A Canadian’s Guide To Storing Your Car For The Winter

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Red MR2 stored for winter

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I’ve been storing my MR2 during the winter season for 18 years now. It starts and drives every spring without issues.

There are differing opinions about the do’s and don’ts of storing your car for the winter but I like to keep it as simple as possible. Here’s my strategy:

I asked John Congi, mechanic and owner of BAC Autocentre what he thinks we should prioritize. He agrees that filling your tank, adding stabilizer, using a battery tender, and pumping up your tires are important.

Jacking up your car to let the suspension droop however, is going to cause more harm than good. And when it comes to protecting your car from rodents with moth balls, John says:

“Why would I want my car to smell like a dirty old man when dryer sheets will do the job just as well?”

Things you should do when storing a car for the winter:

1. Find a good location

If you’re lucky enough to be able to store your car at home in your 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 can cause more harm to your vehicle than a cold, dry one.

Red Toyota MR2 stored for winter

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.

2. Update your car insurance

This is often overlooked but can be really important – make sure to update your insurance company on your plans to store your car. They might want to know where and how the car is being stored.

You might also be able to save a chunk of money by pulling the liability coverage off temporarily (and keeping the fire/theft).

In my case, the MR2 is insured under a policy that’s intended for classic cars specifically so they already assume the car will be stored for the winter. The off-season months are automatically factored into my yearly premium.

Mouse traps set up on floor of garage

3. Avoid pests

Choosing a good location is the best thing you can do to avoid pests, but no building is perfect. You might want to take matters into your own hands by setting some mouse traps near the car or areas in the building that you think might attract the critters.

You can also purchase devices that have a flashing light and put out a sound frequency that repels rodents. I installed one in my 4runner after an incident that resulted in chewed knock sensor wires.

Contrary to what others recommend, simply stuffing some steel wool in your exhaust tip is not going to save your car from mice. Why? They’re likely hungry and looking for something to eat – and your car’s wiring harness makes a much better meal than some exhaust soot in a steel pipe.

MR2 Foam cannon

4. Detail it inside and out

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.

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.

5. Fill the tank with gas and add fuel stabilizer

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

Now that I have a heated garage though, I’m less worried about filling it all the way up. Condensation is caused by fluctuation in temperatures so a climate-controlled garage is a big help.

A fuel stabilizer like this one from STA-BIL is a must for winter storage. Untreated gasoline starts to lose its octane a lot quicker than you might think. This can be catastrophic for high performance engines.

A bottle of fuel stabilizer is cheap and can really help out. The gas 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 make sure to take it easy when driving with that old tank of gas in the springtime. This is extra important on turbocharged or high compression engines.

Tire getting filled with air

6. 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 bias-ply tires, you’ll want to follow peoples’ advice on swapping wheels or jacking the car up.

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.

MR2 windows opened to let interior breathe

7. 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.

Some people complain of a stale odor in the car when they hop in it in the spring. Letting your interior breathe is a good way to avoid this.

Red MR2 with battery tender connected

8. Disconnect your battery or use a tender

Allowing a car to sit for an extended period of time can drain the battery. Some of the components of your car will put a draw on the battery even when it’s turned off.

I usually 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.

If you don’t want to disconnect your battery, leaving it on a tender is the next best thing. A good quality tender like this one will maintain your battery only when needed.

What to avoid when storing a car for the winter:

Toyota MR2 gear shift and parking brake

1. Don’t 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 possible for it to seize up and you’ll have problems getting it free in the spring.

2. 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. 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 spend on your cover or how soft it is. I also don’t care if you just washed your vehicle before putting it on.

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 the moisture in, causing more harm than good. You might think your car is perfectly dry, but water loves to hide in panel gaps, behind trim, and around lights.

If you wash your car before driving it to the storage location, you also shouldn’t use a car cover. Dirty is dirty and as soon as a car goes down the street – it’s dirty.

Any dirt, dust, exhaust soot, or brake dust trapped under a car cover 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.

Toyota MR2 with built 3sgte engine

3. Don’t change the oil

This is definitely a matter of personal preference but I like to save my oil change for the springtime. Condensation can build up in your motor oil as the car sits (especially in an unheated garage).

I’d rather have my old dirty oil get contaminated than the fresh stuff I’ll be driving with next season. To me, it makes more sense to sacrifice the old oil and give it a fresh change before driving it.

4. Don’t start it up periodically

If your vehicle is only going to be stored for 6 months, there is absolutely no need to start your car up periodically. 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 engine.

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 would take quite a while to charge your battery at idle versus driving down the highway.

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.

It’s best to let your car hibernate. It’ll thank you in the spring!

Try not to get too depressed!

Half a year can be a long time to go without seeing your pride and joy. If possible, try to choose a storage location that you’re able to visit periodically to check on the car.

I like to take a few fresh photos at the end of the season to remember the car. You can print these off into posters for your office, update your desktop background, or use them for your social media accounts.

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 18 years. The hardest part is waiting for spring to arrive – best of luck with that!

13 responses to “A Canadian’s Guide To Storing Your Car For The Winter”

  1. Tom Avatar
    Tom

    Re: My 2006 Miata MX-5 (Canada)

    I store mine from November to May in a converted garden shed that is insulated and heated to maintain a constant temperature. Also, washed and uncovered, full gas tank treated with Sta-Bil, extra air in tires, battery on tender, mouse traps and fabric softener sheets scattered around on floor and inside the car, tarp covering cement slab floor, auto-trans in park & ‘P’ brake off, hvac setting in recirculate and then a full synthetic oil change and service in May of the following year when it comes out.

  2. Wanda Avatar
    Wanda

    Retired Class A Tech here– gotta beg to differ on a couple of points- charging your battery– quote: “Does the alternator charge the battery while idling?”
    The simple answer to this question is yes, your car’s battery will start to charge as long as your engine is running. As long as the electrical systems aren’t draining the battery quicker than the alternator is charging it, it is technically possible to completely charge your battery using this method.” Oct 19, 2021 It is better tho to drive it but in some cases, not possible. Car covers– storing outdoors in winter in Canada- rather have a few scratches (altho I never had any from mine- you have to keep them taut) than pockmarks from ice pellets, debris from trees or heavy ice build up on rubber seals. Just my experience.

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