Hints and Tips on Storing Your Classic Car Over the Winter

We don’t let our classic cars go out on hire in the depths of winter, particularly once the first frosts arrive and the councils start spreading salt on the roads. Our cars were never rustproofed when new and even though we tend to Waxoyl them ourselves this can never be done completely and always leaves untreated bodywork which is subject to the dreaded tin worm.

We take them all off the road over the winter and work through our list of improvements and put them all through our garage for their main annual service. Putting them away for the winter isn’t just a matter of driving them into the garage and we do, and recommend that classic car owners do, as much of the following as is practicable.

    • Clean and polish the whole car properly, including the underside of the bonnet and boot lids and as much of the engine bay as is reachable. Empty the boot and clean and polish the inside of the boot and the boot floor.
    • While you have the spare wheel out make sure it is clean and check the tyre pressure. As tyres can lose a bit of pressure over time when stored, pump it up to a few PSI more than is needed.
    • Hose down the underside of the car and dry it off as best as you can – if necessary taking it for a short drive to dry it off – as long as there is no salt on the roads of course.
    • Check the carpet to see if they are at all damp – most classics tend to leak to some extent. If possible lift the carpets and any soundproofing or underlay and check the floor isn’t wet. If it is, remove the carpets and dry and polish the floor. Hang the carpets and underlay up in the garage to dry, or store them in the airing cupboard if you are allowed to.
    • If you have over mats in the footwells it is a good idea to remove these to allow the main carpet to breathe. Store these somewhere where they will keep dry, or dry out if necessary.
    • If there was any damp inside the car at all this can creep up into the carpet that covers the gearbox and transmission tunnel or the carpet under the seats. Install a mini dehumidifier which will dry the car interior out slowly over a couple of weeks. These are not expensive – about £30 each and I have used them for over 15 years. They only consume about 40w so don’t cost much money to leave running continuously. They extract water and fill up a small tank which needs emptying when the light changes from green to red. Keep running the dehumidifier until no more water appears in the tank.
    • Store the car with the windows wound up otherwise the dehumidifier will be extracting moisture permanently as the air circulates round the car.
    • More importantly keeping the windows closed will stop your local rodents from deciding to make their winter home inside the car and chewing up the carpet and seats.
    • If you have the luxury of keeping your car stored in a Carcoon or an AirChamber then as long as the fans on this are kept running they will dry out the car both inside and out so an in car de-humidifier is not needed. We keep one of our cars in an AirChamber which works extremely well.
    • Check all under bonnet fluid levels: coolant – top up with antifreeze rather than water; oil; brake and clutch fluids and the battery electrolyte level.
    • Connect a trickle charger to the battery to keep it topped up. I prefer the ones that show a red LED while charging and a green LED when fully charged so the charge state can be seen at a glance. There are some premium priced chargers on the market for over £70 but I have normally bought suitable ones in the £20 to £30 price range which have worked perfectly. Some of these come with extra leads, with an inline plug, which can be fitted to the car so the charger can just be plugged in. I have fitted one of these to our MGB to save me having to lift the panel over the batteries to get to them. Alternatively connect the cigarette lighter direct to a live feed, not switched through the ignition, connect a cigarette plug to the charger and then it can just be plugged into the cigarette lighter.
    • Pump up tyres to a couple of PSI above the normal pressure to allow for any loss over the winter.
    • Do not use the handbrake in case it sticks on.
    • If your car is convertible, keep the soft-top raised and taut to keep it dry and free from mould.
  • If you have chrome wire wheels, clean them and give them a liberal coating of WD40. This can be cleaned off in the spring.

It is a good idea to start the car at least once a month during the winter and run it fully up to operating temperature. If possible, and salt hasn’t been used on the roads for a while, then take it for a short run. If this is not practical then at least drive it back and forth out of the garage to make sure the clutch works, none of the brakes have stuck on and at least get some of the oil and grease doing their jobs on moving parts. Also try all switches to make sure they work. Switch contacts can oxidise internally if not used and just switching them on and off will help prevent this.

And finally look forward to Spring, sunshine and no salt!

Tony Merrygold of The Open Road is an expert in classic car hire having been in business in the UK since 1997 running The Open Road.

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