Storing your classic car over the long, cold winter takes a lot more than just parking and ignoring it until spring. When cruising weather finally returns, you want to be able to take your baby out for a drive, not spend time, money and effort resurrecting it after six months of neglect.
Bad gas, dead batteries, damaged paint and interiors, tire issues, rodent and insect infestation, even rust and mechanical problems from accumulated moisture can be avoided by taking some simple measures of care before you put your classic down for its winter hibernation.
This guide is written with the assumption that the vehicle will not be started or driven during the storage period. We deal with the question,to-start-or-not-to-start, in a separate story. But for now, go with the idea that you’re putting your collector vehicle away for the winter, not to be disturbed until spring.
While these tips are designed for collector cars and trucks, much of it also can be applied to motorcycles, as well as tractors and other gas-powered implements.
So here are 10 steps for keeping your classic vehicle in good condition during long-term winter storage:
• Wash and detail your vehicle thoroughly. Apply a coat of wax and polish the chrome and other shiny bits. Clean the tires, too, and treat them with a good non-solvent-based tire dressing. If your car has a convertible top, store it with the top up (otherwise the fabric will shrink), clean the fabric and treat it with a product designed for that purpose.
• Clean the interior. Vacuum it thoroughly to get rid of all those little crumbs and bits that can attract vermin. Polish the leather and vinyl. Get some packs of desiccant, available at the hardware store, to wick away moisture. As well as providing protection, you will be thankful in the spring when you step into an interior that’s clean and dry.
• Store your car indoors in a weatherproof structure on a concrete surface, never a dirt floor. Sweep and wash the floor before parking, then lay down a large sheet of plastic to serve as a vapor barrier to prevent moisture from coming up through the concrete floor and reaching the underside of your car. Even if your floor is painted or epoxy coated, a plastic tarp is cheap insurance.
• Change the oil. Used oil is full of contaminants and residue that can damage your engine if left in the crankcase. Always store a vehicle with fresh oil. As long as the car is not started during storage, you can keep that fresh oil and drive away in the spring – unused oil will not go bad. Check all fluids and top them off if needed. If your brake fluid is a few years old, you might consider changing that as well. Lube the front end and chassis as needed.
• Make sure your cooling system contains the proper blend of antifreeze so it doesn’t freeze up, which can cause the engine block to crack. In very cold climates, you might consider using an engine-block heater just as you do for your daily drivers.
• Put the battery on a good-quality battery tender. Make sure the device has an automatic shut off to avoid overcharging, which will wreck the battery. If possible, take the battery out of the vehicle, and if the garage is unheated, bring it into the house for the winter.
• Add a fuel-stabilization product to the gas, then fill the tank to the brim. This will extend the usable life of the fuel while protecting the tank, fuel system and engine from corrosion. Take the car out for a 20-minute drive to circulate the chemical-laden gas throughout the system, then top off the tank again. The ethanol in gas attracts moisture, and the filled tank allows less room for moist air to collect.
• Plug the exhaust pipe and any other openings, such as engine intakes, with wads of steel wool to keep critters out. Periodically check the car to make sure no unwelcomed guests have taken up residence in the interior, engine compartment, trunk or under the car.
• Jack up the vehicle and put it on sturdy jack stands – never use cinder blocks or any other type of make-do stands that could unexpectedly fail. There is some dispute over storing vehicles on jack stands over a long period because it could place unnatural strain on the suspension – decide for yourself how you want to approach this. One solution is to remove the wheels to take the weight off the raised suspension.
Basically, raising the car off its tires keeps them from flat-spotting, but that’s not as big a deal with modern tires. There are also so-called tire cradles that can help avoid flat spotting; some folks use thick sections of corrugated cardboard. Inflate the tires a bit higher than normal and, if possible, wrap the wheels and tires in plastic sheeting. Always release the hand brake to keep it from getting stuck.
• Keep the vehicle under a high-quality cover, preferably one with a soft inside surface that won’t damage the paint and thick enough to protect the body from bumps. The cover does not have to be waterproof since your car is indoors; a cover made from material that breathes is preferable.
You might not agree with every piece of advice given here, but you can alter your approach depending on your specific needs and conditions. But remember, the ounces of prevention that you take when putting away a vehicle for long-term winter storage can prevent pounds of heartache when the time comes for getting it out again.
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 SPEED.com, 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.