Storing Your Car for the Winter

Advance Auto PartsAre the winters warm where you live? If so, you’re among the lucky few, because most of us have to deal with freezing temperatures, snowstorms, salted roads and the rest of it. That’s why it makes sense for snow-belt residents to store nonessential vehicles for the winter. You’ll still need your daily driver to get around, of course, but it’s best not to tackle winter roads in your weekend cruiser, whether it’s a classic convertible or a contemporary sports car.

So when you’re ready to put your pride and joy away till spring, check out my five essential tips for winter car storage. As long as you follow these five steps, your ride should fire right up when you’re reunited in the spring. Did I forget anything? Go ahead and tell me in a comment if you think I left out an important step.

1. Fill the gas tank and add fuel stabilizer

This may seem counterintuitive, since the car won’t be going anywhere for months. But if you store a car for the winter with a partially or mostly empty gas tank, condensation can form inside the tank, and you also run the risk of drying out the seals. So fill up that tank before you park it, and here’s another winter car care tip: don’t forget to add a fuel stabilizer like Sta-Bil so that the gas will stay fresh.

2. Connect your battery to a trickle charger

Your battery will inevitably go dead during winter car storage if you just leave it the way it is, and cold temperatures might knock it out for good, so you’ll need to take preemptive action. Some mechanics suggest taking the battery out altogether, but I’m not a fan of that; you lose all your electronic settings, for one thing, and for another, who knows what computer system you might mess up if it’s a modern car? What I recommend for winter car battery maintenance is picking up a “trickle charger” and making sure you run it at regular intervals to keep the battery charged. This lets you keep the battery hooked up in the car without any risk that it’ll wear itself out.

3. Overinflate your tires or remove the wheels altogether

If you let your car sit in the same spot for three or four months without preparing the tires, you’re bound to get flat spots. So here’s the deal: if you’ve got modern radial tires, add an extra 5-10psi of air for the winter–and if you’ve got old-school bias ply tires, put the car on jack stands, take the wheels off and stack them in a corner. For full protection, consider doing the same with radials, too. Hey, you’ll thank me come spring when you’re the only one who doesn’t need a replacement set of tires.

4. Keep the parking brake off

Here’s a little thing that a lot of people forget about. If you park a car for months with the emergency brake engaged, the e-brake could get stuck to the rotors and warp them, wreaking havoc on your braking performance. Just get some wheel chocks instead and stick one behind each wheel–problem solved.

5. Drive it ASAP!

I know I’m getting ahead of myself here, but seriously, don’t wait a minute longer than you have to. Cars like to be driven, and months of solitary confinement isn’t their idea of a good time. I’m not talking about a little trip around the block, either; when you drive a car that’s been in winter car storage, you’ll want to mix in plenty of highway driving to get the operating temperature up and circulate those fluids through the engine. Speaking of fluids, you’ll definitely want to get an oil change as soon as you take your car out of hibernation, but I’ll have more to say about that when I revisit this topic in the spring.

How about you–what are you planning to do when you store your car for the winter? Let me know; I always like to hear about what other mechanics next door are up to.

Editor’s note: visit Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of quality auto parts and accessories. Buy online, pick up in store.

Graphic courtesy of Carpediem Mag.