How to Properly Store Your Car for Winter [10 Pro Tips]
October 9, 2021
It's that time of the year again.
Whether you're about to store your fun summer cruiser for the season or you want to keep one of your cars as rust-free as possible, having a winter storage plan is a key to ensure that come spring, your ride looks just as it did when you left it there.
If you want to do it the right way, there's a lot of steps involved, but I can promise you that it'll be worth it. That long-awaited moment of sitting in your fun car again is much better when it smells fresh and starts right up!
Why would you store your car anyways?
For some, storing your summer cruiser, especially if it's an AWD car that could easily handle the snow, is a sin against the car community. "Bro, you store your car in winter? That's lame. Just drive it." Okay, I get it.
For others, like myself, it's a no-brainer. Salt and Ice? Nah. I'm good.
Storing your enthusiast car over winter is really only important under a few circumstances.
- Your car plows the snow because it's slammed on its nuts.
- Your car is from down south or is rust-free and you want to keep it that way.
- You have a winter beater you'd rather put the miles on.
- Your summer car doesn't have heat (lol).
- You're running an ait suspension and don't want to risk it.
- You want to.
My summer daily is basically rust-free and I'd like to keep it that way. It's also a little FWD two-seater that's lowered about 1.5". I'm by no means slammed on the ground, but its Wisconsin winter snow driving performance is less than ideal—even if I were to throw on some dedicated winter tires.
So, yeah, I store my car in the winter. I also have a fun winter beater, so it makes sense in my case.
I'm not alone in this either. A lot of car enthusiasts who live in states that have a real winter store their cars during the snowy season to prevent rust.
It's also because their low cars weren't meant to drive in the snow—I'm talking to all you stance enthusiasts on bags out there. Show car enthusiasts generally store their prized possessions to keep 'em perfect for the upcoming show season.
I also know several car enthusiasts who send it and drive their RWD cars and tiny coupes and roadsters lowered on coilovers or bags all winter long. That's totally respectable too.
It comes down to personal preference, what kind of $$ you care to spend on maintenance, and what your car(s) are actually built for.
How long can a car sit without being driven?
The worst part about storing your fun summer car over winter is not being able to drive it. Especially because it's not all that great for a car to sit for months on end, unless you prepare it properly for winter storage.
If you're storing your car indefinitely, there's a lot more to the process than what's on this list.
The general rule of thumb is to drive your car every two to three weeks.
This is to prevent fluids from deteriorating, tires from losing pressure or getting flat spots, the fuel going bad, and your battery from losing charge.
BUT, when it comes to winter storage, since your car will only be stored for six months at most (maybe seven if you live in a bipolar state like Wisconsin), you can let it sit those six months assuming you follow these pro tips.
10 Pro Tips to Getting Your Car Ready for Winter Storage
1) Wash and Polish 'er up Nice
Once you've found a place to store your car and that day finally arrives, washing and polishing your car should be at the top of your list. Even if your car isn't very dirty, it's smart to make sure the surface of your paint is completely clean of any dirt, dust, and debris, especially if you decide to use a car cover for storage.
This also includes the interior. Vacuum your seats and carpet, wipe clean all the dust off the dash and the doors, and make sure you don't have anything under your seats that would attract animals—I'm talking about all those late-night T-bell or McD runs you make.
Plus, a clean and shiny car to drive out of storage in spring is much more rewarding.
This doesn't mean you don't need to go crazy by adding ceramic coat it and tire shine, but using a quick spray wax or quick ceramic polish spray on the outside and wiping down and vacuuming the interior is perfect.
2) Oil Change (if necessary)
If your car is up for an oil change, make sure to get that done before you park your car for six months. Even though you won't be driving the car, it doesn't hurt to have fresh oil in your car ready to go for spring.
It doesn't matter what oil you use, as long as it's what the manufacturer recommends for your car.
For those who drive their cars in the winter, a lot of people will run a lower viscosity oil because it flows better in cold temperatures, but this doesn't matter if you're not driving the car.
Regardless, If you live somewhere cold, it doesn't hurt to get your upcoming oil change out of the way so you can drive it right away in spring.
3) Fill er' Full of Gas + Add Fuel Stabilizer
Preparing your car for winter storage also means adding a fuel stabilizer to your fuel mixture. Since your car's fuel will be sitting in a tank for months on end, it's prone to degrading. So, make sure your car is filled up either full, or at the very least, a quarter tank full, and add a fuel stabilizer.
