More essential pointers for safe winter car storage
Aside from inexplicably slow leaf-peeping Porsche Cayennes that brake to 20 mph in every turn, the crisp days of fall offer the best driving and riding opportunities of the year. Intercoolers work better. Motorcycle gear doesn’t cause heatstroke. The sight of leaves spinning into vortices in the rearview mirror while powering out of a corner is lovely, indeed. So good that it’s easy to forget that winter is coming. Preparedness can lessen the shock of the sad day when the plow truck fleet activates their salty carousels of destruction and unleash briney molasses of doom.
We’ve already touched on some winter storage tips, but we’ve assembled a bit more here, including experiential examples of what worked, what could go wrong, and what’s already gone wrong in the past. Warm climate residents can go ahead and gloat. We want the rest of you salt-belt malcontents to tell us your experiences with what worked and what didn’t in the comments.
The grace of space
Available storage space is often the determining factor in winter storage preparedness. An accessible garage makes for a more casual approach, especially if the car can be rolled out and fired up a few times between first salt and April rains. Inaccessible garages or storage spaces require more commitment to stop atrophy-induced damage from setting in. Also factor winter duration. Ideally, storage should be somewhere in between the apocalyptic sealed into a plastic bubble in an abandoned Titan missile silo and parked outside, cultivating the found-in-field look.
Clean and cover
A thin layer of paint is the last line of defense against corrosion, so wash, clean, and wax before storage. Wax keeps paint sealed and flexible enough to weather the extreme winter temperature swings. The lifting shown here is what can happen to unprepared paint over the winter. Even though this is a common problem with Starquest plastic body cladding, a better wax job might have averted failure. The ’80s, for the moment, stand defeated. Wax on now can thwart sandpaper, plastic adhesion promoter, primer, body putty, flex agent, base coat, clear, and buffing later.
Unless you’re cultivating the barn-find look, even the thinnest, least expensive car cover is better than nothing. Heavyweight custom-fitted and universal lightweights both keep condensation, moisture, bat guano, and any other nasty crud off paint and glass. Consider the ground. A plastic vapor barrier layer can prevent ground moisture from launching any undercarriage rust attacks. And while a hastily installed cover might cause a few problems like paint scuffing or moisture collection, the benefits outweigh the risks.
Atrophy can cause more mechanical damage than regular driving, and most of that is fluid related. The fuel pump shown here is a victim of ethanol-blended gasoline. The ethanol limit is up to 15 percent from 10 percent, so tank up full with ethanol-free if possible or use a fuel stabilizer ahead of storage. Carburetor? Try pinching off the fuel line and running the float bowls dry while spraying fogging oil down the throat. Unscrew float drain screws if the carby has ’em.
Like ethanol, brake fluid is hygroscopic and sucks in moisture from the air. Bleeding the brakes will flush out moisture and stop it from eating away at the wheel cylinders and caliper pistons while you cross days off the February calendar with a shaky hand. Corrosive or frozen coolant is destructive. Test the coolant for pH level and freeze point is simple and easy, and there is also the option to drain the system completely. If you choose to drain be sure to get all traces of water out as there is likely still pockets in the engine if you only remove the lower radiator hose. Changing the oil is after the last drive is a sad but beneficial activity. Consider gear and transmission oil, especially if the stuff in the differential makes Vantablack look gray.
Tired of winter
Wheel dollies make no sense in tight or dirt-floored storage spaces, but they’re great if playing car Tetris in the garage is part of the winter plan. The 1982 Starlet shown here makes 33-point turns into opposing corners over the winter, so three cars can fit in a two-car garage with enough room for projects and winter beater repairs. Anecdotal evidence suggests the curved surface on this style keep tire flat spots away. The wheel dollies with an integrated jack can be swapped from car to car without a floor jack. Putting the car up on jack stands and removing the wheels is an option if winter plans include an engine swap, clutch job, or similar under-car repairs.
Batteries present a two-fold dilemma as they vent acid fumes on the way to an unrecoverable discharged state. At the very least, pull the battery terminals and hook up a float charger. No power in your storage area? Remove the battery, top it off with some distilled water, and transport it somewhere where it can sit with a float charger attached. This could be a basement or mud room, but care needs to be taken as hydrogen is a by-product of the charging process, keep away from pilot lights and furnace chambers. Yanking the battery or batteries inside for an all-expenses paid basement vacation makes periodic inspection easy. Cheap float chargers are best semi-monitored and occasionally removed. They can and do go haywire.
Interior and pest Control
If the battery hotel is an inhospitable place, a car interior is a five-star mouse resort. Close down the buffet by vacuuming out those peanuts, and errant french fries. Mothballs, dryer sheets, or natural repellents that smell better than dichlorobenzene might work. Poison and dead mice in the firewall vents seems like an astonishingly bad idea. Rodents will chew through most anything, but mortar, caulking, and weatherstripping can keep them and moisture out of the garage. Visit your local animal shelter. Shown here is Mumbles, a blue ribbon mouser and all-around decent cat who showed up in the driveway one day. Today’s score: Mumbles 6, Mice 0.
Beyond rodent control, prepare the interior for a long, dark, damp nap. Dry out any wet carpets. Clean and treat leather and plastics. Disengage the parking brake! These dollar store closet dehumidifiers seem to work as well as any. Ironically they’re filled with salt pellets, so steady with the collected water come springtime. Another dehumidifying option is silica crystal cat litter, which looks suspiciously close to $15 an ounce air compressor line desiccant. A pan or two under the seats can’t hurt, but get the unscented variety to preserve the comforting blend of spent hydrocarbons and aged leather that constitutes our beloved old car smell.