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Cold Weather Hibernation

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On: Tue, Sep 20, 2011 at 7:22AM | By: Peter C Sessler

Cold Weather Hibernation

Some car owners don’t drive their cars during the cold winter months, whether it’s a classic or perhaps a convertible. They prefer to just put their car away for the winter.

If you’re contemplating doing this, know that storing your car for any length of time does require some preparation and precautions, as it’s more than just a matter of putting your car in the garage after Thanksgiving and taking it out in April.

Begin by performing any necessary maintenance. This means that not only will your car go into storage in tip-top condition, but it will also come out the same way. This is also a good time to give your car a thorough cleaning and waxing, again for the same reason.

Short term storage is basically a lengthened period of inactivity. The question is how long can you go without starting the car before having to take any special precautions. The answer is about a month. Some “experts” advise people who don’t drive their cars year ‘round is to start them every so often to let all the fluids circulate, thereby coating all the internal bare metal surfaces with oil. This might sound logical, but the reality is that it is exactly the wrong thing to do!

A car in short term storage needs to be driven at least once a month. Yes, running the engine in the garage can get the water temperature up, but the only way you can get the oil temperature up is to drive the car for about 20 miles or at least half-an-hour. The entire engine has to be uniformly heated, otherwise condensation will form inside the engine and in the exhaust system. And the same applies to the transmission and other driveline components.

Going longer than a month without starting your car does require some simple precautions, and listed below are recommendations from owners who’ve been storing their cars regularly during the winter months:

• Store your car in a dry place; a heated garage is best.

• Clean your car thoroughly and give it a good coat of wax.

• Fill the gas tank to the top. By limiting the vapor space above the gasoline you eliminate the space where condensation can occur. Be careful about adding any water-removing additives to the gasoline. Most of these are alcohol-type products, and alcohol can damage certain metals.

• Top off all other fluids—brake fluid, coolant, transmission fluid.

• Fill the tires to 45 psi; this is to reduce the possibility of the tires flatspotting.

• Some owners prefer to place the entire car on jackstands—this will obviously eliminate any possibility of tire flatspotting and takes the load off the suspension.

• Pop the hood and trunk lids; it isn’t necessary to open them completely; just enough so that the hood and trunk seals don’t take a set.

• Remove the battery from the car. Don’t place the battery on a bare concrete floor as it will quickly drain. Place it on a piece of wood first, if all you have available is a concrete floor. Charge the battery every couple of months to keep fully charged.

• Remove the floor mats. Condensation can occur underneath the mats.

• Use leather dressing on leather surfaces to prevent them from drying out.

• Get a small box of baking soda and put in the interior. It will absorb moisture.

• Also place some mothballs in small metal pans in the interior, trunk, and even in the engine compartment to keep mice at bay. The mothball smell will quickly dissipate once the mothballs are removed.

• Use a car cover to keep dust from accumulating. To avoid moisture condensation, get a cover that breathes. Some owners have gotten excellent results with what is essentially a giant bag. It is a special storage bag that fits completely over the car and is hermetically sealed. According to these owners, the car emerges from storage in the same condition when it was first stored.

• Once a month, push the car forward and rearward two feet. This helps to keep the tires from flatspotting.

• Also consider changing to a synthetic engine oil, as it has considerably less tendency to drip off metal surfaces and this can be a major benefit over the long-term.

You’ll notice there’s no mention of taking the spark plugs out and squirting oil in the cylinders—another no-no. The additives in the oil can foul the plugs. For really long term storage (over a year), you may want to back off on all the valves to take the load off the valve springs.

When it’s time to take the car out of storage, begin by checking all the fluid levels and reinstalling the battery. Start the car, but do not rev it unnecessarily until it has fully warmed up. Drive the car slowly at first to circulate all the fluids and, at first opportunity, have the oil changed. Once done, you’re ready once again for another season of driving fun!


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