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There’s nothing worse for your car than the harsh winter weather — especially if you live in a cold or snowy climate. Road salt might help keep the streets from icing over, but it’s also highly abrasive and destructive to the body and frame of your vehicle. These issues emphasize the importance of storing a car for winter weather.
If you put your big rig away when it’s cold, follow this guide on how to store a car for winter. These six tips make your life much easier when spring arrives and the time comes to rev up your machines.
1. Storage Locations
Your first priority should be finding a place to store your car for the winter. A home garage works well because it’s convenient and provides excellent protection from the elements.
Before winter arrives, check the weatherstripping on your garage door and windows to ensure it has optimal insulation. The Department of Energy says caulking and weatherstripping return on their investment by keeping your interior comfortable all year. These additions make your garage cozy and allow you to work on projects even when temperatures dip low. No more frozen fingers! Plus, you can prepare for spring projects in the garage before the flowers bloom.
Proper insulation can give a boost to all of the benefits that come along with keeping your car indoors. This makes it warmer than a normal winter-chilled garage, blocking out more of the cold and almost guaranteeing that the temperature in your garage won’t get below freezing. This is good news for your car’s battery and fluids.
An extra perk is that it can help save you money. If you have an uninsulated garage attached to your house, the temperature discrepancies are going to impact the room it’s attached to, making the heating system work harder to make sure those areas are warm. An insulated garage helps even that out — a good bonus!
If you don’t have a climate-controlled garage, consider finding an external storage facility with climate-controlled units. This storage provides excellent protection even if you have to drive to get your vehicle back. A carport protects you, but finding an enclosed facility is your best bet. At the minimum, you should give your car a concrete floor and minimal insulation to prevent weather-related problems.
2. Fluid Checks
Are you storing a car for six months or a week? Regardless, checking the fluid levels is essential. Create a checklist of the vital fluids your vehicle needs, including:
- Brake fluid
- Transmission fluid
- Power steering fluid
First, check your oil — does it look like you desperately need an oil change? If so, make that a priority so your car goes into storage with a clean engine. If you’re just storing a for winter, you don’t need anything special for the oil or other fluids apart than ensuring they’re topped up.
Oil remains stable in your car for about a year before it becomes contaminated, so a few months in winter storage shouldn’t cause any problems. Keep a bottle of motor oil in the garage because its five-year shelf life will last the winter.
Gasoline has a shorter shelf life, but you can extend it with a fuel stabilizer. This product keeps your gasoline fresh for about two years before replacing it. Fuel stabilizers typically contain antioxidants and corrosion inhibitors to ensure the air won’t degrade the gas inside your tank. Add the fuel stabilizer and run the engine for a few minutes so the product disperses throughout your tank.
3. Humidity and Bugs
Winter typically brings drier conditions to your area, but you should still monitor the humidity levels. Florida guys, you know what we’re talking about. Humidity and your car are sworn enemies, so take action against the moisture so it doesn’t harm your vehicle.
One way to tackle humidity is with dehumidifying packets. For example, silica gel packets in the trunk, under the seats, and by the windshield can prevent moisture buildup and mold growth while the car is in storage.
If the car is in your climate-controlled garage, consider placing a dehumidifier in the room to dry the air. These machines help if the garage has sub-optimal ventilation. Plus, dehumidifiers reduce the risk of cockroaches and other bugs that thrive in humid environments. These pests like to chew on wires, leading to critical malfunctions and short-circuiting in your car.
Another problem with storing a car for winter is rodents. Imagine you’re an animal sitting in the cold. Your first instinct is to find warm shelter — even if it’s inside a large machine that humans call a Ford Mustang or a Chevrolet Equinox.
Rats and mice don’t know better, so it’s best to take any measure to keep them out. Like cockroaches, rodents will chew through wirings and cause health concerns with the diseases they carry.
Luckily, there are multiple ways you can prevent rodents from terrorizing your car. Here are some of the best strategies:
- Clean: The easiest strategy in rodent prevention is to clean your car before putting it in storage. Remove the granola bar crumbs from the backseat and discard the empty soda bottles. Use the 25-cent vacuum at the gas station to clean the floors and wipe down the dashboard. Rats look for food, so ensure your car isn’t their buffet.
