Old Man Winter Is Coming. Are You And Your Car Prepared?

Walking through your yard with the rustle of leaves underfoot on a crisp, cool morning, is an undeniable reminder that it’s time to think about putting your ride away for winter hibernation. Don’t put it off, as a little time invested today will pay off when spring cruising-weather returns. Even if you figure you’re an old pro at this, read along, and you’ll likely find some improvements for your preparation regimen.

Maintenance Now To Prevent Damage

Kevin Oeste, of V8 Speed & Resto Shop in Red Bud, Illinois, with his wife, Kelle, said their shop advocates storing a vehicle with a fresh oil change. What we’ve learned is – especially with a carbureted car – these things don’t get driven very often,” he says.

“You might have additional combustion byproducts and fuel vapors in your crankcase and your oil. That stuff will settle in the pan over the winter, and potentially rust the pan and corrode internal engine parts. We like to get all of that nasty stuff out of there and put some fresh oil in it over the winter so that it helps minimize any internal-corrosion issues.

“Another process people do is old-school, but no longer necessary or recommended. That is firing up the car once a month over the wintertime ‘just to circulate fluids.’ A lot of guys like my dad thought that was the best thing to do.”

But, starting it up can actually cause more harm than good, he notes. That is because the engine isn’t operated hot enough and long enough, and it produces water vapor throughout the engine and exhaust system from the humid air it ingests.

For transmissions and rearends, Oeste said the shop defers to manufacturer recommendations. Since a weekend cruiser won’t rack up the miles as quickly as a commuter, it will need its fluids changed by the calendar rather than by mileage.

“Most of our customers invest quite a bit into these cars, and they see fluids as being cheap insurance. They change them more frequently than required,” Kevin says.

Brake Fluid Absorbs Moisture Over Time

Although brake fluid operates in a closed system, it still absorbs moisture over time. Oeste recommends that it — along with antifreeze/coolant — be checked with dip strips before the vehicle is put into storage. Available in small or large quantities through Phoenix Systemsthe brake-test strip indicates any corrosion by showing the level of copper in the system. The coolant-test strip indicates the pH of the coolant to see if the mixture has turned acidic. Phoenix also offers dual-sided strips to check both during the same test session.

winter storage

Brake fluid absorbs moisture, causing corrosion over time. Phoenix Systems’ BrakeStrip checks the fluid for the presence of copper in parts per million (PPM), indicating the need for a fluid flush.

Antifreeze Does More Than Stop Freezing

“While antifreeze should be checked for its freeze point to protect against the horror of a cracked block, there are more checks you might not have considered. Aluminum radiators often suffer from premature failure,” Oeste says. One reason he’s found for this is from galvanic corrosion caused by dissimilar metals: the cast-iron block and water pump, a steel impeller in the water pump, and the aluminum radiator. “The solder joints tend to be the failure point where galvanic corrosion starts to cause leaks,” he notes.

Is Your Radiator Turning Into A Giant Battery?

Electrolysis is another potential problem. Oeste’s shop inspects for it by measuring the coolant with a voltmeter. With the engine running and the meter’s negative lead on the battery ground, insert the positive lead into the radiator neck. A voltage above .3-volt is a problem and cause for inspecting the vehicle’s grounds.

“We’ve seen electronically controlled transmissions put current through the hard cooling lines,” he says.
His shop has also recommends using a 50/50-premixed antifreeze/coolant. Although some customers balk at “paying for a half-gallon of water,” Oeste reminds us that it’s good-quality water that is filtered, pH neutral, and free of minerals.

“I tell people to use a voltmeter and a dip strip in their coolant, especially if they’re going to store it. You want to make sure everything’s happy so you don’t have a giant battery being created that’s eating away at your radiator.”

You still need to check for the proper level of freeze protection (left), but you should also check for acidity with Phoenix Systems CoolantStrip (middle), and for electrolysis with a voltmeter's positive lead inserted into the radiator fill neck with the engine running (right). You're looking for .3-volt or less.

Don’t Forget About The Fuel In Your Tank

Russell Jacobs, president of hot rod/restoration shop RJ Cars Inc in Arkport, New York, said his shop recommends that his customers use non-ethanol fuel, especially during storage. If that’s not feasible, use a fuel treatment/stabilizer, such as from Startron or Driven Racing Oil.

“We like to use the Fitch fuel catalyst. It’s a permanent fuel stabilizer,” he says. He also advises car owners wipe down all bare metal with a product such as WD-40 or NAPA Wet Graphite Film Lubricant to protect the parts from rusting. “We have had to straighten out some messes from improper storage,” he states.

“We fixed a Concours-restored muscle car the owner put away for a few months. When he went to pull it out for a big show, much of the NOS date-coded, impossible-to-replace parts were rusty. It was not fun trying to clean it up and make it presentable for the show that week!”

Russell Jacobs, president of RJ Cars in Arkport, New York, recommends ethanol-free fuel for storage. But, in any case, he recommends StarTron's enzyme fuel treatment or a similar product. He advises wiping down bare-metal parts with WD-40 or NAPA's Wet Graphite Film Lubricant to prevent rust.

Keeping Rodents And Other Pests Out

Winning the battle against mice and other pests begins with a well-sealed building, Jacobs says. Mice can enter a hole as small as a dime. Help keep them out with an add-on garage threshold strip on the garage floor. He notes that products such as Shake-Away can also be used around the outside perimeter of the building to deter them. That product uses the scent of predator animals.

