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Tips for storing your car for the winter

Follow these steps to have her ready for action at the first sign of spring
car care

Many years ago, my father elected to tuck his MGB away for the season on the grounds that it had been run into by a truck and gone a bit bendy. He put it in a shed, and there it sat gently decomposing.

When we extracted the wreck for a restoration, it wasn't in as horrible a shape as you might imagine. Yes, several hundred generations of rodents had thrived in the car's carcass, feasting on the upholstery and making nests in the carburetors, but the little 'B had been properly covered up and cared for, and was mostly intact. Soon, it would be running again (and then breaking down, then running, then breaking - this is what a British car is like).

With winter well on its way, it's perhaps time to think about tucking your own classic or lively sportster away for the season, waiting until the days lengthen out a bit, and salty roads and the chance of a flurry are a thing of distant memory. Here are a few tips on how to make sure you come back to your garage to find your pride and joy in tip-top running condition.

Winter cleaning

While it's tempting to just wait until spring to clean, when the outside temperatures won't make claws of your numbed, wet hands, it's always best to put a car away clean and dry. If you'd like to avoid doing the scrubbing yourself, now's the time of year to splurge on a detailer.

This is pretty straightforward stuff: dirt on the paint and in the undercarriage can cause discoloration of the former and corrosion of the latter. If you're the type to try to sneak in one last blast through the leaves on a sunny day, you probably picked up a little road protectant and maybe a bug or two on the paint.

Make your life easier in the coming spring and put your car away nice and shiny. Don't forget to make sure it's totally dry as well.

The oily bits

That's the exterior sorted, on to the running components. Just as with your paintwork, you want your car to be ready in the spring and eager to go.

That means a fresh oil change before tucking it away, and preferably handling any outstanding maintenance items. If you're overdue for a brake fluid flush, handle it now before the car goes away as the hydroscopic brake fluid can corrode your brake lines sitting dormant over the winter.

There's a school of thought that believes it a good idea to fire up your car a few times over the winter months, just to get the oil moving through the passages. I wouldn't, especially with an older car. Running an engine for a short period, right during the time when it'll usually run rich, blasts moisture into your exhaust system. Normally, putting a few miles on a car will heat up all the components and dry things out, but just idling the car for a few minutes won't do the job.

Antifreeze health

Probably the most obvious thing on the list, but it sometimes gets overlooked. If you've been topping up an older car's radiator with distilled water over the year, check to make sure the concentration of antifreeze is still strong enough to prevent problems.

Fuel-air mixture

Also a good last stop before unplugging and covering up for the winter is the gas station. Over time, gasoline will naturally separate into water, and it's not uncommon to find water vapor in a fuel tank after a car's been sitting all winter.

Get around this by either picking up a fuel stabilizer (especially for longer storage), or by the simple expedient of brimming your tank with fuel you're going to burn anyway in the spring. Less space for air in the tank means less space for evaporation.

Air up and lock down

While you're at the pump, don't forget to add a few extra psi to your tires. If the car's going to be sitting a while, this'll help combat the natural leakage that occurs over months, and also helps you avoid flat spots.

When you're finally ready to park the car, leave the parking brake off! While you'll want to have chocks in place to prevent it rolling away (and leave the car in park if an automatic or in gear if a manual), it's all too easy for a parking brake to freeze up via rust or just temperature over the course of a winter, leaving you stuck fast in the spring.

Electric avenue

It's enough to disconnect a battery on an older machine if you've only got an AM radio, who cares about radio presets? With a newer car, especially something of Germanic make, you're going to want to invest in a decent trickle charger. But don't stop there. It's a great idea at this point to give your battery terminals a good clean to get the year's corrosion off them, and then apply a liberal coat of dielectric grease. That way, once you hook everything up again come spring, the car will fire right up.

Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. His regular auto column appears every Friday in the North Shore News Rev section. If you have a suggestion for a column, or would be interested in having your car club featured, please contact him at