How to Store a Car Over Winter

Car on iceIt’s great being a petrol head. Whether you’re into rumbling V8s or whiz-bang turbos – street or race – the sound, smell and all-round presence of a cherished vehicle are truly something to behold. Us petrol heads aren’t without our enemies though. Messrs Salt, Rust and Perish would like nothing more than to get their grubby mitts on your pride and joy – and winter is when they (along with their team of lawyers) like to strike the hardest.

The best way to foil the designs they have on your bodywork (and everything else) is to put your car into storage over winter. The only problem with this is that shoddy storage can be as detrimental to a car’s health as running it through a British winter would have been in the first place! So how do you store a car properly over winter? Let’s find out!

Where should I store my car over the winter?

The first thing you need to do is find a place where you can actually store your prized motor. Although the ideal location would be a temperature and moisture controlled, high-security environment (possibly inside a hollowed-out mountain), unfortunately most of us are going to have to go with another British tradition and make do with what we’ve got.

For us regular Joe’s and Joanne’s an achievable compromise is somewhere nice and sheltered, that isn’t damp and is nice and airy. This is also one time in life that a sea view isn’t preferable with salt being the mortal enemy. Again, if you’re not lucky enough to have your own barn you’re probably going to have to make do with a garage, or even a driveway. Don’t worry though, because with a bit of work we’re still going to be able to do a good job of this.

Winter car maintenance

An oil change is a great idea before you put your car away. Don’t forget to change your oil filter at the same time – and it’s always worth changing the sump plug washer! While you’re doing this, you should test your engine anti-freeze with a suitable hydrometer. We even sell waterless engine coolant if you’re worried about corrosion – it’s great stuff!

When you’ve finished working on your engine, make sure everything’s tight and tidy, and take it for one last spin (being sure to get it up to temperature). This will ensure that everything gets a good coating of oil before you put it away. It’s worth stopping by your local petrol station at this point and making sure that your fuel tank is full. This will help to stop condensation from forming in the empty space inside a metal tank which can promote rust. Using a fuel stabiliser can help to stop your petrol or diesel from going off whilst in storage, clogging up the fuel lines in the process.

Time for some spit and polish

What? You were going to put your loved one away for the winter without giving it a good waxing? Of course not. After you’ve finished giving it that final spin, it’s time to lovingly hand wash and wax the paintwork. Given that you’re interested in taking care of your car, you’re going to want to do this properly and we sell a number of products that can help.

Using a lambswool wash mitt and the two bucket method with a grit guard fitted to both of them will help to avoid the dreaded swirl marks (which are especially noticeable on dark coloured cars). If you’re wondering what on Earth the two bucket method is, it’s really simple and actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

Use (you guessed it) two buckets: one with your car shampoo mixture in and the other filled with clean water. Dip your mitt or sponge into the shampoo as usual and use it on your car – but before you put it back in the same bucket, rinse it in the clean water. This helps to ensure that grit particles don’t end up getting rubbed along your paintwork causing swirl marks. A grit guard fitted to each bucket lets you clean your mitt more effectively each time you dip it and if you want the ultimate protection, then using two mitts will allow you to put a mark on one and keep it solely for the bottom half of your car where the worst grit tends to reside. Wash mitts are great, because grit tends to sink into them whereas it will sit on the surface of a sponge.

After you’ve washed your car for the last time in a while (sniff) it’s time to get it polished and waxed. We sell a full range of car cleaning products that will help with this – including wax that can be applied to wet paintwork like Autoglym Aqua Wax.

You’ll also want to pay a bit of attention to your car’s interior. As well as the obvious general cleaning, you need to pay extra attention to making sure that any possible scraps of food are picked up by the vacuum cleaner. The reason for this? They will attract our furry, four-legged friends of course!

You should also clean and condition your leather to stop it drying out (suitable products can be found in the car interior cleaning section of our website) and if you have a wooden steering wheel, give it a good treatment of linseed oil.

Cleaning your car before you put it away should ensure that there is no salt or other nastiness clinging to your bodywork – and that a leather interior won’t dry out and crack in the cold winter air. Plus, your car will sparkle when you come to lift the cover in spring!

Final car storage tips before the cover goes on

Next, it’s time to put the car in the garage if you’re lucky enough to have one – or to go about storing it outside if you don’t.

If you are putting it in a garage it’s a good idea to put it in nose-first so that you can start it with the exhaust pointed towards the open door. No matter where you’re storing it, there are a few things you should do before you put the car cover on.

Although a lot of guides will recommend pumping your tyres up to 50 psi to avoid flat spots, this isn’t really necessary for one winter if you’re running modern tyres. Below we recommend starting your car every once in a while anyway so you can always rotate your tyres when you do this. Do check that your tyres are up to their normal pressure though – you don’t want your car slowly leaning over on a slow puncture.

Next you need to make sure that your battery isn’t going to have died by the time you come to start the car up again in spring. Petroleum jelly on the terminals is always good, and if it’s the type of battery you can top up then you should ensure that it’s got enough water in it (distilled is by far the best for this). 

You should also connect your terminals up to a battery conditioner. These are special chargers that won’t just keep on pumping current into your battery – but will give it a top up as and when it needs one. This is important, because a lead acid battery which is allowed to discharge will reach the end of its useful life very quickly. It also means that your battery will be ready to rock come the spring. (You can find battery conditioners under our range of car battery chargers, simply select ‘battery conditioner’ from the list on the left).

