The best tips for winter car storage and care

Chevrolet C10 camaro storage Gabe Augustine

The trees are almost bare and the evening arrives sooner each day. We all know what that means: It’s time to tuck away our classics into storage. We may have published this article in 2018, but it’s still our go-to checklist, and we hope it serves you well. —Ed. 

Just when you thought you’d heard every suggestion and clever tip for properly storing your classic automobile, along comes another recommendation—or two, or three.

As you can imagine, we’ve shared plenty of ideas and advice about winter storage over the years. Some of those annual recommendations are repeated here. And some have been amended—for example, the fragrance of dryer sheets is way more pleasing to our noses than the stench of moth balls, and the fresh smell actually does a superior job of repelling mice.

Finally, each year we receive tried-and-true suggestions from our readers that we just have to share. In 2017, our resident do-it-yourself mechanic Rob Siegel received plenty of kudos for his winter prep story, which included some valuable myth busting, and his story also drew a number of storage ideas from readers.

Armed with information old and new, here are our top tips for storing your classic vehicle. Did we miss something important? Let us know in the comments section below. We’re all in this together.

Wash and wax

ferrari 458 wax
Sabrina Hyde

It may seem fruitless to wash the car when it is about to be put away for months, but it is an easy step that shouldn’t be overlooked. Water stains or bird droppings left on the car can permanently damage the paint. Make sure to clean the wheels and undersides of the fenders to get rid of mud, grease and tar. For added protection, give the car a coat of wax and treat any interior leather with a good conditioner.

Car cover

Viper car cover
Don Rutt

Even though your classic is stored in the garage in semi-stable temperatures and protected from the elements, a car cover will keep any spills or dust off of the paint. It can also protect from scratches while moving objects around the parked car.

Oil change

Checking oil 1960 plymouth fury
Sabrina Hyde

If you will be storing the vehicle for longer than 30 days, consider getting the oil changed. Used engine oil has contaminants that could damage the engine or lead to sludge buildup. (And if your transmission fluid is due for a change, do it now too. When spring rolls around, you’ll be happy you did.)

Fuel tank

camaro red fill up gas
Sabrina Hyde

Before any extended storage period, remember to fill the gas tank to prevent moisture from accumulating inside the fuel tank and to keep the seals from drying out. You should also pour in fuel stabilizer to prevent buildup and protect the engine from gum, varnish, and rust. This is especially critical in modern gasoline blended with ethanol, which gums up more easily. The fuel stabilizer will prevent the gas from deteriorating for up to 12 months.


This is another area where fresh fluids will help prevent contaminants from slowly wearing down engine parts. If it’s time to flush the radiator fluid, doing it before winter storage is a good idea. Whether or not you put in new antifreeze, check your freezing point with a hydrometer or test strips to make sure you’re good for the lowest of winter temperatures.


car battery

An unattended battery will slowly lose its charge and eventually go bad, resulting in having to purchase a new battery in the spring. The easiest, low-tech solution is to disconnect the battery cables—the negative (ground) first, then the positive. You’ll likely lose any stereo presets, time, and other settings. If you want to keep those settings and ensure that your battery starts the moment you return, purchase a trickle charger. This device hooks up to your car battery on one end, then plugs into a wall outlet on the other and delivers just enough electrical power to keep the battery topped up. Warning: Do not use a trickle charger if you’re storing your car off property. In rare cases they’ve been known to spark a fire.

Parking brake

For general driving use it is a good idea to use the parking brake, but don’t do it when you leave a car in storage long term; if the brake pads make contact with the rotors for an extended period of time, they could fuse together. Instead of risking your emergency brake, purchase a tire chock or two to prevent the car from moving.

Tire care

Ferrari tire care
Sabrina Hyde

If a vehicle is left stationary for too long, the tires could develop flat spots from the weight of the vehicle pressing down on the tires’ treads. This occurs at a faster rate in colder temperatures, especially with high-performance or low-profile tires, and in severe cases a flat spot becomes a permanent part of the tire, causing a need for replacement. If your car will be in storage for more than 30 days, consider taking off the wheels and placing the car on jack stands at all four corners. With that said, some argue that this procedure isn’t good for the suspension, and there’s always this consideration: If there’s a fire, you have no way to save your car.

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of jack stands, overinflate your tires slightly (2–5 pounds) to account for any air loss while it hibernates, and make sure the tires are on plywood, not in direct contact with the floor.

Repel rodents

buick in the barn
Gabe Augustine

A solid garage will keep your car dry and relatively warm, conditions that can also attract unwanted rodents during the cold winter months. There are plenty of places in your car for critters to hide and even more things for them to destroy. Prevent them from entering your car by covering any gaps where a mouse could enter, such as the exhaust pipe or an air intake; steel wool works well for this. Next, spread scented dryer sheets or Irish Spring soap shavings inside the car and moth balls around the perimeter of the vehicle. For a more proactive approach, also lay down a few mouse traps (although you’ll need to check regularly for casualties).