If you think you can get away with storing your car with little to no gas, you'll be pretty disappointed in spring when your engine comes knocking (get it?).
Any empty gas tank in winter is very susceptible to collecting moisture which can cause your fuel to corrode inside the tank.
A fuel stabilizer helps slow down the oxidation process over a long period of time, so you don't have this issue.
4) Get Your Battery Squared Away (trickle charger or remove entirely)
When it comes to preparing your battery for winter storage, you have a few options. The most common way to do it is to set up a trickle charger on your battery. If you store your car in a 3rd party storage unit, make sure you get one with an outlet!
Trickle chargers slowly charge your battery or rather maintain your battery's charge over an extended period of time. When spring comes, your car should start right up with a charged battery.
You could also disconnect your battery entirely and store it in a warmer space.
So, if you get stuck with a storage unit that doesn't have an outlet, this is the best option for you.
5) Close Off Your Exhaust Tips
This is one step that a lot of people forget.
Make sure to close off your exhaust tips and even your intake if needed. You can use something like a soda can, but most people shove steel wool to close off the tailpipe.
This is especially important if you don't use a car cover. Critters love to find small places to camp out in when temperatures drop and exhausts are a perfect size for your average mouse.
Otherwise, you'll find a fun surprise when you go to start your car come spring. The smell is terrible as well.
6) Check Your Tire Pressure
Checking your tire pressure seems like a no-brainer. But, if your tire pressure is low and your car is sitting for 6+ months, you're more likely to develop some flat spots on your tires. Depending on how severe the flat spots are, you can experience some pretty annoying vibrations when driving—and that's no fun.
If you're running new tires on your ride, this is definitely something you want to check before you close the garage door.
Some people will go as far as parking on two-inch foam board insulation or using some sort of tire support that's shaped to the curve of the tire to prevent flat spots.
You can find these pretty cheap on Amazon so it's worth it if you have nice tires that you don't want to ruin.
7) Check Your Coolant Mixture
Checking your coolant mixture is a very important step. If you live in a colder climate and you don't store your car in a climate-controlled environment, then make sure your coolant mix isn't too watery.
You definitely don't want to run into the scenario where your coolant freezes and cracks your engine block or radiator. That's expensive and a huge pain in the a**.
You can easily check your coolant mixture using a coolant tester gauge. Again, you can find these pretty cheap online or at your local auto store. It'll give you the ratio of coolant to water so you can determine whether you need to add more straight coolant or not.
If you add more, make sure to take a drive so your coolant can circulate through your car.
8) Add a Dehumidifier + Dryer Sheets
Adding a dehumidifier to the interior of your car when it's in storage really comes in clutch if you want a fresh car in springtime.
More importantly, if you don't want to find mold growing on your seats, carpets, and steering wheel. Yes...mold.
It's not uncommon to hear of mold growing in-store cars if not properly prepared for winter. This is especially important if you live in any sort of humid environment.
While winters are not particularly humid, the periods of time before and after the heavy winter weather, your car may sit in some rather humid weather which could easily spark some mold growth.
Dehumidifiers will remove any moisture that accumulates inside your car to prevent that dreaded musty smell and any mold growth.
As an added pro tip, throw a ton of clean dryer sheets on your carpets, seats, and in the trunk to keep the smell super fresh.
Again, you can find dehumidifiers meant for car storage pretty cheap online. It's a super easy thing to do that could prevent a seriously nasty situation.
9) Don't Leak
Obviously, you want to make sure your car isn't leaking anything before you let it sit for months. If you find any sort of coolant or oil leak, it's best to address that right away before you park it.
If your car doesn't have any leaks—awesome. It's still always safe to put something underneath the car where your engine sits in case something slow leaks over time. If you store your car at a 3rd party storage garage, this is usually a requirement.
10) Cover Your Car...or don't?
A highly debated question when it comes to car storage of any type is whether or not using a car cover is the right thing to do.
Those who don't believe so argue that any sort of dirt or debris on your paint or even the car cover itself could scratch the surface of your paint. The friction between the cover and the debris on your paint could be harmful over time.
On the other hand, you have the people who just send it and use a car cover because that's what you do.
If you take the time to clean and polish your car, you shouldn't have any issues with scratched paint. Make sure you buy a quality car cover that actually fits your car as well.
Some people go all out and buy the blow-up bags that you drive into, but that costs some big money and takes up a lot more space.
Moral of the story, use a car cover..or don't.