Dry, heated storage with a dehumidifier is best. If one is not available, products such as DampRid, with moisture-absorbing crystals, can be used in the interior to keep away musty odors, and a fan will keep air circulating.

Jacobs has good luck using peppermint-oil-soaked cotton balls or gauze in plastic containers to keep mice away. Oeste said he prefers Irish Spring soap: just cut open the box and leave it in the car.

“We’ve learned that critters don’t like the smell of Irish Spring, and it’s far better than mothballs or things that humans also don’t like to smell.”

Mice can enter through a hole as small as a dime. Garage thresholds, such as this one from Tsunami (left) help seal the garage door to keep mice and other critters out. Shake-Away uses granules with the scent of a mouse's predator, which can be placed around the perimeter of the storage facility to help deter them from entering. If a dehumidified dry storage facility is not available, DampRid will help absorb musty odor-causing moisture in the interior.

(Not) Taking A Stand

Oeste advises customers store their vehicles with the suspension loaded. “If you do use jack stands, put them under the rear axle and the control arms, so the springs are compressed and holding the weight. Don’t let the suspension droop. That puts a strain on bushings, and it will actually accelerate wear.”

To prevent flat-spotting tires, Oeste recommends FlatStopper tire cradles from Race Ramps. “They’re small half-moon shaped blocks you drive onto, and they support the tire on a curve instead of the flat.” A car can be driven on them without jacking it up, so Oeste recommends them for year-round use, not just for winter storage.

A Maintenance-Free Battery Is Not Really Maintenance Free

When you turn the key for the first time in the spring, you want to hear a throbbing idle. Nothing ruins that bright spring day like hearing the dreaded “click, click, click” of a near-dead battery. You probably also know you should keep your battery charged to keep it healthy. Letting it discharge can create sulfation and shorten its life. If the vehicle is stored in an unheated building, a very discharged battery can even freeze. Some type of battery maintainer is recommended.

winter storage

Race Ramps’ FlatStoppers can be driven onto to prevent tire flat-spotting.

Old-technology battery chargers — even if just five years old — can overcharge a battery and dry out its electrolyte. Also, old-tech battery maintainers are not equipped to charge newer AGM, spiral-wound, or gel cell-type batteries — types that are often found in classics and hot rods, as well as many newer vehicles.

“They require specific charging routines for optimal health and longevity,” says Jim O’Hara, vice president of marketing for Clore Automotive. Typical “good-for-all-batteries” chargers and maintainers use a “safe” charging routine that is not optimized for any specific battery type. They can undercharge some battery types, such as flooded-acid batteries and reduce their life, he said.

“True smart-maintainers take the extra step of having specific settings for each battery construction, ensuring a complete charge for each type of lead-acid battery. This is particularly important in extended-storage charging.”

winter storage

Clore Automotive’s Solar Pro-Logix delivers the ability to properly charge virtually any lead-acid battery type: flooded, AGM, spiral wound, marine, deep cycle, and LiFePO4 batteries. The PL2140 adds a special Recovery-Mode feature, which allows the operator to determine how the charger reacts to power outages.

Car-Finish Care

Modern, catalyzed finishes, such as found in basecoat/clearcoats, are more durable and much more resistant to oxidation than older, enamel and lacquer finishes were.

“But they’re still susceptible to etching and contamination,” said Mike Pennington, director of global training, event marketing, and consumer relations at Meguiar’s. “Whether your paint is old or new, Mother Nature is still going to win that battle.” 

Contamination, including industrial fallout or bird droppings, can etch the paint, especially if left for months. Undetected acid-rain (any precipitation with a pH less than 7) damage can become reactivated with new precipitation, even from dew or fog in an environment that’s not perfectly sealed.

It’s best to prepare the vehicle for storage as one would for a big car show,” he said.“Remove any swirls, and put a good coat of your favorite wax on there.”

For a freshly painted vehicle, check the paint manufacturer’s recommendations. Usually, one must wait 45 to 60 days before waxing. However, Meguiar’s M305 Ultra Finishing Durable Glaze is breathable and safe for fresh paint. However, it’s designed to last only about a month.

A wash, followed by a clay bar, and possible paint correction using an orbital buffer, such as Meguiar's MT300, will remove acid rain spots. They can potentially get worse if the surface is introduced to moisture from dew or fog. A form-fitting, soft cover, such as from California Car Cover Co., will help protect the finish.

It’s also a good idea to wipe down the weatherstripping and other rubber parts with a protectant such as Meguiar’s Ultimate Protectant, and use a soft indoor cover to keep dust off. Make sure the car cover is clean, Pennington advised, and wash it periodically at the laundromat.

California Car Cover Co. sells one we use,” Oeste says. “It’s almost like a fleece-lined Spandex material. It’s really soft, and it stretches. You almost kind of fling it over the car and twang it down to the four corners of the bumpers.”

“Putting the car away show-ready offers a little peace-of-mind, knowing you put your baby away perfectly flawless. It’s going to appreciate this,” Pennington says.

Following these tips mean that when winter ends, the ride you’ve been eagerly awaiting to take when that first beautiful weekend in springtime comes will be an enjoyable task. The last thing you want to do is spend another weekend cleaning it. You want to unroll the cover, wipe it down, and go!

Article Sources

About the author

Jay Sicht

Since childhood, Jay has been fascinated by planes, trains, and automobiles, and all things mechanical. He's been in the automotive aftermarket for 25 years, having written about it for 15 of those years.
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