Thoughts and advice on the care and feeding of fine automobiles from Machine Aficionado and bestselling author John Elder Robison, owner of JE Robison Service in Springfield, Massachusetts

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Storing newer collector cars for winter

If you live in snow country you know convertible and sports car season is coming to an end.  Soon it will be time to put our pets away till next year.  In this article I’d like to offer some pointers for storing late model collector cars.

Start by filling your car with fuel and pouring in the correct amount of fuel stabilizer.  I suggest Sta-Bil brand but alternatives are available.  A full gas tank minimizes the chance of condensation which happens when water vapor from the air condenses on the inside of the gas tank as temps drop in the evening.  If this happens every day in a car that’s in storage you can accumulate a great deal of water in the fuel.  Filling the tank to the top will prevent it.

I also suggest pouring in a bottle of octane booster as the fuel will lose octane rating the longer it is stored.

Note:  cars built after the 1990s have sealed fuel tanks which should not allow free circulation of vapors.  For these cars filling the tank is less important and indeed you may want to keep their fuel level low so you can fill with fresh gas in the spring.

Run the car at least 30 minutes to get it thoroughly warmed up; an hour’s hard run is better.   You want to make sure you have boiled any stray moisture out of the engine and exhaust system before shutting the car off for the season.

You want to store the car with reasonably clean oil; some suggest changing oil right before winter storage while others argue for changing the oil first thing in the spring.  In my opinion, the oil in your collector car should always be fairly clean so that no special attention is required for storage.  As a practical matter, I can say with confidence that cars often go into the shop to be "checked over for spring" where shop visits to "prep for winter" are fairly uncommon.

If you don't know the age of your coolant I suggest you either change it (most cars should get fresh coolant at 2-5 years intervals) or at least tests its ph to make sure it has not become corrosive.

The next step is washing your car, and vacuuming and cleaning the interior and trunk.  Spots that wash off easily now may not be so removable if left till next spring!  If your car is going to be stored in an area where mice may invade I suggest putting mothballs or some other repellant in the car to improve the chances that they won’t move in.

Check all your fluids and top them off right to the full lines before parking the car.  Make sure the antifreeze protection is good and the windshield washer system has solvent, not water, so that it does not freeze.

Spray all the door seals and the trunk seal with silicone spray before putting the car away.  Oil the hood, door, and trunk hinges, too.  If there are throttle linkage pieces on the engine I’d hit them with oil, and I’d also oil any moving pivots (like the parking brake linkage) under the car.

Before parking your car I suggest inflating your tires to the maximum pressures as shown on the tire sidewall.  This will minimize the tendency of your tires to develop flat spots as they sit.

Switch off the radio, heat, air conditioner and all other accessories before you shut the car off.  The will minimize the electrical load and transients when you reconnect power next spring.  It’s your best way to prevent electrical failures.

Drive your car into the spot where it will be stored.  Close the windows, and shut off the engine and remove the key.  If your car was made before the airbag and electronic engine management era you can go ahead and disconnect the battery.  If you have a newer car – wait a minute!   Newer cars often need as much as twenty minutes for their computers to store data and shift to low power mode.  If you disconnect the battery before that process is complete you can set fault codes that will require a trip to the shop to correct next year.

In the worst case, disconnecting the battery can even cause major electronic systems to fail.  Land Rover – for example – has a problem with this on their 2000-2005 Range Rovers.  Disconnecting the battery too quickly can send the navigation computer to never-never land where the only cure is a new $1,000+ unit.  Be patient and avoid problems.

If you are disconnecting the battery I certainly suggest you take the keys out of the vehicle.  The reason – when you connect the battery in the spring there is always a chance the central locking system will power up and lock the vehicle.  If that happens and the keys are inside, you’re stuck!

Modern batteries lose about 10% of their charge every month while sitting.  If you park the car at the beginning of November a good battery will still have enough juice to start the car in March.  Connecting a trickle charger will keep it at 100% buy you’ll need access to an electrical outlet.

The best way to protect your tires is to put wood blocks under the suspension at all four corners, lifting the car’s wheels slightly off the ground.  That will ensure the tires are round next season.

Do not set the parking brake.  Leaving the parking brake under tension all winter may well result in a brake that won’t release next spring. 

If you have a convertible you should usually store the car with the top up to prevent shrinkage.  Once it's closed don't open it until you have a warm day to heat the canvas unless you are in a heated space in which case that does not matter.  Every year we see plastic rear windows that split when opened on a cold day.

Some people prefer car covers; others leave their pets uncovered.  There’s one school of thought that says pulling the cover off and on will scratch the car and another that says the protection is invaluable.  If you want to get a cover and the car is indoors I recommend the heavy flannel.  If it’s outdoors Technalon is the ticket.

These tips will maximize your chances of an uneventful winter of storage.  I wish you the best of luck with executing the plan.  And remember to keep your insurance in force.  If there’s a water leak in the garage, or mice eat holes in the seats . . . those things are covered by comprehensive insurance in most states.  The times you are not driving the car may well be the times you need insurance most.

John E Robison

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 or in the real world at 413-785-1665

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