How To Winterize A Car For An Extended Winter Hibernation

Some enthusiasts have the luxury of enjoying their hot rod year-round. Well, good for you. Meanwhile, a larger percentage of us are required to winterize a car for a long winter nap. Depending on where you reside, you might be placing your pride and joy away for a couple of months, or for much longer. No matter the length of time, you might want to consider some or all of these precautions to prevent any unfortunate surprises once you bring your car or truck back to life when spring arrives.

winterize a car

Whether you plan on doing any work to your car or just storing it away, think about your winter project plans. Our hot rod will be receiving some major work, so our first steps are very secure jack stands and removal of all tires.

Many of you might not be subjected to the harshest of wintertime climates, so some of these tips may not be necessary for you. Just determine what level of a harsh environment you have, depending on your global latitude. If you are lucky, firing your ride up in the spring may be uneventful without a hibernation procedure. But many of these suggested steps are something you would perform on a regular basis anyway. Why not time them before winter so you are ready to go for a ride at the first thaw.

The Basics

We are skipping over the obligatory coat of wax or car cover suggestions and digging into the more mechanical suggestions. The most obvious hardcore precautions are applied to your car’s fluids. As fuel is the most volatile, make sure you either treat your existing fuel with a fuel stabilizer or fill the tank with pure gasoline containing no additives such as ethanol.

Filling your fuel tank is good practice. With no air within the cavity of your tank, it prevents condensation from repeatedly forming during air temperature swings. Over time, this condensation will convert to water droplets entering your stored fuel.

Fuel stabilizers and water-preventing additives can do well for the fuel tank. Additionally, many larger towns have a handful of gas stations offering fuel pumps with no ethanol additives. Our practice is to exhaust what fuel is in the tank with a pre-storage fun drive and fill the tank to the very top with ethanol-free fuel.


Surprisingly, oil is another liquid needing maintenance as it has a direct link to storage time. It is a good idea to change your oil before dormancy. You may ask why, especially if you can get a thousand more miles out of the current oil in the spring? Well, used oil can contain corrosive properties like dirt, sulfur, water, and fuel residues. This is a normal issue that your filter and daily use can combat, but engine components sitting with a coating of this oil can cause damage. Also, make sure to run the engine for a time following the change to allow fresh oil to coat all your engine internals.

Antifreeze And Aluminum Engine Components

It is rather obvious to all gearheads to make sure your antifreeze mixture is ready for low temperatures. Like your engine oil though, consider if it is time to change your antifreeze before storage, just for these couple of reasons.

With the popularity of aluminum heads, water pumps, and lightweight radiators, antifreeze is another liquid that needs continued attention. Even though your antifreeze may be ready for cold temperatures, coolant can become acidic over time. This can promote electrolysis that can easily damage aluminum, as demonstrated by this intake manifold surface.

Continued use or storing of degenerated coolant can allow the lack of corrosion inhibitors, lubricants, and other additives to keep the water/alcohol blend from damaging engine parts from the inside out. Also, acidic coolant becomes an electrolyte. When electrolysis occurs between aluminum and iron engine components, this can eat away your coolant passages.


Battery care is a topic that has changed drastically in recent times. Today, many enthusiasts have implemented lithium, lithium-ion, absorbed glass mat, dry cell, gel cell, and wet cell batteries into their machinery. These battery types not only vary in recommended storage and maintenance procedures in below-freezing temperatures, but the charging process can also vary between brands, even of similar battery types.

For example; If you look at various Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) batteries on the market, there are notable differences in the maintenance recommendations, such as damage from exposure to a minimum and maximum voltage, approved charger types, storage temperatures, and more. The most prevalent suggestion is to know your maintenance for your specific battery brand and type.

With a quality lead-acid battery in our street machine, straightforward maintenance includes the age-old disconnection of the ground and allowing a quality charger with a "float" circuit to maintain the battery automatically as needed. With today's plethora of performance-battery designs, the moral to this suggestion is to research the care of your specific battery brand and type for storage instructions.

For example, Steve Davis from Performance Distributors spoke to us about his Dyna-Batt batteries. “Ours is a completely dry cell battery that only requires maintenance over any dormant months with a charger/maintainer that goes into a “float mode” once a full charge is reached,” he adds. “Do not allow the Dyna-Batt to drop below 10.5 volts, since both that and overcharging can permanently damage it.”

