Should I Winterize My Classic Car?

Classic car on road in front of frozen lake

No season is tougher on vehicles than winter, and if you’ve decided to keep your classic car in the garage during the colder, wetter, snowier (and in many places, saltier) months, you’re not alone.

The decision to winterize a vehicle involves a lot of different factors: if you live in a place with a long winter season or if you’ve invested in a very high-value vehicle, you may never take it out of the garage between November and April. If your winters are less extreme, or you want the opportunity to turn a few heads on those random days of sunshine, warmth and thawing snow, you might choose to keep your car a little more road-ready.

Either way, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind for any level of winter car storage. A car that’s not being driven for a few weeks or months needs a special kind of care to make sure that whenever you’re ready to drive, it’s ready to go.

Pro Tip: If you’re in a few select cities, our Garage + Social program offers climate-controlled, dust-free garages that are not only safe and secure, but they also offer maintenance services as well as a social outlet - think of it like a clubhouse for your car, and for its driver.

Winter Car Storage: Getting Ready Is the Hardest Part

One of the most important parts of winterizing your vehicle is not how, but where. A temperature-controlled garage with a dry concrete floor is ideal, but if you have to keep your car on dirt, gravel or (gulp) outside, roll it onto a tarp or a plastic barrier to keep moisture from hanging out with the undercarriage. Once you’re all set take these 5 steps:

  • Wash and wax to clear off any dirt, grit, grime and other contaminants, especially if you’re putting a cover over it (which is advisable). You should also use a preservative agent for things like rubber, leather or vinyl to prevent drying and cracking, and an interior vacuum is always a good idea as well.
  • Make sure that your gas tank is full (with premium, preferably), and you’ve added a fuel stabilizer to keep prevent evaporation. Don’t forget: the whole system needs protection, not just the gas tank, so be sure to run your engine for a few minutes to get that stabilized fuel into the system.
  • Change the oil and filter, using a corrosion-resistant and rust-preventive oil, double check your antifreeze levels, and put some boxes of baking soda in the trunk and the interior to pull any lingering dampness or moisture from the air, and cover your exhaust pipe and air inlet to prevent any critters from crawling in.
  • Radial tires don’t need to worry so much about flat spots from extended stays in once place, but we always like to firm up our tires with a little extra PSI knowing that cold temperatures will naturally cause a little drop in air pressure. Putting your car up on jack stands probably isn’t necessary unless you’re planning to keep it off the road for a half a year or longer.
  • Close all the windows, ensure that no lights are still illuminated anywhere and give the car one last quick inspection to make sure no one left anything inside that might freeze, spill or cause any damage when left unobserved.

Good news: Hard part’s over. Now you just need to keep a few things safe and maintained, and think fondly of the day you can fire your classic car back up.

Winter Car Storage: Keeping it Safe

Now that you’re ready to give your car a long nap, give yourself a hearty pat on the back while calling your insurance agent (Hagerty has you covered here). If your car is stored offsite, you may need to update your coverage - and you might as well check in and say hi to your policy once a year or so as well.

If you’re storing your car onsite, you can disconnect and remove the battery to a place where it won’t freeze, but battery tenders are relatively inexpensive and worth the investment. They’ll keep your battery charged (while also making sure it’s not overcharged) leaving you ready to start it up whenever you’re ready.

As for occasionally starting the car a few times during the winter? We say don’t bother - you might be doing more harm than good if you’re not getting it up to temperature and letting it run for an extended period of time, and if you are doing that in a garage you’re running the risk of letting exhaust build up in places it shouldn’t be.

If you’re winterizing your classic car, even though it’s tempting to fire it up and hear the engine rev in the depths of winter, you have to be ready to put it away for the long run.

Winter Car Storage: Getting It Ready to Go for Spring

The wait is over! Temps have risen, streets are cleared of snow and slush and it’s finally time to get back on the road. Here’s all you have to do to get out of winter car storage.

If you opted against using a battery tender, charge your battery for a good 24 hours before returning it to the vehicle. Remove any of the things you placed inside the car’s interior or engine area for maintenance: baking soda boxes, air inlet and exhaust pipe covers.

Check for any damage from critters and check under the vehicle to see if there’s anything pooling or condensing under the car; this could indicate a leak has developed which you’ll want to know about before taking your car on the road.

With these things in mind, now’s the time to fire up the vehicle, let it come to its operating temperature and then let it run for at least ten minutes at temp so you can continue to check for leaks, to get everything moving through the system and to burn off any water vapor or condensation.

Check your electricals: test the horn, your lights and indicators, interior lamps and gauges and any other bells and whistles your vehicle offers. Pull it out of the storage space and drive it slowly for a mile or so to let systems like the transmission and suspension pull themselves out of their sleep. After things are moving freely and all warmed up, you’re good to go! Now might be a good time to think about detailing your car as well.

Finally, we do recommend a car wash ASAP to clear off the lingering winter, but if you’re anything like us you want to put a few quick miles behind you. Completely understandable - you’ve waited long enough. Have a great driving season!