How to Store Your Car for Winter

How to Store Your Car for Winter

Before you put your 'Sunday driver' away for the winter there are a few steps that we recommend you take. This winterization process involves taking special care of the tires, engine, battery, and the interior/exterior of the vehicle prior to an extended period of inactivity. Here are a few tips and the best ways we like to get a car ready for winter storage.

Where should you store your car for winter?

Obviously the best place to store your car for winter is in a heated garage or warehouse. If you don't have a garage, you can also park your car under a covered carport. It's important to keep your car out of the elements as much as possible to prevent rust, rodent infestations, and other damage. It is always wise and suggested to find a heated space for your winter storage needs but that usually costs money. While spending $50 to $250 per month for heated storage sounds expensive, it also can save you money on unforeseen damages or effects of sitting in a non-heated space. We also prefer a location that is secure and monitored often to make sure no funny business is happening while your baby sleeps. In our local Chicagoland area there are a number of storage facilities that specialize in storing cars, like Hagerty or Alpha Garage.

When Should I Store My Car?

Ideally, you should store your car before the winter weather hits. This way, you can avoid any potential damage from winter weather conditions. If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow and ice, it's especially important to get your car into storage before the winter elements arrive. Driving a car that has no top or heat is not ideal when the cold weather has set in, and performance vehicles often don’t do well on snowy or icy road conditions so plan accordingly. 

How Long Can I Store My Car?

You can store your car for as long as you need to. However, it's important to check on your car periodically to make sure there's no water damage, mold, or other issues. Check your fluids every month and make sure any leaks are cleaned up and addressed so you can to prevent further issues. By following the steps below you can easily store your car for the Winter months without any issues.

Here Is What You Need To Store Your Car

Here are the basics you should keep in mind for getting your car ready for a long winter slumber.

  • An accessible, well-ventilated space that is large enough to comfortably fit your car and preferably heated
  • A high-quality car cover that is made from soft materials and fits snugly to the vehicle
  • Interior and exterior car detailing supplies for dialing things in before you put it to bed
  • A battery charger or battery tender that can keep your car's battery charged throughout the long winter
  • An air compressor or tire pump to make sure your tires remain inflated all winter long

What Steps Should I Take To Store My Car

There is no exact science to storing a vehicle, and your storage needs will be different if you are in sunny California or in the great white North of Wisconsin. Always adjust your needs and storage process based on your conditions and situation.

Step 1: The First Thing To Do Is Clean Your Ride

Thoroughly cleaning both the interior and exterior of your car is key to winter storage. Not only will it prevent dirt and grime from building up, but it will also help you spot any potential problems that need to be fixed before you put your car away.

We usually begin our details by cleaning the wheels and tires first as they can be the filthiest parts of your car. We use a dedicated wheel cleaning bucket with a nice pH-neutral shampoo for some sudsy lubricant for our wheel brushes, wheel woolies, and mitts. This way you are not using contaminated tools and water on the more delicate painted surfaces of your car. Removing as much brake dust as possible is always a good idea so it cannot corrode your wheels over the long winter. Using quality wheel brushes can make this task a lot easier. This is also a great time to inspect your wheels, tires, and brakes so when Spring comes you have no surprises.

Now it's time to give your car a bath and we love a prewash with a pH-neutral shampoo in a foam cannon. Grab your favorite soap and foam away and then let the foam and suds dwell for a few minutes and then rinse well with water to loosen up dirt and contaminants. Once thoroughly rinsed we like using the two-bucket wash method with a bucket for soapy water and one rinse bucket for cleaning your sponge or wash mitt. Wash a panel at a time and then dip your mitt into the rinse bucket to clean it before using it on another panel to prevent swirls and scratches.

Once you have washed the entire vehicle we like to blow off the car with a leaf blower or a car dryer to minimize any residual moisture trapped in the tight spaces like your side mirrors and door jambs. If you do not have a dryer we recommend using a drying aid on the wet panels and using a high-quality drying towel to mop up the water.

After you have completely dried the car's surfaces and jams we recommend adding a layer of protection to the paint, trim, seals, wheels, and tires. This will help prevent sun damage, dry rotting, and much more. On the exterior of your vehicle you may want to apply a ceramic or graphene coating for long lasting protection.

Don't Forget To Clean The Inside Of Your Car

The next step is to clean and condition the interior of your car. This includes vacuuming the carpets and mats, cleaning and dressing all of the vinyl, plastic, and rubber surfaces, and dusting all of the hard surfaces. Don't forget to clean under the seats and in all of the crevices where dirt, grime love to hide. Make sure you remove any wrappers, crumbs, or materials that a mouse can use to setup a motel in your vehicle. You can use mothballs over the winter but make sure you air out the car in the Spring as they are not very kind on the nostrils.

We like to use an interior cleaner on most surfaces as it will not damage or dry out any materials. A good glass cleaner is a must for keeping your windshield clear and streak-free. Once everything is sparkling clean we like to add a layer of protection with a UV protectant for all of the interior plastics, vinyl, and rubber.

