So winter is upon us once again. For some of us it’s time to put our wheels in storage and wait for the spring and summer driving seasons. What do you need to do before putting your prized car away for the winter? After scouring the internet here are the best car winter storage tips.
Location, Location, Location
This is probably the single most important decision when it comes to storing your car for the winter. It will affect all of the decisions you need to make when storing your car. Are you able to store your car in a climate-controlled facility? You will be miles ahead of the game.
Storing your car in a climate-controlled building will nullify many items on this list. You may not have to worry about rodents (!, more on that below), no car cover, moisture build-up inside. It’s the way to go if you have access to it.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the luxury of a climate-controlled facility to store our cars in. So what do we do? We follow the tips from the rest of the article.
Wash and Wax Your Car
If you are putting your car in a garage or not, you always want to wash and wax it before storage. Why? Your car’s exterior takes a lot of abuse during the summer and fall driving months and depending on when you put in storage; you may even have some salt build-up on it.
Taking the time to wash and wax your car will wash all of the microscopic debris off the car and put a nice protective coating on your car.
To Use A Car Cover or Not Use A Car Cover-That is the question
After you find the perfect location to store your car and give it a good cleaning. The question as to whether or not to cover your car is a hotly debated one. There are pros and cons to covering your vehicle, I will discuss a few and then let you decide.
The pros I found come from Hagerty.com; they are in favor of placing a cover over your car. The premise that they are operating under is that your storage location is still an active garage. A car cover will protect your vehicle from getting scratched or have paint spilled on it.
The cons come from Canadian Gearhead and they make a much more compelling argument against using a car cover. Their point is any bit of dust and dirt can get trapped under the cover, causing scratches in the paint. It is a lot easier to clean the dust off your car than buff scratches out of your paint job.
The second thing they noted was that a car cover traps moisture. I can personally attest to this in my comments about caring for the car’s interior below. Even if you think you have dried your car, there are places that water can hide.
So, do you use a car cover, it really depends on your personal situation.
We’ve discussed the pros and cons of using a car cover. However, there are a few other areas on the exterior of the car that need to be addressed.
The first one is where you are parking your car. Do you want to possibly see a nice new oil stain on that concrete garage floor? Probably not. Place a tarp or garage mat down to catch any fluids that may leak out of your vehicle.
More importantly, though, is protecting your car from mice and rodents. Again, the location you choose to store your car could make all the difference in the world. If you have your car parked in a premium facility, that is climate controlled or at the very least locked up tight. Mice might not be a big concern for you.
However, if you are storing your vehicle in the drafty garage, then preparing for mice might be on your list of thighs to do. So what are some practical measures that you can take?
Use some steel wool or a soda can to and block off the exhaust. The tail pipe is a ideal place for a mouse to setup shop during the winter. It’s cozy, protected, and can cause you grief in the spring when your exhaust system is clogged.
Another place that might be good to block off is the intake under the hood. This is mostly for older cars, but nevertheless still a place rodents can get in and wreak havoc.
A third preventative measure, which admittedly is anecdotal, is placing fabric dryer sheets or Irish Spring soap shavings around your vehicle. Some people swear by this and others say you are just giving the rodents something to build their nest with.
Lastly, you can resort to the tried and true moth balls in and around your car. I tried warding rodents off with moth balls and didn’t have great success. But you never know how animals are going to react. With moth balls too, you take the chance of stinking your car up. This is not my favorite option.
If you are looking for a more, shall we say, hardline approach. There are always mouse traps and poisons that you could place in your storage area. But these do require maintenance, or else you could come back to a garage full of little mouse corpses.
Alright now that we have covered the exterior of the car, let’s move on to other areas of your vehicle.
Under the Hood
There are several items you want to take care of under the hood before you store your car for the winter. Regardless of where you are storing your car, these items need to be taken care of. This will ensure a smooth start up in the spring. Two areas we are going to look at ar the fluids and the car battery.
Top off the fluids
Let’s see, there is a hierarchy here of fluids to top off. The most important is antifreeze. After all, you don’t want your car engine literally freezing while it’s sitting there in sub-zero temperatures. Check the reservoir tank and fill it to the line.
A second note about the antifreeze. If your tank is full, you may still want to test the antifreeze with a hydrometer. Antifreeze does go bad and the hydrometer test will tell you if your fluid is up to the task of lasting all winter.
Fill the fuel tank. The gas tank gets its own paragraph. Fill the gas tank up before you store it. When you are ready to go in the spring you won’t have to worry about fueling up. But more importantly, it keeps moisture from condensing inside your fuel tank.
Do you know what happens when you mix water in with your fuel? Your car doesn’t run right, messes with the fuel firing properly. The less room for air inside your tank, the better.
