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Old Cars Q&A: 2020 no. 5

Kit Foster answers all of your old cars questions
Answer Man

Q. For the guy advocating storing a car battery in his freezer for winter (Q&A, Mar. 26), I have some serious criticism. First, if he’s in a climate cold enough to preclude winter driving, it should be easy to find a cool, WELL VENTILATED place for storing his battery. I emphasize WELL VENTILATED since sulfuric acid fumes emanate from all but sealed batteries. I’d worry that opening a chest freezer and bending inside may subject lungs to an avoidable acid loading. Second, acid fumes will shorten the life of the freezer, whether corroding the enclosure inside or the air circulating machinery.

Third, once a battery is a few years old, it does not fully charge, so there’s proportionately more water in the electrolyte with a higher freezing point and increased potential for cracking the case. Fourth, if the battery is tightly wrapped in plastic it could develop an acid film on the plastic, which is conductive and could increase discharge rate or short the battery. Same for metal food containers wearing through the plastic then touching terminals. That would cook the food, battery and fridge in one step. I’d recommend either leaving the battery in the vehicle, but disconnected, or removing it to an open plastic tub (containment vessel) in the garage.
An observation: copper-brass radiators develop more fin rot in the area adjacent to the battery. I’ve also stored a tightly closed bottle of muriatic acid near a copper water pipe, which turned green near the “sealed” bottle. I’ve also had mice eat insulation and short the wire. Disconnect for fire safety.
— Bob Adler, Adler’s Antique Autos, Stephentown, N.Y.

A. In defense of Andrew Love, who wrote about putting batteries in the freezer, he was referring to some “wisdom” he had read years ago, not advocating for the practice. All your points above are reasons why I said I didn’t think it was a good idea. As for rodent damage to wiring, a few years ago my wife’s daily driver displayed a braking system fault light. I suspected a bad ABS sensor, but I didn’t have a code reader capable of telling me which one. In the end, it turned out not to be a bad sensor, but a chewed wiring harness, which was replaced at great expense. Don’t overlook pest control for your garage.

Q.[If] a fully charged battery will not freeze, how long before the charge drops enough to allow freezing? Will disconnecting the negative cable reduce the speed of discharge? Lastly, can a battery that has frozen be thawed, charged and used? — Mark Axen, Stony Creek, N.Y.

A. Disconnecting the ground cable, whether positive or negative, should prevent all discharge. In a car without a constant parasitic discharge current (e.g. central computer, alarm system or other “live” component), it should not discharge while connected. Most of the cars we’re concerned about do not have these components, so will not have this problem. Don’t forget that electric clocks do draw current while the battery is connected. In my experience, freezing of batteries has usually involved one or more cells, not the entire battery. This indicates that the cell has gone bad. I have never been able to resuscitate a battery once that happened.

Q. In the March 19 issue, Norman Shahan wrote that for coil springs, “They are not rotating; instead it is a bending movement.” It’s more complicated. A coil spring is essentially a torsion bar that has been twisted into a helical shape, and the torque at any cross-section of the bar is equal to the axial force applied to the spring multiplied by the radius of the helix. There is a bending force, too, of course. Coil spring failures often show the classical torsional fracture pattern. For a helical spring, we speak of the so-called spring rate in terms of applied force per unit of deflection (e.g. pounds per inch). For a torsion bar, which really is a type of spring, we speak of the spring rate in terms of applied torque per unit of angular twist (e.g. pound-feet per degree). In both cases, helical spring and torsion bar, there is a linear relationship between applied load and resulting deflection, so from that standpoint the two function identically. However, the manners in which the two are engineered into the suspension systems of vehicles are significantly different, and accordingly might have two different effects on the handling and ride characteristics. 
— Dr. Gerald W. Nyquist, registered mechanical engineer, Macomb, Mich.

A. Thanks. As I intimated, results may vary with the application.

Q.I have solid rear rubber tires off a Model T Ford truck, with cracks. Is there anything (fluid based) to apply to make the rubber swell? 
—Anita DeGroot, via email

A. An old tinkerer’s tale I’ve heard is that glycerin-based brake fluid will rejuvenate rubber, and indeed I’ve used it to lubricate a rubber-to-steel surface on occasion. As for rejuvenating old tires, I don’t think painting on brake fluid (or any other magic potion) would do much good, and soaking them in it would take barrels of fluid.

To submit questions to this column:
or mail to: Q&A, Old Cars,
5225 Joerns Drive, Suite 2,
Stevens Point, WI 54481.

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