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- Choose a parking place
- Get it squeaky clean (i.e., wash and wax)
- Get an oil change
- Fill up the tank
- Flush the radiator
- Protect the battery
- Release the parking brake
- Take care of the tires
- Ward off rodents
- Cover it up
- Maintain your insurance
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Whether you own a classic car or not, winter car storage is essential. By taking steps like getting an oil change and using a car cover, you can extend the life of your vehicle and prevent expensive problems (like rodent damage or rust).
You don’t even need a heated garage or storage unit (although it is helpful!).
Below, we have assembled the most important guidelines for all owners to follow when caring for their vehicles over the winter months. Be sure to look up the manufacturer’s suggestions for your specific car.
Snow and ice, wind and mice—you can’t control everything when it comes to winter storage. That’s why it’s important to maintain great car insurance. Jerry is the best way to find an affordable policy without sacrificing coverage, so your car is always protected.
Here is your checklist for safe winter storage.
Choose a parking place
Step one: find a great place to park your vehicle! If you have a heated indoor garage or storage unit, awesome! Otherwise, your garage or driveway will work just fine.
Start by cleaning out the space where your car will be parked. Mice and other animals can wreak havoc—and cause costly problems—on parked cars. To combat this, try to minimize nearby items that will attract them, like garbage or loose hoses.
Parking on dirt or gravel? First, roll out a tarp or plastic sheeting that’s the length of your car. This will help prevent moisture from seeping up from the ground.
For outdoor parking, make sure you choose a spot on even ground and chock the wheels—setting the parking brake is not recommended for months on end.
Get it squeaky clean (i.e., wash and wax)
Cleanse the exterior of debris by rinsing away all the accumulated dust and salt.
Wipe off the wipers and don’t forget to hose down the undercarriage and wheel wheels.
Coat your vehicle with wax to protect the paint from dry winter winds and cold temperatures.
Don’t forget the interior! Remove all food wrappers and garbage. Seat covers can help protect your upholstery, but protectant spray will also do the job.
Got any of those silica gel packets hanging around? Toss them inside your cup holder (in a cup, because they can stain), and they’ll act as desiccants, attracting moisture and protecting your car. Another option is to get single-use dehumidifiers from the dollar store.
Key Takeaway One of the biggest threats to your vehicle is moisture. Waxing the outside and putting a desiccant inside can help defend against accumulation.
Get an oil change
Think of it this way—you’ll have to do it in the spring anyway, right?
Get an oil change and replace the filter before storing your vehicle. Ask your mechanic about which oil is right for winter storage. Some types of oil are rated specifically for cold weather.
Make sure the fluid is topped up to prevent condensation inside the tank.
Oh, and check the transmission fluid while you’re at it, too.
Fill up the tank
It’s important to fill your gas tank to prevent moisture buildup. Fill it almost to the top (but not completely full) to allow room for expansion.
Use fuel stabilizer if you won’t be driving it for three or more months. Once you add it to the tank, be sure to take your car for a quick drive to mix in the stabilizer before you park it. This defends against condensation.
Flush the radiator
If you’re due for a flush, now is a great time to flush your radiators. Once the old stuff has drained out, you can add new fluid. Your future self will be well-pleased to discover such a well-maintained vehicle in the spring!
Key Takeaway Change the fluids now so you don’t have to do it in the spring. This includes oil, transmission fluid, and coolant.
Protect the battery
It’s very common for stored vehicles to lose their charge after spending winter in the garage, especially if you haven’t been starting the car every month. It’s even worse if the vehicle is kept outdoors.
To avoid dead batteries, an easy solution is a trickle charger or battery maintainer.
We prefer a maintainer (aka float charger), which has a feedback voltage reader to avoid overcharging your battery. It plugs into the wall and gives a controlled current to your battery to maintain a precise level of power.
Another option is to disconnect your cables, but be aware that you could lose radio presets. Note that this strategy is not recommended for newer vehicles that have onboard engine computers.
Release the parking brake
Experts do not recommend that you set your parking brake for long-term storage. Prolonged contact of the brake pads with the rotors could result in fusion.
Don’t risk it!
Instead, use blocks behind the wheels to stop the vehicle from moving.
Take care of the tires
Cold tires on flat ground can lead to flat spots, especially with high-performance tires.
You have two options.
The first is to remove the tires and put your vehicle on jack stands. Some say this isn’t good for suspension, and it’s also quite a hassle.
Another option is to slightly over-inflate your tires (by about two to five pounds) to compensate for the loss they will undergo in the winter. Be sure the tires are resting on plywood and a tarp, not directly on the floor.
Ward off rodents
Your cozy garage is a perfect home for your car in the winter—but it’s also perfect for rodents.
Plug up gaps where a mouse could enter your vehicle, such as the air intake and exhaust pipe. Steel wool is cheap and effective for this purpose.
You can also set traps, but don’t use them inside the vehicle, and remember to check them regularly.
Do not use poison if you have pets or children around.
Pro Tip Use soap shavings or scented dryer sheets inside the car. The smell can help ward off animals and you’ll enjoy a welcoming fragrance when you’re ready to hop into the driver’s seat again.
Cover it up
Your car cover should be fitted to your specific make and model.
Look for one that is moisture-repellent but also vented. The interior should be fleecy soft to prevent any damage to your paint.
Depending on where you are storing the car, you may need extra accessories.
Some car covers offer zippered access to the driver’s side door. Others include ratchets and fastening elements to keep the cover tightly fixed against high winds.
Be sure to choose a cover with reflective strips if you’ll be parking your vehicle outdoors in low-visibility conditions.
Maintain your insurance
Please don’t cancel your car insurance over the winter!
What if snow collapses your roof? What if someone steals your car?
If something happens over the winter, it’s critical to maintain coverage so that your vehicle is still protected. Some insurance carriers offer a reduced rate for vehicles in storage, so be sure to ask your company.
Not confident in your car insurance policy? Jerry can help you quickly compare options and uncover savings. A licensed broker, Jerry is a top-rated app that helps drivers find affordable insurance without sacrificing coverage.
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Is it okay to store a car outside for winter?
Yes! While the gold standard for winter storage is a heated indoor garage, not everyone has access to this.
Choose a parking place that’s as sheltered as possible from the elements. Clean the car and cloak it with a waterproof, reflective, and well-fitting cover.
Should I start my stored car in winter?
It’s helpful but optional. It can help keep the cylinders lubricated and prevent moisture from accumulating.
Even moving the car just a few feet can help prevent brakes from sticking. Aim for once every four weeks. Always remove the cover first as well as anything stuffed inside the air intake and exhaust pipe to keep animals out.
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