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Old Cars’ winter storage checklist

Old Cars' tips to keep your car healthy this winter
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The Dodge’s instrument panel balances an excellent layout with an impressive amount of brightwork.

Putting your vehicle up on blocks for the winter is tough after a summer full of shows, but in harsh climates, there’s little choice. The following list includes tips the staff employs to preserve its vehicles for that long winter slumber:

  • Clean the area in which the vehicle will be stored. A clean area keeps dirt off the vehicle, and eliminates building supplies for vermin. Make sure there isn’t anything hanging from the walls or ceiling that may fall on the vehicle over winter.
  • That leads to insurance. The vehicle may not be driven during the winter, but that doesn’t mean coverage should lapse. Carry at least storage insurance, and remember to review your policy again in spring so that the vehicle is again covered while being driven on the street.
  • Before storing the vehicle, drive it and make a list of repairs it might need in spring. This will take out some of the guess work before the first spring drive and allow you time to hunt the parts over winter. Also keep a list of everything you did to prepare the vehicle for storage. This should be recorded in a notebook dedicated to tracking other work you’ve done to the vehicle. Don’t have a notebook yet? Get one now and leave it with the vehicle.
  • Wash the vehicle thoroughly, top and bottom, inside and out. Dirt and leaves hold moisture to the metal and cause corrosion. Dirty or scummy pot metal — plated or otherwise —will pit the pot metal over time. Food or other debris inside the vehicle attract vermin. Allow the clean vehicle to completely dry before parking it. Consider waxing the paint to add an extra level of corrosion protection. Don't forget the wheels and any chrome parts.
  • Change fluids — brake fluid, coolant, engine oil, transmission fluid, differential fluid — and repair fluid leaks before storage to prevent moisture from entering mechanical components. This will also prevent leaking fluids from damaging items in the storage facility. Verify the coolant protection exceeds the coldest temperature your area may experience. Lubricate the chassis.
  • Whether you subscribe to the “full fuel tank” or “empty fuel tank” philosophy, its wise to add a fuel stabilizer (Sea Foam, Sta-bil, etc.) to keep whatever gasoline is in the tank from going bad. Use ethanol-free fuel whenever possible, especially when storing a vehicle; fuel with ethanol in it will undergo phase separation in six months. If you have no other choice other than to use ethanol, use a fuel additive to prevent phase separation or burn the existing fuel within six months time.
  • Place animal repellents in the passenger compartment, trunk and engine compartment. Some people suggest fresh dryer sheets, fresh Irish Spring soap shavings, mouse poison and/or mothballs (we use Irish Spring shavings because of the better smell). Regardless of the repellent of choice, make sure it is removed in spring. Check the vehicle periodically to make sure critters haven’t made a home inside it.
  • Place a sheet of plastic or other barrier beneath the vehicle. This will catch leaking fluids and also prevent moisture from the ground collecting on the bottom of the stored vehicle.
  • Remove the battery so you don’t have to worry about an acid leak damaging the battery tray and surrounding metal. Place the battery on a trickle charger. If possible, don’t store the battery on concrete.
  • Cover the rear tips of the exhaust to prevent mice and other critters from crawling inside. Leftover screened material secured to the tips by clamps or rubber bands will allow the exhaust to safely function if you forget to remove the screen in spring.
  • As with the exhaust, consider sealing openings in the engine compartment, such as the air cleaner, with a screen to prevent critter invasion. Just be sure to remove the screen before the vehicle is started again.
  • Place the vehicle on jack stands to prevent flat spots from developing on the tires. By placing the jacks under the suspension, the shocks and springs are prevented from getting hung up in an extended position. With the vehicle elevated, turn the wheels 180 degrees over the course of the winter to keep gears and axles lubricated.
  • Keep the windows rolled up to prevent dust and animals from entering the vehicle. Keep convertible tops up to prevent wrinkling and shrinkage. Some convertible owners suggest leaving the top unlatched to prevent it from becoming too stretched.
  • Since critters prefer dark places, some hobbyists leave their vehicles uncovered, even leaving the hood open to prevent animals from nesting. This may be over the top, but if you cover your vehicle, be sure the car cover is breathable. Plastic and other non-breathing covers trap moisture and can even damage paint.
  • Some hobbyists believe in periodically starting the vehicle over the course of winter to keep engine components lubricated. We don’t believe in starting the vehicle until spring, when we’re ready to drive it and the fluids — especially the oil — are more viscous in the warmer temperatures.
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