Tips For Storing Your Vehicle This Winter

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Winter is coming and you want to put your car away till spring. Here are some tips from the experts.

Your weekend car is very special to you and winter is coming. It’s time to store that car so it will be ready this spring. We’ve compiled a list of dos and don’ts experts suggest for making sure the vehicle has a nice cozy rest.

Step 1 – Call Your Insurance Agent

If you are planning to store your vehicle for more than a couple of months, call your insurance agent. Most companies will allow you to remove the vehicle form your auto policy saving you real money. Be sure you still have that vehicle covered by your homeowner’s insurance policy in case of a mishap.

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The Battle With Critters

One real concern for those storing a vehicle, particularly in a barn or outside, is preventing mice from making homes in the vehicle and possibly chewing up parts you’d rather weren’t. There is a lot of talk about car parts being made from modern renewable and biodegradable materials being the attraction for the rodents, but a BestRide neighbor stores an antique Car from before WWI that he struggles to keep mice from chomping on. Regardless of why critters like our cars, do your best to keep them out. Not a fan of setting traps and poison?  Repellents can help. John Paul, The Car Doctor, told us, “Block the air intake and tail pipe(s). Steel wool works great. I have had good luck with oil of spearmint to keep critters out of  vehicles.”

What To Do About Fuel

John Paul also answered this section for us. John Suggests, “Fill the tank and add fuel stabilizer. I prefer to use marine stabilizer due to ethanol additives to the fuel in our area.”

Oil Change Recommendations

In the context of overall vehicle ownership, oil is dirt cheap. Many automakers require a twice-annual oil change regardless of mileage (We’re looking right at you, Subaru). Since you love this vehicle, why not change the oil just before you store it, and then again when you prep it for spring driving? Where is the harm in that? Take a hard look at your service records and make sure that brake fluid isn’t old enough to vote while you’re at it. Brake fluid is a lot less expensive than frozen calipers.

Convertibles Are Special

We have a soft spot in our hearts for convertibles here at BestRide. This despite the fact that, like swimming pools, we get to use them about three weeks a year. Kidding aside, Convertibles are special and have some unique care requirements. The first step to prepping your convertible for storage this winter is a good cleaning of the top. Don’t overthink this. Follow the recommendations of the manufacturer and use cleaning products specific to the task.

We asked the folks at Haartz Corporation to end the debate about whether to store a convertible with the top up or down once and for all. Haartz has been making textiles and soft-tops since William McKinley was President, so we figure they have the issue sorted out. They told us, “The practice of storing your convertible top up has evolved over time. In reality, it is best to store the top in the upright fixed position. This practice allows any moisture that may be present on the roof material to thoroughly dry instead of being confined in a tight space in the down stack position. There have been cases where wet materials have been stored in the down position that has led to unwanted mildew growth on the textiles. Even with the advancements in textile finishes available today, various forms of fungal growth can appear given the right set of conditions.” So there you have it, stored upright and in the locked position. That sounds familiar…

Battery Considerations

Two things to think about when prepping a battery for winter storage: Draw and sulfation.

A 12-volt battery in a modern vehicle is under a lot of stress, even when the vehicle isn’t running. In the old days, when you turned a car off, it was off. Today, even the cheapest cars ship with things like memory seats, security systems, GPS and proximity sensors that make the fancy push-button start work. All of that equipment draws a lot of power.

Most modern cars will draw 85 milliamps constantly. Figuring out how long a battery will last is a pretty simple math equation. Say you’re running a 70 amp-hour battery. That measurement means that your battery could run a constant draw of 3.5 amps for a total of 70 hours before it died.

The equation for figuring out how long your battery will last looks like this:

amp-hours/milliamps (in decimal form) = hours to discharge

In the case of our 70 amp-hour battery, an 85 milliamp draw will kill that battery dead in just under 825 hours,  or 34 days, about two months shy of a typical winter.

The free solution to this problem is to disconnect the battery, right? But that poses two problems: One, you lose all your presets for the radio and seat functions, plus you lose power for the security system. Second, even if the battery makes it through the winter with a charge, chances are good that you’ve reduced the life of the battery thanks to sulfation, where crystals form in the liquid. Some sulfation is going to occur one way or another, but leaving the battery disconnected for that period of time is going to accelerate that problem for sure.

Kill two birds with one stone with a “smart charger.” Battery Tender is the most common brand of smart charger, but you can get different brands from retailers like Lowe’s or any auto parts store. They’re as cheap as $20 for a single charger, or you can spend more for units that will charge multiple batteries simultaneously, which is handy if you have a snowblower or a lawn mower with electric start.

These types of chargers have microprocessors inside that constantly monitor the state of charge and prevent sulfation. They won’t overcharge the battery like older battery chargers will.

These days a battery can run well into $120, so $20 invested in a charger is going to save you money in the long run.

Jack Stands – We Vote No

Some folks who store vehicles with special tires do need to take special precautions. However, modern all-season tires are pretty tough. In our experience, flat-spots have not been an issue after storing a vehicle for six months. Some experts suggest jack stands to lighten the load of the vehicle on the tires to prevent flat spots from forming. What we are not fans of is the inability to roll the car out of its spot on short notice. Maybe we are just safety geeks, but if your garage is on fire, or you need to move a Miata 15 feet in a hurry for some other reason, you can do it without help if the car is in neutral. If it’s up on four jack stands, that option is off the table. Make this call based on your particular rubber compound and the recommendations of the manufacturer of your tires if they are special.

Final Suggestions

John Paul also suggests not running the car during its storage. John says, “Don’t be tempted to just start the car and let it run, this just dilutes the oil and doesn’t do anything for the engine.” Finally, it would not hurt to make a note of how you prepared the car for yourself, or in case someone else ends up doing the spring preparation. It may save you from having to pull steel wool out of your air intake filter.