It is, sadly, time to take a deep breath and just admit it. Time to come to grips with that hard truth that so many of us have been denying since Labor Day. Summertime is officially over. Done for. Kaput. Those joyrides in that dream car you’re so fond of? Well, suddenly they’re half a year away again, replaced by dull chores like seasonal fluid swaps and salting the driveway. It’s better to just suck it up and make our peace with the icy, cold truth: Winter is upon us. The best we can do is accept it and hunker down. Light the fireplace. Curl up with a football game. And prep our favorite fair-weather rides for several months of winter car storage.
You Really, Really Love Your Car. Treat Her Right.
You love that car, we feel you. You care for it. You wash and wax and detail it. You almost certainly named it. It’s your baby. Its beauty is a product of your time and hard-earned coin. But you simply do not have a garage where she can hide out while Old Man Winter trashes the place for the next 180 days or so. It may have to be outside for awhile, but you’ll be damned if you let the elements do any harm. Not on your watch.
A few time-honored winter car storage tips, and a few very useful products can make all the difference. With some preparation, your ride can wake from its long hibernation feeling fresh as a daisy. But if you’re not careful, it could be well on its way to rotting and rusting before your eyes. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Here’s how to make the best of the season of slush.
Location, Location, Location
If there’s one thing that needs to be known about winter car storage, it’s that letting your car sit is bad, so care must be taken to ensure that it’s done the right way. And few factors are as important as where your car will be parked for the long haul. Of course, indoors would be best. A garage or a rented storage unit will do just fine, it doesn’t need to be heated. Some plastic sheeting beneath the ride will help stop any moisture resting below from working its way up and damaging things from underneath.
No such luck? We can make it work outside if we have to. But never, NEVER settle into a spot on grass or dirt. That’s practically asking Mother Nature, in all her frigid glory, to corrode everything from below with all that trapped, damp air. Gravel is much, much better. Pavement or blacktop are better still.
Cleanliness Really Is Next To Godliness
When storing your car for the winter, washing and waxing it can go a long way. Don’t let it slide just because you won’t be parading through town with the top down for awhile. Water, dirt, and other nastiness (bird crap) are all thumbs down for your paint job, especially over an extended period of time. Be sure to use special care on your wheels, wheel wells, the undersides of fenders, and anywhere else that may get especially filthy.
Prepping your undercarriage is another often-overlooked step in winter car storage. A Fluid Film brand undercoating kit can go a long way in preventing rust and corrosion that the elements bring before they even start. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Because an inch of rust under there will bring a mile of headaches.
Always Mind Your Fluids
There are a number of fluids that are essential to keeping your car running smoothly. And any one of them can cause you problems if your winter car storage checklist doesn’t make time for them. Be sure to change your oil before parking. Old oil can mean dirt and garbage causing internal havoc for your engine. Adding an oil stabilizer (like Lucas Oil Heavy Duty Oil Stabilizer) eliminates heat and friction, keeps your oil doing what it is designed to do in cold weather, and is generally just a bright idea.
When doing a fluid check, it is also a good idea to top off your gas tank. This will prevent moisture from accumulating above your fuel and keep seals from drying out. It’s a good idea to check brake and transmission fluid while you’re at it. And another important note: take extra good care of your radiator. Make sure you’re using antifreeze. Some radiators may simply be full of water and cold weather can cause freezing—which causes expansion… which causes things to break… which causes expensive nightmares.
Bundle Up Out There
Few products you can purchase when storing your car for winter are quite as important as a quality car cover. It is important to get the right one for the job. First off, never, ever, use a plastic tarp. Unless you feel like ruining that paint job you spend the rest of the year buffing to a mirror shine, you’ll be lousy with fresh scratches in no time flat. Also important: never use a “waterproof” cover. Always look for one that is “weather resistant.”
A breathable fabric is what’s most important. Any small amount of moisture that creeps in (from below, above, or within) will be trapped beneath a waterproof layer. And it has nowhere to go but gradually into your beloved car, which is when the damage really begins. Covercraft Car Covers are top quality and, equally important, are made with a vented fabric that lets your paint job “breathe” through its winter car storage hibernation.
Charge It Up
There is a split verdict when discussing what to do with your battery when low temperatures are a factor. Some prefer to remove their battery for the winter and maintain it on a charger. If this is your plan, the Deltran Battery Tender Plus is a valuable and affordable tool.
However, some newer cars require that a battery be in place at all times to preserve the computer’s memory. If this is the case, you’ll want to hook up to a trickle charger (like the popular NOCO Genius). Whatever you decide, it is critical to remember that batteries can freeze and crack. Take proper care and prevent the costly headache.
Winter car storage involves protecting your car from everything that parking it for an extended period can bring. This includes critters that want to move into your precious ride. And make no mistake, these little guys aren’t simply looking for a place to wait out the cold weather. They want to regentrify your vehicle’s interior like a posh loft apartment (where my imagination has them vaping, eating artisanal cheeses, and listening to lo-fi indie pop on my nice Bose stereo system)! Mothballs help. If you’re lucky enough to park indoors, set some mousetraps. And plugging openings like the exhaust pipe and air intakes with steel wool can prevent these smug rodents from ever setting up shop.
Always Take Good Care Of Your Feet
Finally, take extra good care of those wheels and tires. Always inflate your tires to the maximum PSI rating for winterization. Tires that don’t move for too long can develop flat spots. In some cases, these are permanent, and your tires are done for. One way to combat this is to jack your vehicle up just a bit, saving you hundreds of dollars on replacements, and alleviating pressure on the suspension in the process. Some people even take their wheels and tires off completely as part of their winter car storage. That will certainly depend on your unique parking situation.
Unless you’re Shaun White, grew up above the Arctic Circle, or are training for the Iditarod—winter’s the pits. No season wreaks more havoc on automobiles than the season of slush, snow, and salt. But we can get out ahead of it. And when (if) spring ever does come back around, you’ll thank yourself for the time invested in properly storing your car for winter. Freezing weather looms like death—use this Autumn to draw out your will and get affairs in order.
Now go rake those soggy leaves off your lawn. It’ll be snowing before you know it.