Maintain insurance

In order to save money, you might be tempted to cancel your auto insurance when your vehicle is in storage. Bad idea. If you remove coverage completely, you’ll be on your own if there’s a fire, the weight of snow collapses the roof, or your car is stolen. If you have classic car insurance, the policy covers a full year and takes winter storage into account in your annual premium.

Your comments/suggestions

  • “A good friend of mine and ex-Ferrari race mechanic (Le Mans three times) recommends adding half a cup of automatic transmission fluid to the fuel tank before topping up, and then running the engine for 10 minutes. This applies ONLY to carburetor cars. The oil coats the fuel tank, lines and carb bowls and helps avoid corrosion. It will easily burn off when you restart the car.”
  • A warning regarding car covers: “The only time I covered was years ago when stored in the shop side of my machine shed. No heat that year and the condensation from the concrete caused rust on my bumpers where the cover was tight. The next year I had it in the dirt floor shed and the mice used the cover ties as rope ladders to get in.”
  • “I use the right amount of Camguard in the oil to protect the engine from rust. It’s good stuff.”
  • “Your car’s biggest villain is rust, that’s why I clean the car inside and out, and wax it prior to putting it in storage. For extra protection, I generously wax the bumpers and other chrome surfaces, but I do not buff out the wax. Mildew can form on the interior; to prevent this I treat the vinyl, plastic, and rubber surfaces with a product such as Armor All.
  • “Ideally, your car should be stored in a clean, dry garage. I prepare the floor of the storage area by laying down a layer of plastic drop cloth, followed by cardboard. The plastic drop cloth and cardboard act as a barrier to keep the moisture that is in the ground from seeping through the cement floor and attacking the underside of my car.”
  • “Fog out the engine. I do this once the car is parked where it is to be stored for the winter, and while it is still warm from its trip. Remove the air cleaner and spray engine fogging oil into the carburetor with the engine running at a high idle. Once I see smoke coming out of the exhaust, I shut off the engine and replace the air cleaner. Fogging out the engine coats many of the internal engine surfaces, as well as the inside of the exhaust with a coating of oil designed to prevent rust formation.”

Relax, rest, and be patient

Ford Model a roadster in garage
Gabe Augustine

For those of us who live in cold weather states, there’s actually a great sense of relief when you finally complete your winter prep and all of your summer toys are safely put to bed before the snow flies. Relax; you’ve properly protected your classic. It won’t be long before the snow is waist-high and you’re longing for summer—and that long wait may be the most difficult part of the entire storage process. Practice patience and find something auto-related to capture your attention and bide your time. You’ll be cruising again before you know it. (Keep telling yourself that, anyway.)



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    I read it all and learned some things ,I was keeping the battery cables on when i was using the trickle charger,and i was putting the emergency brake on for the winter,now i know to make changes ,The one thing i didn,t see is Should i start the car once in awhile?,I do have Hagerty insurance and i,m very happy with them.

    Bad idea. The most wear your engine will receive is during a cold start. You’re better off just storing the car. If you feel you need to run it you should drive it at least 20 miles so that everything comes up to running temperature.
    For anyone out there with a rodent problem I’ve had excellent results using electronic rodent repellants. Just a small device that plugs into an electrical outlet. They’ve chased out mice in the garage and even bats that like to hang on the ceiling in an open porch. So far they’ve never come back and it’s been over 4 years.

    5 minutes doesn’t give the oil time to get hot enough to vaporize moisture and fuel that have built up in the crank case.
    Either let it run long enough to get above 210º F, or just don’t start it at all.

    I agree — it’s a bad idea to start the car when in storage. Unless you actually take it out and drive it to get it thoroughly warmed up, you’re just creating condensation in the engine and exhaust system. After you have it winterized, just park it and leave it alone. The car doesn’t care.

    That’s the worst thing you can do, as already stated. You should never start a car and shut it down unless its fully heated up. I consider up to a year safe for car storage without a start, especially if the gas has been stabilized. Starting weekly is a waste of time, money, gas, and will create sludge in your engine, and rot out your exhuast system. If you want to keep the engine from seizing (which is very unlikely in under 5 years) just unhook the coil wire and crank it over a few revolutions or turn it by hand.

    Hot engine, cold exhaust. A bad combination that causes condensation in the exhaust and will lead to exhaust rust out. If I start one in winter, I leave it running until the entire exhaust is hot to the touch. Usually 25-30 minutes.

    And of course, if your garage is attached, you have to be concerned with carbon monoxide poisoning. I bought a set of garage exhaust hoses so I can safely run the cars one at a time. Pricey but worth the peace of mind.

