by Jim Kerr

Many vehicles sit for extended periods of time. Motorhomes, antique vehicles, show cars, hot rods, motorcycles and even lawn mowers are parked for the winter as owners pack up their memories of summer fun. Preparing a vehicle for storage is not difficult, but there are a few steps that should be taken to ensure the vehicle or components are not damaged.

Take time to wash your vehicle before storing it. This is a good time to remove tar, tree sap, and bugs that can damage the paint if left on for extended periods. It is also an ideal time to touch up any paint chips and give it a coat of wax. This helps prevent rust from starting on the outside of the body. Be sure to wash the underside of the vehicle to remove dirt from corners and ledges. Damp dirt trapped in these places can start metal rusting quickly. Finish by using a wire or screwdriver to check that all water drain holes along the bottom of the doors, rocker panels, and fenders are open.

After washing the vehicle, have the steering and suspension greased. Greasing the steering forces any moisture and dirt out of the pivots. Many older vehicles have fittings to allow this but most vehicles newer than 1980 use sealed components.

Change the oil and filter and run the engine for a few minutes to circulate the new oil throughout the engine. Acids in used oil will attack engine bearing surfaces when left sitting in the engine.

Determining how much fuel to keep in the fuel tank depends upon where the vehicle is stored and how long it will sit. When a vehicle is stored outside, the fuel tank should be full. This prevents condensation from forming on the inside of the tank as temperatures vary. If the vehicle is to be stored for a year or more, the gasoline may start to form a varnish. The fuel system should be drained completely to prevent varnish deposits, but this is not always an easy task on most vehicles. Draining the tank is the hardest part because very few vehicles have a drain plug on the fuel tank.

Any carburetted vehicle that is stored may require a carburettor overhaul when it is placed back in service. Carburettor gaskets can dry up and shrink when fuel is not flowing through the carburettor for extended periods. Replacing the gaskets is the only fix for this. Some new style gaskets have a rubberized coating to slow them drying up.

Tires should be inflated properly. Placing the vehicle on blocks is not necessary for winter storage, but it can prevent the tires from developing temporary flat spots and springs from sagging due to the vehicle’s weight.

Remove the battery and store it in a cool dry place. Make sure it is fully charged before storing it and then trickle charge it every 2 months to keep it charged. Batteries will self-discharge as they sit, but storing them in a cold, dry location slows the rate of self-discharge.

Cold, dry prairie winters keep parts from rusting, but in warmer, more humid parts of the country, rust can form inside engines, causing them to seize. Squirt an ounce of oil into each engine cylinder through the sparkplug hole and crank the engine over a couple times before replacing the plugs. This coats the inside of the cylinders to prevent rust from forming.

A good vehicle cover will protect painted surfaces from dirt, sunlight, and moisture. Use a cover that can “breath”. Covers such as plastic can trap moisture against the body, staining the paint and starting rust. Make sure any cover used is securely fastened around the vehicle. A loose cover can flap in the wind and quickly wears paint off a body.

Finally, watch out for mice. Make sure all firewall grommets and floor plugs are in place. Close all doors and windows tightly, and seal the exhaust by placing a ball of steel wool in the tailpipe. Mufflers and tailpipes make an excellent winter home for a mouse.

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