access to indoor storage, you could try and be inventive and do what one chap on facebook posted recently. He loans his car to his local museum over the winter months as an exhibit. It is dry, warm and secure. You might ask a local car dealer if they want to display your car in their showroom.
2. Change your oil.
Don’t skimp, change the filter and sump plug washer at the same time. Depending on how many miles you do per year, you may only need to do this every 2 years. In an older car, the oil can become contaminated through leaky piston rings, condensation and general sludge that builds up over time. Combine this with the heat that oil is subjected to, and your nice alkaline oil eventually turns acidic. You don’t want your big ends sat in that primaeval brew for too long!
3. Check your coolant system visually
If the coolant is dirty or rusty, now is a good time to flush the system and put fresh water and antifreeze in. If there is oil in the water, well, you’ve probably got a winter project to change the head gasket. Check your hoses and replace them if they are perished or cracked.
Whilst you’re at it, check the condition of the various fan / drive belts and replace if necessary.
4. Check antifreeze concentration
If everything is ok with the coolant system, use an antifreeze tester / hydrometer (I have one similar to this) to check the concentration of antifreeze in your coolant. Make sure that you get the correct tester. Some antifreeze contains ethylene glycol whereas others contain propylene glycol; the antifreeze testers are not normally interchangeable.
5. Refill / Top up
If you need to add antifreeze, check in your handbook to ensure that you use the correct specification and don’t mix different types of antifreeze. If you are unsure of what is in your car currently, drain and flush the system and add fresh antifreeze.
6. Battery terminals
Put petroleum jelly on your battery terminals to prevent corrosion. This will improve your chances of starting your car when it re-emerges from winter storage in the spring.
7. Take it for a run
Take your car out for a final run and get the engine up to working temperature to make sure that everything is coated in oiled and the antifreeze is well distributed throughout the cooling system.
8. You fill me up
There are differing opinions about filling your tank with fuel. Modern fuel contains ethanol which is hygroscopic. This means that it can absorb water moisture from the air. This, in turn, can cause your fuel tank to corrode. Filling your tank to the top with fuel will cut down the corrosion, but bear in mind that you might be storing 60 litres of fuel for 3 months in your garage. You will need to make your own choice on this one … I choose to keep the tank almost empty and accept the risk that the tank may need replacing every 10 or 20 years 😉
Also, under ideal storage conditions, petrol has a shelf life of 1 year. Outside of those ideal conditions i.e. in your car petrol tank, the octane rating starts to decrease fairly quickly.
9. Running on empty
Another opinion on fuel is to drain the fuel system completely; from tank to carbs. This will prevent all of the issues mentioned in “to fill or not to fill” and will prevent the build up of varnish and gum caused by degraded fuel.
This will obviously prevent you from running your engine during storage.
Bodywork and interior
Once you are home, it’s time to turn your attention to the bodywork and interior.
10. Clean the interior
Clean and vacuum the carpets, seats, in fact, the whole interior. Make sure that all traces of food and wrappers have been disposed of. You don’t want to encourage rodents and insects into your car.
Don’t be tempted to store spares and tools in your car. Heavy items can damage seats and carpets over time and mice love a cosy little place to nest, and chew, and toilet, and destroy …
11. Look after leather and wood
Treat leather by giving it a really good clean and then apply some leather cream to keep it supple and prevent it from cracking.
If you have a bare, wooden steering wheel, a light coating of linseed oil will protect it (and your car will smell nice).
12. Clean the exterior
All that grit and grime that the car picks up, even in a garage, can stain and damage your car’s paintwork. Give your car a good wash and wax and then dry it thoroughly.
13. Prevent creases and cracks
If your car is a convertible, put the hood up and lay the tonneau out to prevent creases and cracks. This is also a good opportunity to give them a good clean.
Locks, handles, hinges, bonnet and boot releases, all tend to suffer in winter storage. They stick, jam or even break when you come to use them again. Clean all of these items and oil or grease them as per your handbook and save yourself the disappointment in spring.
15. Protect bare metal
Touch up any bodywork paint chips and spray any bare, unpainted metal with a light coating of WD-40 to help prevent corrosion … doh! not your brakes !!
Now, I am about to enter dangerous territory here. There are several strongly held opinions about tyres and whether they will get flat spots if the car is stored over winter.
Firstly, I will give you my experience and opinion and then, I will go through some suggestions about avoiding flat spots if you believe this could be an issue for you.
My garage has seen more than its fair share of long term car storage over the past 30 years. A Westfield SEi for about 15 years; A Kougar Sports Mk I for about 12 years and even my current cars for over a year. In that time, I have never had a tyre get a flat spot. Granted, after 12 and 15 years, the tyres are scrap anyway as the rubber degrades, hardens and sidewalls and treads crack. But they did not have flat spots (and the Kougar is quite a heavy car). So, in my opinion, 3 months of winter car storage should not cause flat spots on your tyres.
That said, if your classic is a very heavy vehicle, or the tyres are very soft compound racing tyres, then you may want to take precautions.
16. Pump up your tyres
Set your tyres to the correct pressure as recommended in your owners manual; nothing more, nothing less. Everyone should do this regardless of where you stand on the flat spot issue.
17. Remove delicate tyres
If your tyres are particularly delicate, buy a second set of cheap second-hand wheels and tyres specifically for when you are storing your car. Keep your best set stored safely until required.
18. Don’t put your car on jacks
Some people recommend jacking your car up to protect the tyres. I am not in favour of this as it puts additional strain on suspension and steering components. The shock absorbers will be at full extension, the steering rack track rods will be drooping and unnecessarily under load and wishbones joints, where they pivot at the chassis, will be under stress.
19. You spin me right round
One benefit of jacking the car up however, is that you can take the pressure off the wheel bearings and prevent them from “settling” in a fixed position by giving the wheels a spin.
What next ?
You have now completed all of the preparation for putting your car into winter storage. Now read the second part of this article, Winter Car Storage – Part 2, to finally put your car to bed for winter and look after it so that it is ready for use in the springtime.
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