    I used to start my cars once in a while in the winter but I tend to think it does more harm than good as the colder the engine, the harder it is to get oil pumping, etc. I have not had any problem just letting the cars sit in the winter and waiting for warmer weather to start them.
    If you insist on starting them in the winter, make sure you fully warm them as you will make the internal condensation situation worse than it would have been untouched if you run them and then turn them off ‘cold’.
    I have used Battery Tender type battery maintainers since ~2015 and have not had to replace a single automotive battery since.

    Without a doubt, one of the best mice repellent things we have used or packets from Grandpa Gus‘s mouse packets. they are available online, but we originally got them from our John Deere dealership to put them in winter stored tractors, and implements. They work amazingly well and now park everything with them. They are basically peppermint oil with potpourri in them. An inexpensive way to protect.

    Long ago I bought a 1962 Chevy 2 whose hand brake had been on for 7 years due to the owner having died after parking in the garage. Needless to say the hand brake was on and the shoes were stuck to the drums until the car was dragged out of the garage and downhill. Once the car was disconnected and facing downhill the brakes came loose, I started the car with jump leads, and drove it to my workshop! Three weeks later I drove it to Johannesburg and back, 700 miles, with no problems. Great car, even if it wasn’t a Ford.

    As for insurance, until you drive it again, you can maintain just comprehensive insurance. That will reduce your premiums substantially. Just make sure to reinstate full coverage before operating the vehicle. Usually this must be done the day prior to coverage taking effect.

    If you have a roadster or a convertible and you raise or lower the top during your driving season, leaving it up while in storage will keep it more pliable and easier to use in the future.

    I put the top up while in storage, but don’t latch it. The top can shrink in the cold. If it’s latched tight, it could stretch out of shape, or tear.

    Agree – Last winter I thought I would take my convertible out on a sunny, bisk, day. I had left the top down, and when I raised it after the drive to “properly” store it, the rear window cracked in 2 places. Luckily, it was a zip-out and zip-in replacement. I should have left the top up and stretched when I initially put it away.

    Do NOT use a trickle charger. They will eventually boil away the water. Get a battery MAINTAINER. It has electronics that will test the charge and turn itself on ONLY when needed. They are good to use year round. Disconnect the battery cables for safety for longer term storage. All those pest repelling tips are pretty worthless. Mice can get in through a hole the size of a dime. You can’t stop up all of them. Putting smelly stuff inside will only drive YOU out of the car. Mice will get used to it and make home in your car. Cover the exhaust pipe and the intake if you feel you must do something. Best to keep them out of your garage in the first place. Keep your storage space DRY. Putting down a tarp first is a good idea to help keep condensation down. If you are building a new garage in the future, put down plastic sheeting under the slab. The concrete finisher will hate you (takes a LONG time for the water to dissipate after pouring before it can be finished) but your car will love you. It does not hurt your suspension for the car to be on jack stands as long as the weight is on the springs as if the car was on the ground. Don’t leave the suspension hanging free. It’s hard on the bushings>>they are made to be at curb weight. You can get car dollies with curved bottoms that cradle the tires to reduce flat spots. Plus you can scoot the car closer to the side of the garage. Adding a LITTLE more air to the tires is OK, but too much may cause cracking if the tires are getting old. Don’t forget that tires have an expiration date>>change when they are ten years old no matter the condition of the tread if you plan on driving at higher speeds. A blowout in town on old tires is inconvenient, but one at 70 can be fatal. Running fogging oil into the engine is good. I haven’t done it for several years but need to. Gas tank needs to be full or totally empty and bone dry if the temp in your garage varies a lot. Empty is better if it is going to be really long term storage like more than a year or two. You don’t want to have to deal with 10-20 gallons of bad gasoline. Be careful with fuel injected cars as running it empty can hurt the electric fuel pump.

    Very good comments; I was about to say the same thing about using a maintainer. I like to use the Battery Tender unit with the Desulfator option, since sulfated lead plates is what kills batteries the fastest, especially when they sit! But I’ll never understand why people think that disconnecting BOTH battery cables is necessary! If you disconnect only the Negative, there is NO way for the battery to discharge electrically; it’s an open circuit! If a guy wants to pull the whole thing out to put it indoors, or smear something on the posts & cables to prevent oxidation, I can understand disconnecting both for that.

    On my rod that I relocated the battery to the trunk, I had to add the NHRA-approved box and switch, to be able to go to the track when I want; so the cables aren’t quickly accessed. So when it sits, I just turn that switch off, which creates that open circuit. I literally used a battery that was laying around for this car (I don’t have my amps etc. installed yet), and when I turn off that switch, I’m able to start it right up even after sitting for months. Fogging is not a bad idea (I used to do it for boats), but I use the expensive full synthetic oil that sticks to the engine parts, so I’m not as concerned about dry cylinder walls, as was the case with the old conventional oil.

