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Winterize Your Classic Car

If the warm weather seems far away and the thought of cruising with a set of snow chains on doesn't appeal to you, then it's time to tuck your car away for a few months.

This is a brief guide to helping your car survive another long cold winter while you make plans to attend exciting events next summer.

First things first. Go for one last drive.
This serves two purposes.

  1. It's fun
  2. It allows your car to get up to operating temperature.

Bringing your engine up to temperature is important to burn off contaminants in the oil and it also gets rid of moisture in the exhaust system. If you've waited too long and it's a bit too cool to get the engine up to temperature, use a piece of cardboard in front of the rad to help things along. Be careful not to overheat it this way.
While you are out cruising, stop by a car wash and clean the undercarriage. Then stop and fill the tank with high grade gasoline, be sure and add the appropriate amount of fuel stabilizer before filling up the tank. This will thoroughly mix the stabilizer with the fuel. Now drive straight home and wash and scrub up the outside of the car. Clean the car as if you were entering it in a show and shine. If it's been awhile since you've waxed it, today is a good day to apply another coat. Dry everything thoroughly. Perhaps grease those door and hood hinges while things are drying off. It's been suggested to pour a bit of 2 stroke oil into the carb just before shutting it down. The idea is to lightly coat the internals with oil. The 2 stroke oil will burn off clean when started again compared to conventional oil. I've never done this, but the idea sounds solid. Some shop manuals recommend that you change the oil at this time, your choice.

Once you have the car parked for it's winter sleep here are a few more points to consider.

  • Remove the battery and store in a moderate temperature. Trickle charging or using a will do wonders for the life of the battery. Spray the lead terminals on the cables with WD-40 to prevent the dreaded 'green growth' while the battery is away.
  • Make sure the anti-freeze is better than your coldest winter day by a safe margin. If you have a block heater, make sure it works. You may not use it, but if things turned really ugly you don't want to be freezing your fingers splicing wires in January.
  • Touch up the exhaust manifolds where needed with high temp paint and a little brush. If you don't, you will not be pleased with what you see in the spring. I always touch up the front suspension with 'chassis black' for the same reason.
  • A mild protectorant like WD-40 works great for keeping rust from growing on exposed metal parts (bolt heads, tie-rod ends, electrical terminals). I'm fairly liberal with it.
  • If you plan to have any work done like rechroming or rebuilding, remove those parts now and get them sent to their appropriate places.
  • It's been suggested to raise the tire pressure by an extra 10 pounds and while I have never done this, I will this year.
  • We assume that you thoroughly cleaned the interior and will suggest that you do not put the floor mats back in. Store them somewhere else. Do the same with the trunk mat. This prevents any trapped moisture from doing damage.
  • Tape over or plug the exhaust pipes. MLM* Mice Love Mufflers. Great winter home.
  • Leave the windows cracked open. This allows some air movement. Mothballs? Not for this boy. I took a road trip in a car that had mothballs in it all winter. Damn near killed me, not the moths.
  • Cover the car with a breathable quality like Technalon.
  • If you will be walking anywhere near the car for the next few months, get a couple of scrap foam strips from your friendly upholstery shop and tuck them under the cover in places you (or someone little perhaps) is likely to bump into. I also throw a couple of pieces of cardboard on the hood and trunk. This prevents problems when something is invariably sat on the car (for just a minute). I also throw a piece on the top (convertible only) as I found cats just love sleeping up there and this discourages them.
  • I like the idea of 'relaxing' the suspension. This simply means blocking the frame of the car up - but not allowing the suspension to 'hang'. Think of it as just taking a bit of the weight off the tires.
  • I don't recommend starting the engine until spring - depending on your concept of winter. If it's -20, leave it alone. You will do more damage starting it and filling everything with moisture than just leaving it alone. If the thought of not touching it for months drives you crazy, take a large ratchet and turn the engine a 1/4 turn every so often.
  • Check your insurance policy. Most companies offer storage insurance for a very modest fee. Heavy snow loads or fire can wreck your car just as quick as a road accident.
  • Now get yourself a good book or two to pass the cold winter nights.