- Close entry points: Finding each crumb is hard, so seal every entry point to prevent rats from getting inside in the first place. Close the gaps around your windows and doors and use rodent-proof tape to block any potential hole they can climb through. Don’t underestimate the tiny crevices they can wiggle their way into.
- Use repellents: Rodents may still find a way into your car, so make their time as unpleasant as possible with repellents. Try do-it-yourself tactics like spraying cotton balls with peppermint oil — humans may love the smell, but rodents hate it. They also hate cinnamon and vinegar. The latter may be too strong, so choose peppermint for more pleasant aromas.
Extended time in storage can negatively affect your car by causing flat spots in the tires. Over time, your tires lose air pressure due to permeation, temperature changes and other factors. They also aren’t airtight, so the air molecules gradually leave the rubber compound. Additionally, cold air contracts your tires and causes them to lose pressure.
Airing up your tires is essential when considering storing a car for winter weather. The last thing you want is a flat tire when exiting the garage come springtime. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations on the pounds per square inch. Depending on your vehicle, the manual will likely recommend about 35 psi for each tire. If you plan for long-term storage, overinflate them slightly.
6. Starting the Car
You may need to leave your car in storage all winter, but you should periodically check on it to ensure nothing has happened. How often should you start a car in storage? Visit it at least biweekly — though once a week is preferable — and crank the motor.
Starting the car in storage is essential for your vehicle’s health. Drive it around for a few minutes to allow for fluid circulation. The oil, coolant and other fluids mentioned above lubricate your engine’s parts and help your vehicle run well when you return to normal usage.
When storing a car for winter, cranking the motor is also critical for the car battery’s health. Your battery loses its charge over time, even when you’re not using it. Starting the car allows your alternator to recharge the battery and reduce the risk of damage.
Help your battery’s life by removing it from the vehicle and placing it in a safe and dry container, such as a battery box. This method helps it last up to six months in storage.
Why You Should Keep Your Car in the Garage in Winter
Your Doors and Locks Won’t Freeze
Winter temperatures can get so low that your car locks can actually freeze. And, if a layer of ice forms, your doors can freeze shut, too. There are a lot of precautions you can take to prevent this, but one of the easiest is keeping the car in a climate-controlled garage. At a minimum, it’s not exposed to the elements. The temperature in an enclosed building is warmer, even if your garage isn’t heated.
If you don’t have keyless entry, there’s a chance that you could break your car key off in the door lock while trying to get it open. That’s not a good situation to be in.
It’ll Help out Your Battery
Car batteries don’t do well in extreme temperatures — be it hot or cold. However, their capacity gets drastically reduced in cold temperatures, especially if you have an older battery. There’s also an increased draw on the battery from accessories, as your headlights and wipers are usually on more often during the winter season.
One of the biggest issues, though, is that the demand on the battery to get the car started can be even higher than normal. Motor oil gets thicker when it’s colder, meaning the engine is more difficult to turn over, and your battery struggles more. Even though it’s still cold in a garage, any extra bit of warmth can help.
It’s a Lot Less Work for You
All of the scraping and snow clearing when a car is left outside is exhausting. You have to plan ahead and make sure you have enough time to get all the scraping or clearing accomplished and get your car warmed up. Even if it doesn’t snow, you still have to allow some extra time if you want your car to be warmed up and ready before you’re halfway through your commute.
Keeping the car in the garage helps you avoid all of that hassle. In addition to it being better for your car, it’s also better for you. You can save those spare minutes and spend them on getting ready or doing other tasks instead of worrying about your car. More coffee, anyone?
Storing a Car for Winter Weather Is Easy With These Tips
Winter is never the most fun season to be a car owner. When temperatures dip, your car could be vulnerable to the elements. Snow and ice hurt your tires, engine, battery and other critical parts. Storing the vehicle in a garage for the winter is your best option for protecting your pride and joy. Use these six tips to ensure your car is happy through the season.
Original publish date 12/14/2016 — Updated 11/3/2023