by David Grainger
President, The Guild of Automotive Restorers
Once you have found the right spot to store your car in for the winter, you shouldn't just drive it in, lock the door and walk away. Although it does not take long to prepare your car for winter storage many don't do it and there can be some very negative results, especially over several winters.
In this article I'll outline the several steps you should take when you put the car up.
Most of you will have unheated storage with concrete floors. There is nothing wrong with this as long as a couple of small precautions are taken.
First, jack the car up and put it on stands. Do not put it on the frame though, put the stands on the axles or control arms so that the weight of the car is still on the suspension. I have seen cars standing over winter on their frames with their suspensions dangling at full extension. This is not good for the car.
The idea of getting the car up on stands serves two purposes. It gets the weight of the car off of the tires so that they don't develop flat spots, and it gets the car a little further from the ground allowing less condensation to occur and letting any that does develop during rapid temperature changes to dry off faster.
Your cooling system should be checked and antifreeze added to bring the freeze point to around fifty below. Run the car when you do this, don't just top up the rad with antifreeze. If you don't run the car long enough the thermostat won't open allowing circulation through the motor which means that your car's motor may not be protected from freezing.
Leave the windows down about an inch. This will let fresh air circulate and keep the interior dry and fresh smelling.
You should store the car with a full tank of gas and you can purchase gas stabilizer from most auto supply stores. The gas stabilizer will stop the additives in the gas from precipitating and keep it from varnishing and gumming up your carburetor.
A lot of people feel that the car should have an oil change before it goes away but I feel that you are better off changing the oil in the spring. The reason for this is that during the winter, rapid temperature changes occur when the sun heats a building which has dropped too far below zero during the night. The temperature change causes condensation both on the outside and on the inside of your motor. Changing the oil in the spring will eliminate any buildup of water in your crankcase and in the pan. Believe it or not I have seen many oil pans which have rusted from the inside out because condensation has formed and the water builds up on the bottom of the pan under the oil, then starts pinholing the pan.
What you can do is overfill your motor with oil when you put the car away so that the crank is actually submerged in oil. Just remember to drain it in the spring.
You can use storage preservatives in the motor as well if you are inclined to go that far but for what really just a short term lay up it is not absolutely required. These sprays are found at automotive and marine suppliers and can be sprayed into the carb or into the cylinders. If you are in an area where you get a lot of condensation and humidity then you may want to use preservative sprays. These sprays are more than just W.D.40. They are formulated to cling to the metal surfaces over the long term. Penetrating oil does not do this.
Chrome can be protected by using a thin layer of vegetable oil on it or by spraying it with a preservative spray. Now a small caution here. I know that vegetable oil will not harm paint work but I do not know about all the various preservative sprays. Check the label before using a preservative near paint work or on vinyl.
There are a few critters which can play havoc with your stored car as well. Although I did mention mice and steps to defeat them in the last column, I'll just add a couple more problem creatures to the list here.
Mice and rats are both prime destroyers of car interiors, which they move into to get out of the cold and which they rip apart to create their nests.
Squirrels do the same thing, and if anything can be even more destructive, but they rarely choose a car to live in over trees or attics. The exception to this seems to be in the upper stories of barns where I have discovered a few nesting squirrels in cars. Chipmunks will also move into a car, usually if it is stored outside, although they don't seem to be quite as destructive and dirty as mice and rats.
Raccoons will take advantage of a car that they can get into and they make the biggest mess. They will eat leather and completely strip seats and headliners to make themselves a comfortable winter lodge. The cars that they will usually take advantage of are convertibles and the old touring cars which of course are open to them, having no windows.
Pigeons can make a mess of a convertible roof and their droppings on a car's paint can leave discoloration and rings which cannot be buffed off. If there is a chance that pigeons or any other birds have access to the storage building make sure that the car is covered in a waterproof cover which you can launder at the end of the storage season.
Insects are rarely a problem in our temperate climes because of course they are dormant through the winter. The same cannot be said of storage in more southerly environments, but that is another story.
You should also top up all other fluids such as power steering and, more importantly, the master cylinder with brake fluid, once again to cut down on condensation.
Last but not least, the battery. If it is a six volt your best bet is to take it out of the car and store it in a cool basement on wood, not on a concrete floor or on a steel shelf which will gradually trickle discharge the battery. Make sure that you keep it charged during the winter although do not overcharge it, which will eliminate the battery's ability to hold a charge. Once or twice on an overnight trickle charge should suffice and make sure that it is full of water before you charge it.
Twelve volt batteries are not quite as sensitive. You can leave them in the car, just take one of the cables off to ensure that the car won't drain the battery and also make sure that the battery has a full charge before you disconnect it. You can during the course of the winter put a charger on it once or twice but you will usually find that it is not necessary.
That pretty much covers it. There really isn't a lot of preparation required but the small amount that it does take to lay the car up over winter can save you lots of problems later on.