Davis also explains that its batteries can store well in below-freezing temperatures as long as the charge is maintained. There are additionally some varied battery brands and models that recommend storage above freezing temperatures. Again, know your battery.

Brake Fluid

Brake fluid might typically be ignored, if your brakes function and the fluid level is high within your master cylinder, no problem, right? Many brake problems stem from ignoring this oil product, similar to an oil change.

The winter months can be especially harmful to your brake system, especially if you use standard DOT-level brake fluid. Consider investing a few hours into replacing any aged brake fluid with new, and consider replacing it with performance and/or synthetic fluid.

Lucas Oil notes the key differences between its DOT 3 and DOT 4 are the boiling points and their tendency to absorb water. Brake fluids tend to absorb water from the atmosphere (such fluids are said to be hygroscopic). Swapping out your fluid can also prevent damage to the brake lines and more when aged fluid becomes acidic and damages components from the inside.

DOT-4 rated or synthetic brake fluid will not retain moisture, whereas standard brake fluid is very prone to not only moisture contamination but also dirt contamination. Though the boiling point with brake fluid references the ability to not boil under extreme temperatures at the brake calipers, it is the moisture content that actually boils. A fluid with a high boiling point means it will not retain moisture for performance reasons. It also means it will do the same to stop moisture contamination during storage.

If your fluid has retained moisture, the water will compress under pressure and limit the hydraulic process. The bottom line, contaminated brake fluid can lead to a spongy brake pedal. Consider a “brake day” especially before storage to bleed out brake fluid and replace it with a fluid that will not absorb water as easily.

When it comes to tire composition, DOT-approved street tires may actually be drag slicks in disguise. Many hardcore racers will follow the manufacturer’s suggested storing of their slicks away from freezing temperatures yet away from a direct heat source. The same is suggested for exotic-compound street tires.

Tire Care

This is another topic that has changed in recent times. From street radial tires to all-out drag slicks, there is some form of care that can be beneficial if you want to keep your rolling stock perfect. Many enthusiasts make a strict habit of raising their tires off the ground during storage to remove all weight to prevent “flat spotting.” Storing the wheels and tires off the vehicle also provides a chance to inspect and maintain the car during the downtime.

If you don't want to raise and/or remove the tires/wheels during long periods of inactivity, there are additional options that support the tires on a broader contact area as they rest. Some of these flat spot preventers support the tire on the floor level, others can handily elevate the car as well.

Antique or restored muscle cars utilizing bias-ply tires see this problem more obviously when the tire suffers a flat spot in the area where it is weighted onto the ground. Though on a lesser scale, radial tires are known to flat spot over extended periods as well. Consider though that many newer performance tires can be more susceptible to not only flat-spotting but also sensitive to degradation due to their performance material composition.

Many road and drag race enthusiasts follow a strict storage regimen keeping tire compounds out of freezing temps, yet also away from direct heat (furnace) exposure. The same can be said for many ultimate performance street tires with similar tire compounds. The moral to the story once again, study your manufacturer’s recommendations.

Unwanted Visitors

Unless you own a perfectly sealed garage or storage area, little critters such as rodents can wreak havoc on your hard work. One prime example is the electrical insulation used by many wire manufacturers. Some new brands of electrical wire insulation may use peanut oil as a base compound. This may be unnoticeable to you, but is a delicacy to a mouse.

There are a plethora of suggestions you can research online to repel rodents. In lieu of doubling this story content, I will tell you I have personally experimented over the years with everything from traps, to poisons, to peppermint and mothballs. The single most effective option I personally found is the use of used kitty litter from a friend. The bottom line, the natural cat scent placed within pantyhose and placed in multiple locations in my shop has been my most effective deterrent. You’re welcome.

Moral To The Story

Taking the winter out of “winterizing,” all these suggestions should be considered at any time of year if your toy is going to be sitting still for a long spread of time. Many suggestions here refer to new technologies, making old storage suggestions antiquated. Whether it be everything from batteries, tires, and any other new technology in your hot rod, study what your products’ manufacturers specifically suggest.

Consider even a “vacation mode” when it comes to a short duration where the car may be comatose. A much simpler regimen based around the care of the tires or placing the battery on a maintainer can be effective for the overall well-being of many components while your toy is in its toy box regardless of the season.

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About the author

Todd Silvey

Todd has been a hardcore drag racing journalist since 1987. He is constantly on both sides of the guardwall from racing photography and editorship to drag racing cars of every shape and class.
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