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To start or not to start? That is the question for winter storage


When storing a classic vehicle during the winter for three, four months or more, the question often arises: should I periodically start my car or just leave it be until spring finally comes around?

Like many maintenance issues in the car world, there are opposing schools of thought on this issue.  So here is a primer on the pros and cons of whether to start or not to start:

Not to start

The prevailing opinion among collector car experts and hobbyists is that if a vehicle is properly stowed at the beginning of the cold weather months (see the 10-step guide for winter storage), then there is no reason to start it up.  Let it hibernate in peace.

If you put in fresh oil, sealed off intake and exhaust openings, and ran gas with Sta-Bil or another fuel stabilizer through the engine and fuel system, the engine should be in the same shape you left it in come spring.

Your 90-year-old Chevy coupe should be allowed to rest over the winter |

Matter of fact, periodically starting a vehicle could cause more harm than good. That’s a common error many owners make, oil and fuel expert Lake Speed Jr. of Driven Racing Oil recently told  The son of NASCAR racer Lake Speed Sr., he said that brief engine starting will introduce moisture and contaminates to the cold engine.

“There are a lot of people who have this idea that they’ll go out there and crank the car every couple of weeks, let it run for a couple of minutes and then turn it off. That’s the worst thing you can do,” Speed said.

“The engine’s cold and you’ll get fuel dilution, blow by and moisture in the crankcase, and if you only run it for a few minutes, that few minutes of run time isn’t long enough for the engine to get warm enough to evaporate all of that stuff out.”

Moisture can result in rust, while carbon and other products of combustion can collect in the engine and exhaust system, possibly causing damage.

To start

On the other hand, there are those in the collector car community who believe a vehicle should be started every so often during the winter, with one major caveat.  The engine must be warmed up to operating temperature and, if at all possible, the vehicle should be taken out for at least a 20-minute drive.

The idea is that the oil and other fluids will be allowed to circulate fully, and the engine will be able to evaporate fuel and burn off contaminants that collect when the engine and exhaust are cold.

If you’re going to start your car during its down time, then take it out for a drive

The reason for starting, the adherents say, is to get the insides of the engine coated with oil to prevent corrosion and to ensure that such things as the oil and water pumps, charging system, etc. remain operational.  Driving the vehicle keeps tires from flat-spotting, keeps brakes from rusting and recharges the battery, as well as keeping the transmission, power steering and other systems from going south during long-term storage.

But as Speed said, don’t think you’re doing your vehicle any favors by starting it up and letting it run for a few minutes.  That will do more harm than good.

And you will need to decide for yourself which approach suits you best.  But whichever you choose, stick with it and follow through with all the storage recommendations.

Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.


  1. I gives that dilemma by moving from Illinois to the Florida Keys. No more winter storage issues and I can run my 68 Buick GS with the top down all year round. Problem fixed. LOL ?

  2. I’m originally from Canada where you definitely put your car away for about 5 months during snowy winters. As someone who studied automotives in tech school I say don’t start it. Put a battery tender or recharge every 30-40 days. Also I recommend a water pump lube additive to the coolant. Now that I’m in Nevada I take it for drives on the warm days. And the gas stabilizer is smart idea as well. Happy storing!

    • Lake Speed Jr. is too proud to mention that the oils for vintage (any flat tappet engines) need a storage protection additive. This was invented in World War II for the military and is available for any oil company to use. My question is why is Driven Racing Oil the ONLY one putting it in their oil?
      With this additive, an engine can sit for years without being started – and not get rust and corrosion.
      And – if you just believe your oil is the best, Driven will sell you the additive so you can have storage protection. by adding it to your oil.

  3. I totally agree with NOT starting your car during winter storage. I’ve been storing my beautiful 2013 Mustang GT for 7 years now and have never had a problem come spring.
    My prev – winter storage prep is full tank, Stabil in the tank check antifreeze is good let it idle for 20min then put her to bed then cry till spring.


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