Winter Storage

by John Twist, University Motors

Ask a dozen classic car owners how each of them stored his special car last year and you will receive a dozen different answers. Methods range from abandoning the vehicle under a tree in the front yard, to complex routines involving raising the classic off the ground and removing the seats. There is not a "proper" method as each owner has slightly different considerations and requirements yet there are basic rules to follow in any storage procedure that will reduce the probability of damage during storage.

In addition to the normal precautions for freezing temperature, some thought must be given to location, access, traffic around the stored car, humidity, rodents, etc. It is important to develop a plan that you can easily follow and that you implement before winter shows its icy Arctic fury.

Damage We Have Witnessed!

Damage during storage results from neglect or abuse - and we've "seen it all!" Cars stored without antifreeze resulting in cracked blocks, burst radiators and heaters; old gasoline evaporated until all that's left are giant, hardened blocks of varnish knocking around inside the tank; gasoline lines, fuel pumps, and carburettors plugged with gooey aged petrol. Dented fenders, cracked glass, perforated soft tops caused by carelessness or accidents from adults and children -- corroded chrome, scaly undercarriages, frozen brakes and mildewed interiors from damp storage. But the damage from rodents is most pervasive - those nasty creatures burrow into the seats, the bonnet insulation, the interior - even the exhaust pipe. We have found nests in the boot, fender wells, pedal boxes, inside the heater boxes and air cleaners, in the folded tonneau ... nearly everywhere. We disassembled an engine once to find a mouse nest INSIDE a cylinder. We've removed 20 pounds of dogfood from the engine bay! One convertible had a perfectly round hole the size of a silver dollar gnawed right in the middle of the top (it had remained folded down all winter).

Basic Rules

Freezing temperatures require a 50/50 solution of antifreeze and water to prevent the coolant from freezing in the engine block, radiator, or heater. A full tank of gasoline reduces the amount of water that can be absorbed by the petrol and slows the rate at which the gasoline turns to varnish. Fresh oil in the sump reduces bearing etching, caused by dirty, acidic, contaminated oil. Topped off master cylinders reduces water contamination in the hydraulic lines.

Store your convertible with the top up, windows and vents closed. The folding top can develop nasty creases when left folded throughout the winter. Closed vents and windows make it more difficult for small furry creatures to foul or devour parts of the interior. It's always nice to clean the car's interior prior to storage—discarded bottles and cigarette butts do not enhance the interior bouquet. Ensure that the trunk is dry. The trunk lid seal is not always positive and some moisture can collect on the floor. Left to nature throughout the winter, this can rust the floor or inner fenders about the trunk area. Discharging an entire can of WD-40 (or similar product) on all the engine components, especially the bright metal or aluminum parts (carbs, coil, etc) easily protects the under-hood area (engine bay). A large piece of plastic on the floor protects the underside of the chassis from moisture rising up through the concrete

Finally, take your automobile on the last run of the season allowing it to heat up fully. A half-hour run is wonderful. This will evaporate all the moisture in the exhaust and engine. Park the car in its winter home and leave the handbrake OFF. If you will not see the car until Spring, either remove the battery to a heated environment - or fit one of the new constant maintenance battery chargers and simply leave the car plugged in all winter. If you cover your car, use cloth, never plastic.

Insurance is a MUST -- even on your stored classic! Always keep a theft/damage/vandalism/fire policy in effect on your car. Vintage cars are still stolen; garages collapse under the weight of snow; nasty neighborhood children may wish to redecorate your antique -- or worse; and fire is always a possibility. This comprehensive insurance is very inexpensive and you simply cannot afford to be without it. Be certain to establish the value of your car with the insurance agent before the loss!

Storage Considerations

Consider the following questions and make your own storage plan from these concerns:

  1. Location:

    Will your cars be stored close to home or in a barn forty miles distant? Will they be stored inside or outside?
  2. Access:

    Will the vehicle be locked in a building to which you will have little or no access, or will it be available every day? Will it be possible to drive your car during the winter or will it be positioned in the corner of the garage?
  3. Traffic:

    Will the car be isolated from movement, or will the family Vista Cruiser discharge four energetic, careless children who will open doors against it?
  4. Humidity:

    Will the storage area be very dry or will there be a puddle of melting snow forever swilling under the car?
  5. Temperature:

    Will the storage temperatures be room temp, just above freezing, or dead cold?
  6. Animals:

    Will the family cat use the soft top as a springboard, will Spike jump against it, are there furry rodents which may use the car as a hotel or find the leather seats tasty at mealtime?
  7. Owner Maintenance:

    will you really have the opportunity, inclination, time, and resolve to visit your car every week or month?