Step 2: Check Your Tires

Making sure your tires are properly inflated and have the right amount of tread is important for both winter storage and safety. As temperatures drop so does the volume of air in your tires. 

Under-inflated tires can cause issues like decreased gas mileage, premature tire wear, and a less comfortable ride. Overinflated tires can also cause problems like decreased traction and a rougher ride but in the case of storage this is an ideal thing to do. Tires can lose air over time because of a leak or swings in the temperature so over inflating your tires by 5 or 6 psi will help negate this. Slight over inflation can help prevent flat spots. Tire rotations should be done every 5,000 miles or so, but it’s especially important to do one before winter storage. This will help prevent uneven tire wear and extends the life of your tires. If you plan on storing your car for an extended period of time you may want to set your vehicle on jack stands to remove the weight off of the suspension and tires. Another tip is to park on a softer surface that also is a barrier to the ground. You can use foam, rubber, etc. and this can help keep your tires in a circular design and also reduce moisture under the vehicle.

We hope you can check on your car occasionally during its hibernation and checking the tires is an easy and fast thing to do. You do not want to come back to your car in 4 or 5 months with a tire or two smushed into the earth when you could have simply topped it up with air.

Our best recommendation if you have the room and ability to, is to move the car and roll it every 30 days. This will help prevent flat spots, seizing components, and other mechanical issues.

Step 3: Check Your Fluids

Fluids are critical for the proper operation of your vehicle and winter is a tough time on vehicles even when you are storing them. Check your engine oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, and coolant levels to make sure they are all topped off. This will help prevent any issues related to these fluids over the winter months and can prevent freezing and cracking engines or other components.

We highly recommend filling your gas tank right before storing it as new fuel can last a few months without going stale. Ontop of new fuel we like adding a fuel stabilizer to help extend the life of your full tank. We then run the car for 5 minutes to let the clean and stabilized fuel go through all of the veins of your vehicle. This can help prevent gumming and other starting issues after months of sitting.

Step 4: Charge Your Battery

Winter can be really tough on batteries so we recommend keeping it charged with a battery tender. A battery tender is a low power battery charger that trickle charges the battery and keeps the battery full all winter long. This will help prevent any issues starting your vehicle after months of storage. If you have a removable battery you can even disconnect it and store it indoors where it will stay nice and warm. Although this is not as ideal on some newer vehicles because this can cause some wonky computer issues.

Step 5: Cover Your Car

One of the best things you can do for winter car storage is to cover your vehicle. This will help protect it from the elements like snow, ice, and rain. A car cover will also help keep the dust off which can be important if you are storing your vehicle indoors. We recommend a breathable car cover like one of these from Covercraft or California Car Cover. There are car covers for outside and inside and come in many colors and in most cases are designed to fit your exact vehicle. If your car is abnormal say like a 1958 Lister Knobbly, you can contact the manufacturer and they can recommend something for you.

While some car covers are expensive we would argue that they are worth the investment. Laying a tarp directly over your car can seem like a good and cheap alternative but it can cause marring, scratching, and swirling on your paint which can be costly to repair. Tarps also do not fit snug and can flap around in the wind and even get blown away if not secured well. We have seen some success in laying a tarp over a car cover for additional protection, however.

Should You Start Your Car When It Is In Storage?

The age old debate, should you start your car when it is in winter storage? We say it depends. Starting a stored car once a month and letting it idle for 15 minutes helps keep all the moving parts lubricated and can help keep your battery charged. Some vehicles need to run a decent amount of time to warm up and remove any condensation and that is where we say it may be better not to run it. Most vehicles do not need to be started if you have winterized and prepped them correctly and sometimes it is more for you to hear a rumble than it is a necessity for your car.

Remember to remove your car cover completely before you start the vehicle as you do not want to damage or dirty it up because you were lazy.

Other Things To Keep In Mind When Storing Your Vehicle

While you think you have covered all of your bases with the steps above, here are some additional things to keep in mind when you store your car.

  • Disengage the parking brake so it does not seize or become frozen from sitting
  • Put your car in neutral and block the wheels if you have a manual transmission to prevent any transmission hang-ups
  • Remove any valuables from your vehicle for the chance you have someone rummage through your car they cannot add insult to injury by taking anything of importance
  • Close all of the windows to prevent unwanted guests, animals, and the elements from getting into the car
  • Cover any exposed areas like the steering wheel, seats, etc. with a cloth or towel if you do not have a car cover for the entire vehicle
  • Get comprehensive insurance coverage while your vehicle is in storage as this will give you a piece of mind if something does happen

Storing your car properly during winter can help prevent a lot of issues and make sure it’s ready to go when winter is over. Following these tips will help ensure that your car comes out of winter storage in the same condition it went in. If you have any questions or suggestions feel free to let us know. And if you found this helpful be sure to share it.

And that’s it! These simple winter car storage tips will help ensure that your vehicle is ready to go when spring comes around.