Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Getting a collector car ready for winter storage


It’s late November, time for collector cars to be put in storage all over New England.  These are some thoughts from my 25 years doing this job here at Robison Service . . . 

We start by opening the hood and having a look at the fluids.   There are differing opinions on oil, but my preference is to change dirty oil in the fall, rather than leaving it to rot the engine all winter.

I feel the same way about other fluids.  If they are dirty, I suggest they be changed.

We use test strips to check antifreeze for pH balance and freeze protection.  If the coolant fails or even looks marginal, we change it.

We check the battery and cables.  If the car is going to sit in storage, and it predates the computer era, I suggest disconnecting the battery.  If the car has computers that need to be kept alive, I suggest fitting a trickle charger and a timer to make sure it keeps the battery up without boiling it away.

Some people are concerned about rust in the combustion chambers.  If you have this worry, get a couple cans of marine engine winterizer spray.  Disconnect the ignition, and crank the engine over while spraying the winterizer into the intake.  That will coat the inside of the motor with oil and it will last a year or more, until it’s started again.

Of course, if you do this, the car must be pushed or towed into its storage spot.

Next we inflate the tires.  My big concern is that tires develop flat spots when the car sits still on its tires for months at a time.  You can minimize that by inflating to the maximum pressure shown on the sidewall.  You can eliminate flat spots by storing your car on blocks, so the wheels are actually slightly off the ground.

Most classic cars have steel fuel tanks that are vented to the air.  When temps rise and fall moisture can condense on the inside surfaces of the tank just as it forms a mist on the exterior metal surfaces.   That “fog” ends up in the gas and causes all sorts of trouble.

You can minimize that problem by keeping your car filled with fuel.  You can also minimize the problem by protecting your car from dramatic temperature swings wherever it is stored.

The next area of concern is the fuel itself.  Gasoline degrades as it sits in storage, and today’s pump fuels start out marginal for use in older cars.  For that reason, I suggest you fill your car with premium fuel, and add fuel stabilizer to slow its deterioration. 

If you are near an airport, and they will sell you fuel in gas cans, your car will run better on Avgas 100.  However, it is costly and not every airport will dispense the stuff into containers.  It’s illegal for road use in the USA despite its functional superiority.

I like to put cars up on the left and spray penetrating oil into all the linkages and moving parts. That reduces the chance things will freeze up or rust over the winter.

Finally, we get to the interior.  I have had enough trouble with rodents that I now leave mouse baits on the floor in hopes that will reduce or eliminate infestations.  I also leave an air freshener inside, and choose a dry location for storage.  

If you are in a cold climate the best storage garage is one with radiant heat pipes in the floor.  A heated floor will keep moisture away and keep your vehicles at a more constant temperature.  It's more costly to build in radiant heat, but it actually costs less to heat a space this way than through a conventional heater.

Unheated storage is more common.  Many times unheated garage storage means the car will be exposed to daily temperature cycles as the sun warms the building and it cools at night.  This is harder on woodwork (if your car has woodwork) but it's not a big deal otherwise provided the air is dry and the car has antifreeze protection.

Barns are the worst places to store cars because they tend to be full of rodents and they often have dirt floors that wick moisture up into your chassis, rusting frames and brakes and anything else. 

Some people like to store cars under a cover; others prefer to leave them open.  I like covers because they protect you from scratches if cats jump on the cars or things brush against them.

If you do this work yourself, plan on spending a few hours putting the car to rest.  If you pay someone to do it for you, expect a bill for several hundred dollars of labor plus fuel, coolant, or other fluids

Whatever you choose, I wish you luck this winter season.

And remember . . . an apple a day will keep anyone away, as long as it's thrown hard enough.

John Elder Robison is the general manager of J E Robison Service Company, independent restoration and Bosch Authorized Car Service specialists in Springfield, Massachusetts.  John is a longtime technical consultant to the Land Rover, Porsche, and Rolls Royce Owner's Clubs, and he’s owned and restored many of these fine vehicles.  Find him online at www.robisonservice.com or in the real world at 413-785-1665

2 comments:

gsmac said...

A couple comments:

100LL avgas is superior fuel, yes, and it does not contain any ethanol, which is horrible stuff to have in your fuel during storage, as it is hydrophilic (attracts moisture) and can then phase-separate out to the bottom of the tank - where your sump pickup will feed this ethanol/water mixture to your engine.

However - the "LL" in 100LL is "low lead," which is what makes it illegal for road use. It will foul plugs not designed to run at a temperature for leaded fuel, and will coat and destroy expensive catalytic converters.

For storage I try to find gasoline without ethanol (look up pure-gas.org) then add Marine fuel stabilizer, as it is more powerful and better at preventing absorption of moisture.

As for batteries - I shudder to think of how many batteries I have killed with a float charger, even on a timer. Instead, I use intelligent chargers like a Battery Tender. I have had my motorcycle hooked up to a Battery Tender Jr. 24/7 for the last 2 1/2 years (except for when I'm riding it, of course), and its battery works just as well as when it was new. Before that, I could rarely get more than two years out of a battery.

CPSL said...
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