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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 ClassicCars.com 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 | ClassicCars.com

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 ClassicCars.com.  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 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.


  1. I once took a 427 Corvette engine apart that had spun a bearing and sat for 5 years until I had time to get to working on it. The inside was totally covered with oil, no rust anywhere. So I don’t think starting it in winter is necessary. Sample of one, so proceed carefully with reflection.

      • My ‘51 Lincoln Cosmopolitan runs and drives great. The attitude I have about all 5 cars in my collection is that they were built to run during all kinds of weather. Why not use them for what they were built to do? What’s wrong with running them during the winter?


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