By Jim Kerr
It’s approaching that time of year when most motorhomes, motorcycles, collector cars and even lawn mowers are put away for the winter. You can simply park them and hope things will work fine in the spring, or you can spend a few minutes preparing them to help prevent expensive repairs next year.
Start with a general cleanup. Bugs, tar and sap can stain the paint if left on for longer periods. Clean out any dirt or leaves in crevices that can hold moisture and create a place for rust to start. An oil and filter change before you store the vehicle will help protect internal engine parts. Run the engine for a few minutes after the change so the fresh oil circulates throughout the engine. Some wait for spring to change the oil but this leaves acids in the engine where they corrode parts. Change it now and you won’t have to in the spring. If you live in a humid part of the country, removing the spark plugs and squirting a little oil into each cylinder can help prevent cylinders from rusting and piston rings sticking, but this can be difficult to do on some engines, so it is often not done. Modern engines don’t need this as much as antiques because of closer tolerances and fewer carbon deposits in the cylinders.
Over the winter, air slowly leaks out of tires so pump them up to the maximum pressure shown on the sidewall. Tires will deteriorate more slowly if kept out of direct sunlight. If you store your vehicle inside, you are fortunate, but if it is outside, block direct sunlight with a piece of plywood or cardboard.
Storing a vehicle inside is the best way to protect paint, upholstery and rubber parts from damage. If you can’t do this, a carport is the next best alternative. I often see parked vehicles covered with a tarp. This is probably the worst way to store a vehicle outside. The tarp will trap moisture beneath it and accelerate the rusting of your vehicle. Wind blows the tarp around no matter how tight you try to tie it down, and any movement will wear the paint right off your vehicle. It is better to store it uncovered. For short term storage, a breathable car cover will keep it clean but can still move in the wind and damage paint.
Fuels have changed and so has the way it keeps. Most fuels now contain a percentage of alcohol. When these fuels are stored for long periods, rust forms in gas tanks and hard white deposits form on fuel senders, pumps and in carburetors. Sometimes the deposits are so bad that fuel pumps and carburetors need replacing. Fuel can even turn to a jelly as the more volatile parts of the gasoline evaporate over time, clogging fuel tanks and fuel lines.
To help prevent fuel-related problems, use up the existing fuel in the tank and refill it with a premium grade fuel that doesn’t contain alcohol. Fuel stabilizer helps prevent the fuel from separating into more volatile parts and heavy parts, so it will start better in the spring. If you are storing the vehicle outside, a full tank of fuel will prevent moisture-laden air from entering the tank. When storing it inside, I prefer to keep the tank only half full. Then fill it with fresh fuel in the spring right away.
Finally, the battery should be disconnected and fully charged. Clocks, alternator regulators and computer memories will drain a battery charge if it is left connected. Even disconnected, the battery does discharge but very slowly, so it should be charged every two to three months or it will discharge and be damaged. If you can’t charge it in the vehicle, remove the battery and store it in a cool dry place. Make sure the area is ventilated while you charge the battery. There are many economical, low-current chargers on the market that are often called battery maintainers. These will reduce the charging rate as the battery becomes charged and turn off and on automatically as necessary to keep the battery charged.
Seasonal vehicles and equipment will retain their value and cost less to operate if stored correctly. All it takes is a little time and planning.