Systems Protection

  1. Engine:

    Fresh oil will adequately protect the engine for several months of relatively dry storage. If you are going to store the vehicle longer than the winter, or if the humidity is high, then start the engine at regular intervals and allow it to warm up (with the garage door open, please). If this is not possible, introduce oil into the cylinders (perhaps six squirts from a normal oil can). Turn the engine over slowly, before replacing the plugs—by the crank in the earlier models, or pushing while in fourth gear -- as this moves the oil throughout the head, pistons, and valves. Cover the tailpipe outlet with duct tape to prevent moisture (and rodents) from entering the exhaust system. Cover the air inlets at the air cleaner(s) with tape to keep moisture from the carburetor internals and cylinder head.
  2. Ignition:

    Normally there are no preventive measures, but if you are going to store the car for several years, oil the distributor cam. Even moderately damp storage will corrode the points. If the engine fails to quickly start the next season, drag a piece of fine sandpaper through the points to remove the oxidation.
  3. Cooling:

    Ensure the cooling system is filled with a clean 50/50 solution of glycol antifreeze and water. Some owners suggest that Armorall or a similar product can extend the life of the radiator hoses if sprayed on the outside of the hose.
  4. Fuel:

    If you plan just a winter's storage, then a full tank of gasoline with the addition of a can of "dry gas" or "Stabil" is satisfactory. If you plan to store the vehicle for a year or more, then drain the fuel tank, pump, hoses and carburetor float bowls to prevent a build-up of varnish and oxidation of the metering needle. The currently available gasoline purchased today seems to go bad after a year or so.
  5. Clutch:

    Two problems can occur in long term storage; the clutch hydraulics can leak or mechanical linkages seize; and the clutch disc can rust to the flywheel or pressure plate. Exercising the pedal on a regular basis can avoid these trouble spots. Damp storage is a real problem with the clutch and aggravates this rusting. Oil bath and cork button clutches have different concerns. A common solution is to prop the clutch open.
  6. Suspension:

    Winter storage causes no problems with the suspension. Some owners place their cars on jacks for the winter to prevent flat-spotting the tires - if this is done, place the stands under the outer portion of the front suspension and under the rear axle. This keeps the suspension from dropping away from the body and straining the shocks and the rebound rubbers/straps. If you place your car on stands, then reduce tire pressure to 10-151bs. Whether on stands or on the ground, be certain to move the wheels a couple of times during storage. Several rotations work well to prevent the bearings from rusting and will prevent flat spots from developing on the tires.
  7. Brakes:

    Rolling the vehicle back and forth prevents the brake pads or shoes from rusting to the rotors or drums. Operate the brakes on a regular basis to prevent the cylinders from freezing or linkage seizing. Some owners back off the adjustment on the brake drums so that there is no chance of the shoes rusting to the drums - this also allows the mechanism to move farther while exercising the pedal. Exercise the handbrake, too! Rapidly work the handle, up and down, to keep the cable and linkages free. Store the vehicle with the handbrake OFF!
  8. Batteries:

    No battery will hold its charge forever. If the battery charge is reduced far enough, the electrolyte freezes, the case cracks, and the battery is ruined. If you store your car in freezing temperatures, then you must charge the batteries several times throughout the winter. Use a "trickle charger" or run the engine to recharge the battery(ies). Sometimes it is easier to remove the battery! Next to the coolant in the radiator, the batteries are one of the most important considerations in winter storage.
  9. One of the truly "new and improved" devices is the battery monitor. This unit checks the battery voltage on a regular basis (minutes? seconds? milliseconds? I don't know) and if the battery voltage falls below a certain mark, a tiny charge is made - then the unit rechecks the voltage and the cycle repeats. These are truly wonderful units!
  10. Body:

    To prevent oxidation or scratching, cover your automobile with a cloth mitten. Plastic is NOT suitable. Plastic does not allow the paint to breathe, and can exacerbate oxidation and rusting. If you plan to store the car in a heavy traffic zone (the family garage, for example), then additional protection is in order. Thick cardboard, a suitably supported piece of wood, or even an old mattress suspended from the ceiling prevents damage from winter tools and car doors. If the hood, roof or trunk lid will be used for a shelf (even if just to place groceries in transit), then more protection (such as a thick blanket) is in order. Humidity is the body's enemy. Make every effort to keep the floor dry!! If you plan to store the car outside, then keep the car well ventilated and do not allow snow to pile up, under and around the car. Park the car on a large sheet of plastic to keep it dry.
  11. Expend a whole can of WD-40 in the engine bay and on the wheels - REALLY! Another truly wonderful improvement is the car bag. Some of these are giant envelopes into which you drive your car and zip closed for the season. Others have blowers to keep air circulating.
  12. Interior:

    Low winter humidity dries leather seats, allowing them to contract and crack. Prepare the leather with LEXOL to keep the hide supple. Mice cause the greatest damage to interiors! They eat the seats, the foam, the carpeting, the wiring insulation - they eat EVERYTHING!! Close off access to the interior. Keep the vents tightly closed. Erect the soft top. Close the windows. Some owners remove their seats prior to storage. Several dishes, filled with mothballs, in the footwells, on the battery compartment, in the trunk and under the hood will repel most mice. Use the "Old Fashioned" mothballs - naphthalene.


© University Motors Press 1st 030893 102004 jht

This information was provided by John Twist the owner of University Motors in Michigan. John has been working on MG’s since some time in the early 1600’s and has forgotten more than most people know about these wonderful British cars.