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Winter storage tips

Storing A Car For The Winter: What You Should And Shouldn’t Do

As Canadians, we know a thing or two about storing vehicles for the winter time. Unfortunately, that’s because many of our classic cars, hot rods, and motorcycles can only be enjoyed for half the year.

I’ve been storing my MR2 during the off season for 14 years now. There are a few schools of thought regarding what you should and shouldn’t do when storing a car for the winter. It seems like some people want to over complicate the process. I don’t see a need to. Today I’m going to share my own strategy.

Storing a car for the winter is fairly simple. Make sure it’s clean, use a fuel stabilizer, bump up the air pressure in your tires, crack your windows, and disconnect your battery. As long as you’ve chosen a safe place to park it, you shouldn’t need to do much more than that.

This is all just my opinion of what’s important and what isn’t. One thing I can say though is that my car has fired up and driven home in the spring the exact same way it did in the fall – every single year.


So what SHOULD you do when storing a car for the winter?

Winter storage tips

Find a good location

If you’re lucky enough to be able to store your car at home in the garage, you’re already good to go. For others, you’ll need to find a suitable place to keep your vehicle.

Climate controlled storage facilities are nice, but not required. Your car can handle cold temperatures. What’s more important is finding a place that’s dry and free of pests. A building with lots of moisture and humidity inside is going to cause much more harm to your vehicle than a cold, dry one.

Security is another thing to keep in mind. You don’t want a bunch of people coming and going from the building often and large windows showing all the toys inside aren’t a good idea either. Stick with an unassuming building rather than a high traffic one in the ‘hood.


Clean it up

There are a couple of benefits to washing a car before storing it for the winter. Things like bugs and bird droppings are acidic and can etch into your paint if they’re given enough time. It’s best to give the whole vehicle a once over to make sure it’s free of any contaminants.

It doesn’t have to be a show quality detail if you don’t want it to be. You can save all that fun stuff for the excitement of spring time. Just get the crud off of it so it doesn’t cause damage.

Putting your car away clean also gives you peace of mind during the winter months. You know that it’s been cared for recently and it’ll be ready to go in the spring. That helps to manage the withdrawals, at least a little bit.


Winter storage tips

Fill the tank with gas and add fuel stabilizer

Condensation and rust can’t build up in areas that are filled with gas. That’s why I always fill the tank up full before storing a vehicle.

I like to let the pump click a couple of times to get the gas right up to the filler neck. Be careful doing this though, as it’s very easy to fly too close to the sun and end up with gas all over your fender.

On my Harley, I like to drain the carb before storage. This is easy to do, simply turn the petcock to the “Off” position and allow the engine to run until it quits. This keeps the gas from gumming up in the carb.

A fuel stabilizer like this one is a must for winter storage. Gasoline starts to lose its octane a lot quicker than you might think. If left untreated, that 91 octane you put in your tank in the fall will be nowhere near 91 octane when you come back in the spring. This can be catastrophic for high performance engines.

A bottle of fuel stabilizer is cheap and can really help out. The gas still might not retain all of its octane, but it won’t lose anywhere near as much as if you left it untreated.

Even when using fuel stabilizer, I still make sure to take it easy when using up that old tank of gas in the spring time. This is extra important on turbocharged or high compression engines. Drive it gently and avoid building boost as much as possible. Once you hit your first fill up in the spring, you can let ‘er rip. This is most definitely an exercise in self control for some.


Winter storage tips

Add a little extra air to your tires

Pumping 5 or 10 extra psi into your tires is a good idea. As the temperature changes, your tire pressure might drop gradually over time. You don’t want your tires to sit for a long time with low pressure so bumping them up a bit beforehand gives you a bit of a margin of error.

Flat spots are not a common problem on modern, radial tires. They were an issue with old bias-ply tires found decades ago. So if your car still wears old school tires, you’ll want to follow peoples’ advice on swapping wheels or jacking the car up.

For everyone else, you don’t need to worry about it. It’s a good idea to park on pieces of wood to get your tires up off of the cement. Other than that, as long as the belts in your tires are in good shape, you’ll be fine. Any minor flat spots that might happen will quickly be worked out as soon as you drive down the highway.


Crack your windows

It’s good to let your interior breathe if it needs to. Cracking your windows an inch will do the trick. If you want to take it a step further and use silica packs to absorb moisture, you can. I don’t, and I’ve never had a problem with moisture in my car.

This is why it’s important to choose a proper location. You shouldn’t have to think about moisture much if you’re parked in the right building. The same thing goes for rodents and pests. I don’t do anything to protect against them because I park in a tightly sealed building.


Winter storage tips

Disconnect your battery or use a tender

I always pull the batteries out of my vehicles before storing them for the winter. I keep them at home on a wooden shelf and top them up with a tender once a month to make sure they stay fully charged. Yes, this will wipe out any radio presets and clocks. But it’s worth it to know that my vehicles will fire up effortlessly in the spring.

If you aren’t able to remove your battery, leaving it on a tender is the next best thing. A good quality tender like this one will give your battery a gentle charge only when it needs it. Trickle chargers are a bad idea when left unattended. Unless of course, you want the insurance payout when your car burns to the ground.


What SHOULDN’T you do when storing a car for the winter?