    Good point. Absolutely no need of disconnecting both cables. I disconnect the negative and leave it at that. On newer cars with electronics, I leave them both hooked up and run the tender once every week or two.

    Amen on the trickle charger vs. battery maintainer comment.

    I wash my car, taking care not to get the brake rotors wet, so they won’t rust. The wheels and calipers can be cleaned in the spring.

    Jumping ahead to spring, before removing the cover, I wipe it down with a damp cloth, rinsing it often, so that when I fold it up, the dust doesn’t get on the inner surface of the cover where it can scratch the paint when next installed.

    Ive said it before and I’ll say it again….car capsule! I don’t care how tight, dry, or clean your garage is…if a chipmunk or some other pesky creature wants to make your car his winter home they’ll do it. I’ve used mine now for the last 7 years and it’s the best money I’ve spent. Way cheaper than paying for “ heated “ storage somewhere. If you live in a northern climate like I do it’s a must have.

    Why would I store my car because of a few leaves fall off a tree? Just check your windshield wipers and go. Greg from Ca.

    In AZ, winter is when you want to drive them.

    Sumner is less because of the heat.

    A big reason why I moved here was for the old cars.

    The best thing for keeping rodents out of your car is used kitty litter. When I store my popup for the winter. I go to the kitty litter box – clean it out and add about 1/3rd coffee can of the clean used litter. You won’t smell anything but the mice will and they don’t like cats. Honest, it works better than dryer sheets and shaved soap. I have over 35 years experience,

    Lots of tips on here! Ive been storing my 72 cuda for 36 years.full tank with stabil,pull the battery and move the car forward and back a Few times . Toss in a cpl dryer sheets . Tried Irish spring one-year the mice ate that! Oil change in the spring before driving.good so far!

    I worked my butt off to get my heaters, convertible tops, and windshield wipers working. I’ll still be driving 🙂 But we don’t use salt… yet. It is in discussion, sigh

    Look don’t over think this.

    I do not know why the words article Charger were even used. Just use a proper battery tender that cycles on an off as voltage is needed.

    Covers work but buy a well fitting and quality one. There are some very good breathing covers today but they are not $50.

    Changing oil will not hurt but if you did not drive much wait till spring. I would rather an avoid the moisture in some garages and pans in the spring.

    Run the car once a month and let it get to full temp. Make sure the fumes will not go in the house. Drive it around the block if you can.

    One main key to preventing mice is to remove much of what they are looking for. Food. Remove anything edible. Not just the car but the garage.

    Stable in the gas this will help keep it viable.

    Car condoms are nice if you can afford one for long term use. Just make sure you have space as they take up a lot of room.

    Fogging an engine is not really needed just for winter storage. Disconnecting a battery could be an issue should the car need to be moved fast like the house is on fire.
    Same for being on block. It could be an issue and over winter it is not really needed.

    Heated garages or at least plastic under the car will keep it dryer under the car.

    Also there are moisture vents now that will draw air through the garage it will help dry things. Heat is not required.

    So, what do you suggest for topping off the fuel now that 98% of fuel in North America is at LEAST 10% ethanol? (the worst for most cars made prior to the ‘2000s).
    Ethanol is hygroscopic (attracts moisture) and can only hold 0.25% water before it falls out of solution to the bottom of your tanks (where the water/ethanol mix will be the first thing picked up by your fuel pump when you start it.
    E10 fuel only has a max shelf life of 3 months before its combustibility is compromised. A full tank would imply a greater amount of “phase separation” would occur, meaning more water/ethanol at the bottom of your tank (where the fuel pick-up is.)
    I have conducted a few rudimentary tests using “Fuel stabilizers” that don’t appear to confirm the prevention of this separation.
    Would your Hagerty garage group PLEASE do a more in-depth, professional test on fuel stabilizers with ethanol-based fuel and offer the best practices for storing cars now that ethanol is an unfortunate part of our lives?

    I have been using a product for 12 years now called StarTron. It is designed to prevent that phase separation for 2 years. It stabilizes all gasoline types for 2 years but I have had great results even at 3 years. Here in my area of Wisconsin non ethanol fuel is easily obtained so I only use the StarTron at storage time at a rate of 1 ounce per 6 gallons of gas. I also use Damp Rid in the interior of the car and leave the windows down about and inch and put on a car cover. Trunk and hood are popped so the rubber seals aren’t compressed all winter. Good tip about not having the convertible top fully tightened. I’m going to do that ASAP.

    I highly recommend avoiding moth balls. They are toxic and dangerous to humans. There are many scientific studies you can find online that discuss the toxicity and the negative health effects to humans.

    I am lucky to live in a climate where I am able to get the toys out at least once every 2 weeks or so. All good tips in storing a classic toy. By all means keep it inside somewhere if possible.

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