If you’re going to be leaving your car outside then you’re going to have to be a bit more creative when attaching your battery conditioner. First, make sure that the conditioner you’re going to be using is waterproof (like the CTEK XS 0.8 Battery Maintenance Charger for instance). Next, you’re going to want to find a way to pass the charger cable to the battery without leaving the bonnet/boot, etc. open. Options include passing the cable through the vehicle’s grille, or carefully closing the aperture concerned over it (ensuring that the cable does not become damaged in the process). This is often possible if your car has thick seals around the doors for instance. If your battery is difficult to access, then a conditioner like the CTEK one above will be perfect because it comes complete with a detachable lead that can be semi-permanently attached to your battery’s accessory terminals. This way you can run the other end of the lead to somewhere more accessible and simply plug your conditioner in to it whenever you store the car. This can save a lot of hassle in some cases.

Another essential storage tip is to put a rolled up sock or rag in your exhaust pipe(s) as well as any other openings in the exterior of your car. This should stop you from shooting a family of hibernating mice across the garage when it comes to starting your engine! As a counterpart to this tip, if you are storing your vehicle indoors it’s a good idea to lay some mousetraps around it.

Never place them inside your vehicle though – because the smell of long-dead rodent is one that won’t be going anywhere anytime soon! We hear that peanut butter or chocolate both work well as bait.

A few insider top tips!

Something that you should place inside your car is silica gel – the stuff that comes in a sachet in boxes of shoes. Electronics and camera shops often stock this in large sachets and the silica gel will absorb moisture helping to prevent your interior from becoming musty or mouldy whilst the car is stood stationary over the winter.

Don’t engage the handbrake when you store your car for a long period of time, as it can seize on. Instead, use wheel chocks or blocks of wood to make sure that your vehicle isn’t going anywhere.

It can be a good idea to remove your wiper blades from the arms so that the rubber doesn’t stick to the glass and spoil over time. If you do this, make sure that the ‘naked’ wiper arm isn’t going to damage your screen as new ones aren’t cheap! Put your wiper blades away somewhere safe, too, so they can go back on in the spring or whenever you choose to fire it up.

Oiling your door hinges and spraying some WD40 in your door locks will help to stop them seizing. No one likes a squeaky door after all – at any time of year (so that’s a 365-day tip you can have for free!)

Finally, make a note of everything you’ve done to the car to put it into hibernation, and attach it to your steering wheel. This way when you come to starting the engine you’ll have a checklist of things to do and check before you start it. You don’t want to forget to take the rolled-up sock out of your exhaust or the wheel chocks from behind the wheels for instance! This really is a worthwhile step especially if you’re going to start the car periodically (which we recommend).

Keep things under wraps

Yes, the time has come to finally put your motor under wraps! Obviously, the first thing you’ll need is a quality waterproof car cover. Don’t be tempted to use a plastic tarpaulin – they tend to pool water, so it would be very easy to mess up your paintwork this way!

The key qualities to look for in a car cover are breathability and waterproofing (especially if you’re going to be using it outside) as well as being made from a material that won’t scratch your freshly waxed paintwork. This is one reason you just spent so long cleaning your car because no matter how soft your car cover is, if grit is trapped under it it will scratch your paint job! 

The ultimate type of protection for your bodywork is from Carcoon. These covers aren’t cheap but will literally put your cherished motor in a protective bubble surrounded by dust-free air. You can even get a Carcoon that’s suitable for outdoor use!

Once your car is safely covered – relax! Your car should now be in great shape when you come back to it in spring. Of course, if you really care about it, then there’s one last thing you should do…

Fire it up!

In order to keep things in tip-top condition, you’re going to want to come back to your car roughly once a month to give it some extra care. Remove the cover, and follow the instructions on your checklist to ready the car for a start-up.

Starting the engine will ensure that the oil is circulated where it needs to be, and that nothing seizes up. Get the engine up to temperature, which will probably take about 15-20 minutes, and then drive the car backwards and forwards a few times.

Try to ensure that it sits in a slightly different spot when you’ve finished if you can as this will help to protect your tyres. (You could always mark the floor with some masking tape if you need to).

One thing to remember is never start your car while it is under the cover or when the garage door is closed as this could potentially be lethal. As above, we recommend putting the car in the garage nose-first in order to allow the exhaust to point at the open garage door. If the weather is fine, then it’s also worth winding your car’s windows down whilst you’ve got it uncovered as this will help air to circulate around the cabin and avoid any musty smells.

Getting back on the road

When it comes to the spring and getting your car back on the road, there are a few things you should do before finally taking your car for a well-earned spin.

First up, you need to go through your checklist again and take care of all your winter prep, (putting the wiper blades back on, etc.) Once you’ve got the car back together, it’s time to start checking things. Even though your car has just been sat idle, it’s still possible for things to have perished or leaked so a thorough visual inspection is well advised.

Pay special attention to anything made of rubber including your tyres, hoses and belts. You should also check your fluid levels and tyre pressures at this point.

Finally, don’t forget your paperwork either! Remember to check that you’ve got tax, insurance and a valid MOT before you take your car out on the road.

Once you’ve done all this, you can start her up ready for her maiden voyage. Hopefully all will go well with this and you can go off for a drive safe in the knowledge that your car is in great shape. It’ll even be nice and shiny! Do take it easy at first though, as it’s likely that your brake discs will be covered in a film of rust – and you never know what problems you may have missed!

Good luck!

We hope you’ve found this guide helpful and that you’re now confident in how to prepare your car for its winter hibernation. Can anyone think of anything we missed? Let us know how you get on!