Winter storage tips

Use your parking brake

It’s best to park a manual transmission car in gear or in neutral with the wheels chocked. Keeping the parking brake under tension for a long period of time is not a good idea. It’s quite possible for it to seize up and you’ll have problems getting it free in the spring.


Don’t use a car cover

I know this one might be controversial, but hear me out. I used to cover my vehicles when I stored them or even when they went for shorter periods of time without being used. Eventually, I had a moment of clarity and never used one again from that point on.

Why not?

Simply put: I’d much rather wash dust off than remove scratches. I don’t care how much you spent on your cover or how soft it is. I don’t care if you just washed your vehicle before putting it on. Any bit of dirt or dust that gets trapped inside the cover before you slide it on can and will cause scratches and swirl marks.

You might think you’re safe if you wash the vehicle right before you put the cover on, but it’s still a bad idea. Even if you wash it right where it’s going to sit for the winter, you’re going to have a new problem on your hands. That car cover is going to trap any moisture in, causing more harm than good. And if you think your vehicle is perfectly dry after washing it, you’re in for a surprise.

Water loves to hide in panel gaps, behind trim and around lights.

If you wash your car then drive it to the storage building, you also shouldn’t use a car cover. If you’re going to drive it 1 mile, you might as well drive it 100 miles. Dirty is dirty and as soon as a car goes down the street, it’s dirty.

You’re picking up dust and dirt from the road and as soon as you touch the brakes, you’ll have brake dust in places you might not even see. Exhaust soot is also similar to brake dust too.

Any of these things trapped under a car cover before it slides around can cause scratches or swirl marks. Your car only has so much paint on it to allow for scratch removal. Washing off a light layer of dust in the spring is a much safer option.


Don’t start it up periodically

If your vehicle is only going to be stored for 6 months (and most are) there is absolutely no need to start your car up while it’s stored. Set it and forget it. While it might make YOU feel better to see and hear your car often, it’s actually going to cause more harm than good for your vehicle.

I’ve heard people recommend starting your engine and letting it idle once a week. This is just silly. Your seals aren’t going to dry out in a few months and if they do, the problem is with your car – not your storage strategy.

Starting your engine often without driving the car isn’t going to keep your battery charged up. It’s actually going to drain it. Your alternator needs to be under load to properly charge the battery, so sitting and idling isn’t going to help much. Cranking it over and over again will use up whatever juice it has left, though.

Letting your engine idle without being driven can also cause condensation to build up. That condensation burns up and evaporates while you drive. When kept at idle, it doesn’t get that chance.

Engines run rich during cold starts. Multiple cold starts over and over can wash the cylinder walls down with fuel, possibly even sending it past the piston rings. This is all just bad. And it can all be avoided completely by not being a lunatic. Let your car hibernate. It’ll thank you in the spring.


Winter storage tips

Hopefully this has helped to clear up any misconceptions you might have had when storing your car for the winter. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and every car is different. You might have specific reasons for doing things differently. This is just how I store my vehicles and as I mentioned, it’s worked flawlessly for 14 years. The hardest part is waiting for spring to arrive – best of luck with that.


  • Trudy Wright

    August 1, 2023 at 2:26 pm

    What about if your car has a ECU/ECM taking the battery out will this harm the computer, I want to store where there is no hydro to use a maintenance charger, so i am wondering with this harm the computer system. 2014 VW Beetle.

    • Tim Rempel

      August 2, 2023 at 11:07 am

      My Mr2 actually has a pretty picky standalone ECU and I still don’t have any issues with removing the battery. You might have to help it relearn how to idle the first time you start it and of course reset the clock and radio presets but that’s pretty much the worst of it.


  • Janice Kowalski

    November 10, 2022 at 10:44 am

    I have a 2005 Mazda Miata
    I store for the winter since 2012 when I purchased. I use to cover but stopped doing that it is in the garage I live in wi. Cold winters I do put stabilizer in it and put the charger on it when I’m ready for spring. But I only have a half tank gas in it. Your article made me feel good I’m doing it right.
    Janice kowalski
    [email protected]

  • Masha

    September 7, 2022 at 10:05 am

    Do you do an oil change before storing your car? I read many articles where people said it is necessary to do an oil change before storing your car, while others argued it is better to change it after taking your car out of storage. What is your oppinion on this?

  • Louis

    July 25, 2022 at 6:53 pm

    I bought a 2014 miata never been winter driven now I have to park it outside just ordered a durable winter cover should I use it I live in Canada where I get a lot of snow what’s the best thing to do besides taking the battery out

    • Canadian Gearhead

      July 26, 2022 at 3:33 pm

      Best thing to do would be to find indoor storage somewhere for the winter. If that’s not possible, I’d rather have snow on it than a cover blowing in the wind and scratching the paint.


  • Paula

    October 12, 2021 at 9:45 am

    I live in the far north of Michigan – cold and snow filled winters.
    Really enjoyed reading your article describing how to store a vehicle. I have had a classic 1996 GMC shortbed pickup truck stored for a few years inside a garage, but with a cover over it. Do you think that I should remove the cover?
    Now, this winter, I have to store my second car outdoors, and planned to cover it and also put a tarp underneath on the ground. Should wood be under the tires and also a tarp underneath, and not use a cover over it?
    Please reply with your opinion via my email. Thanks much. ~ Paula


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