In most parts of Canada, classic cars hibernate in the winter. But they shouldn’t simply be driven into the garage and left for six months. We have a checklist of things you should do before you shut the door and wait for spring.
Find the right spot
Keep it clean
Protect the chrome
Convertible and vinyl tops
Change the oil
Check the antifreeze
Remove the battery
Pump up the tires
Cover it? Well—
Fill ‘er up
Protect your investment
Leave it alone
Moisture and rodents are an old car’s
worst enemies. Your storage area should be clean and dry, and while mice can work their way through the tiniest holes – and into the cleanest
garages – tight-fitting doors will help keep out larger pests (raccoons
and skunks love to chew on rubber hoses and tires). If possible,
dedicate the area specifically to the car, so you’re not piling stuff
Ideally, your storage area should have a concrete
floor, and, in the best possible scenario, be temperature-controlled. If any of these things are not possible, then take precautions to overcome problems. If it’s a dirt floor, put down carpet or plastic first. If
the car will have to withstand freezing temperatures, you should drain any water and top it up with the proper fluids in the radiator and windshield
washer bottle. If your storage area is too damp, it’s just not
appropriate. It’s easier to look for a new storage space than to repair
your ruined car come spring.
Never put the car away dirty. Grime can eat into
the paint over time, especially bird droppings and insects. Wash it,
and then let it dry thoroughly. Vacuum the carpets and seats, and clean
out and vacuum the trunk. When the car has dried from its bath, it’s
time to wax it. You may be using quick-shine liquid products the rest of the time, and that’s fine, but a good coat of quality paste wax is the
best protection during storage. While you’re cleaning it, check the
paint for any stone chips, and touch them up to avoid rust.
Having parts rechromed can be among the
most expensive parts of a restoration. At the very least, protect the
chrome with paste wax. Even better, lightly coat it with grease,
especially if you can’t avoid some moisture during storage. It will be a pain to clean in the spring, but this is prevention that can help avoid an expensive repair later on.
Any time you have fabric on the
outside of the car, you need to take a little extra precaution. It’s
best to store a convertible with the top up, and never put the car away
until the fabric is completely dry. Vinyl tops will benefit from a
coating of a vinyl-specific protectant, such as the type sold to protect dashboards. Cars with vinyl tops are susceptible to rust under them, so go over the car with your hands, pressing the top to feel for any soft
spots under it.
If you haven’t changed the oil in the last
month, change it again. Oil breaks down and becomes acidic even when the engine isn’t running. If you’re storing the car for several months,
change it again when it’s time to put it back on the road — it’s cheap
insurance. Changing the oil filter in the spring also means not needing
to change the filter before you put the car away. If the car’s old
enough that it has an oil-bath air filter, you can get the dirty work
out of the way now, by draining and cleaning it. Store it dry, and then
fill it with fresh oil when you take the car out in the spring.
Use an antifreeze tester to ensure that
the coolant has sufficient strength to get you through the winter. If it hasn’t been flushed in a long time, this may be your cue to clean
everything out and start fresh. Some people drain the coolant for winter storage, but that’s not a good idea, since the coolant helps to prevent rust and corrosion in the radiator and water jackets. Check the hoses
and belts while you’re under the hood, to be sure the rubber hasn’t
dried out and the hoses haven’t gone soft. A leak won’t damage the car
during storage, but you certainly don’t need the aggravation. Tip: While animals can be tempted by the sweet taste of antifreeze, it’s a deadly
poison, so be sure to dispose of it properly.
It’s best to take the battery out of the
vehicle, and store it in a temperature-controlled area where there’s no
danger of it freezing. It’s a myth that putting it directly on a
concrete floor will damage it. Put a little white grease on the
terminals, and on the ends of the battery cables to keep them from
corroding. If you have a trickle charger, give the battery a little
boost a couple of times throughout the winter, and check the fluid
levels (especially if you have an old-style battery with removable caps) before you put it back in the car in the spring.
Make sure the tires are pumped up to the
recommended pressure before you put the car away. There are two schools
of thought on “putting it up on blocks.” Some people prefer just to
leave the car on its tires, since putting a long, heavy car (such as
from the 1950s to the 1970s) on stands can potentially strain the frame. Others like to take the weight off the wheels, so the tires don’t
develop flat spots. If you do lift the car, do it safely. Axle stands
are safer than piling cinder blocks or wooden planks under the car, which
can slip and cause the vehicle to fall. Be sure to release the parking
brake when you store the car, so it doesn’t seize in place.
Mice love old cars, and it’s extremely difficult
to get them to change their minds once they’ve decided your vehicle is a comfortable condo. Some people swear by mothballs, cedar shavings,
charcoal, mouse deterrent packages, or electronic devices. Other people
have scooped mouse nests out of cars that contained them. There’s simply no method that works every time, and it may come down to trial and
If you don’t have pets that could get into them, try setting
baited mousetraps in or around the car (and check them regularly). If
you can, check the car’s floor during the winter for telltale signs of
an infestation, such as mouse droppings or seeds. In the spring, pull up the seat cushions and check for nests.
Car covers can be a double-edged sword.
They’ll keep the car clean, but they can also trap damaging moisture. If you use a cover, be sure the car’s completely dry before you cover it,
and use a cloth cover that wicks away moisture. If you must store the
car outside, be sure that any cover you put on it is secured tightly at
the edges. If it flaps in the wind, it can damage the paint.
There shouldn’t be anything around the car that
could fall on it and damage it. If there’s junk piled around it, someone walking through could inadvertently knock something over. It’s also
more difficult to get in to check the car over the winter. It may be
tempting, but don’t pile stuff on top of the car, either.
Fill the gas tank completely before you put it
away, to prevent condensation. If you don’t drive the car very much, and you’re still on the first tank of fuel from last spring, siphon out
what’s left and then fill it with fresh gas. If you’re going to store
the car for several months, you can add fuel stabilizer as well.
Make sure your car is adequately
insured during storage, so you’re protected if there’s a fire or other
damage, or if the car is stolen. Take any paperwork out of the glovebox, in case mice get in. Lock the car and keep the keys at home, especially if your storage is off-site. The storage site should be equipped with a fire extinguisher.
Some people periodically start the car up
throughout the winter, especially if it’s in their home garage. That’s
not a good idea. Starting the car, letting it run for ten minutes, and
then shutting it down will cause damaging condensation in the engine and exhaust system. Unless you can let it run long enough that everything
comes up to the proper operating temperature, you’re better to just let
it sleep until spring.