However, there is one more thing that needs to be done. You need to add a fuel stabilizer to your tank. This is very important because without doing this your gas will go bad. Have you ever tried to start a lawnmower after it has been sitting all winter? The same thing happens in your car.
Lastly, we come to the engine oil. Even though your car will be stored for several months it is a good idea to change the oil if your car is going to be sitting for some time. The oil contains debris and contaminants that are harmful to your engine. Allowing them to sit in your engine is no good. Having fresh oil and filter will ensure a smooth spring start-up.
There are other ‘minor’ fluids if-you-will, such as the transmission fluid, windshield washer fluid, brake fluid. These should all be fine, but giving them a once over doesn’t hurt. Just a note, if you do top off the windshield washer fluid; make sure you are using the winter blend. The windshield washer fluid will freeze in cold temperatures.
The powerhouse of your car needs to be taken care of as well. With months of no use, your car battery will drain and lose its ability to hold a charge. If you are going to be storing your car for several weeks or months you have a few options.
One is to simply disconnect the battery. Take the negative off first (the black wire “-”) and then the positive ( the red wire “+”). Move the cables away and you are all set.
You can leave the battery in the car, but I like to take my battery completely out of the car if I am going to do this. I put it up on a shelf ( not a concrete floor) and attach a quality trickle charger to it, like this one from Amazon. The trickle charger will maintain the battery through its period of inactivity.
However, a word of warning. If your car is going to be stored away from you and is not being monitored. DON’T USE A TRICKLE CHARGER. Unless of course, you like being responsible for burning your car and a storage facility to the ground. Yes, there is a chance this could happen.
If you don’t want to lose your precious stereo presets and will occasionally be using your car during the winter. You can leave the battery in the engine compartment and simply attach the trickle charger to it. This way your car is ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Read my article on helping your battery maintain a charge through the winter over here.
Tires, Wheels, and Brakes
Okay so now that we have topped off our fluids and taken care of your car battery, let’s address some other areas of the vehicle. Namely the tires and brakes; surprisingly sitting for months on end will take its toll on these as well.
What do you put under your tires when storing your car?
Your car tires are so expensive, it’s worth the time to make sure they will make it through the winter. “What can possibly happen to my tires?”, you may ask. Due to the weight of the car, tires can actually develop a flat spot where they make contact with the floor.
In some cases this flat spot becomes permanent and the tire needs to be replaced in the spring! This is especially true of low-profile sports tires ( the most expensive type of tire, of coarse). So how do you combat this?
The first suggestion is to remove the tires and put the car up on jackstands. The good part about this is you are sure to protect your tires because they will have no weight on them.
The con to using jackstands is that it may cause some damage to the suspension of your car. That being said many people each year put their vehicles up on jackstands with no issues.
There are alternatives to jack stands however. Tire saver ramps (like these ones) are a nice go between for tire preservation. You don’t need to remove your wheel and people have had good success in protecting their tires.
If you don’t want to bother with any of that Canadian Gearhead suggests pumping a few extra pounds of pressure in your tire. Five to ten extra pounds should prevent the tire from developing the dreaded flat spot. It’s a cheap and easy way to protect your tires for winter storage.
Whatever you decide to do with your wheels, the next item is not optional. Don’t engage your parking brakes! The brake pad can become fused to the rotor or drum. This is not good, it will be like your brakes are constantly engaged. A trip to the mechanic will be in order if this happens.
If you are concerned about your car rolling invest in a set of wheel blocks. This will keep your vehicle from rolling around.
Don’t Forget Your Car’s Interior
So we have been under the hood and under the tires. We can’t forget your car’s interior. Now again, this is not a hard and fast requirement. If your vehicle is being stored in a climate controlled building, your car interior should be fine.
Just in case you don’t have a premium storage location, though, here are a few tips. Ventilation, cracking your windows an inch or so will keep the air moving through your vehicle so it doesn’t develop a musty smell.
Another step you can take is keeping the moisture under control. A package of silica gel, like the one found here at Amazon, will do the trick. Place one of these in your car so mold doesn’t start growing on the upholstery.
If you don’t have silica gel packs. Kitty litter wrapped in a sock will provide a short term solution.
A friend of mine was taking care of an old Porsche in Maine. The car was kept in a garage, but it wasn’t climate controlled. When he peeled off the cover to show me the car we found mold growing on the interior. Just a little preventive maintenance will keep this from happening.
Again, it really depends on where you are going to be storing your vehicle as to whether or not you need to take these precautions.
Well, there you have it. A complete guide to storing your car for winter. It’s worth the effort to take the time to prepare your car, so that it will be ready for spring. Until then,