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A car addict's guide to winter storage

Last week, Garry’s wife’s like-new 1999 VW GTI’s tenure expired at their daughter’s place in Fredericton. A round of phone calls and a scramble to get the GTI’s 2.8L VR-6 engine fired up got it, with just inches to spare, into a 15-foot mini storage unit south of Fredericton until spring.
Last week, Garry’s wife’s like-new 1999 VW GTI’s tenure expired at their daughter’s place in Fredericton. A round of phone calls and a scramble to get the GTI’s 2.8L VR-6 engine fired up got it, with just inches to spare, into a 15-foot mini storage unit south of Fredericton until spring. - Lisa Calvi

Every year about this time I scramble to find places to store our eclectic fleet of 12 cars and trucks and, although most enjoy semi-permanent shelter from the nastiness of Canadian winter, it’s always a headache. 

The shackles of a stubborn refusal to never sell a vehicle are scattered between our garage, Mum’s parking space at her condo in Halifax, our oldest daughter’s spare garage, a storage bunker on Indian Mountain north of Moncton and the Maritime Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum in Petitcodiac, N.B.

This year, only two, beyond our GMC Sierra 2500 Duramax daily driver, faced the threat of facing the elements while old man winter casts his wrath on the Maritimes yet again. Our recently refurbished 1991 GMC Jimmy has yet to find refuge, but last week Lisa’s like-new 1999 VW GTI’s tenure expired at our daughter’s place.

A full tank will keep a lid on condensation build-up in the tank coming back to haunt you when you take your car out of storage in the spring.

A round of phone calls and a scramble to get the GTI’s 2.8L VR-6 engine fired up got it, with just inches to spare, into a 15-foot mini storage unit south of Fredericton until spring.

There are plenty of things to do to prepare a vehicle for winter storage. I have to admit, with so many vehicles to deal with, my prep could be better. Sometimes, I think they should go up on the block. Just sell them all and drive one vehicle like most people do.

Why do I need 12 dipsticks to check, 15 batteries (three are diesels with two batteries) to tend and 48 tires to inflate? What about insurance, maintenance and the worry about what is deteriorating on which one?

At times, the pledge to never sell a car that got me into this spiral of cost and headache seems like one of the biggest mistakes in my life. 

So what considerations should be taken when putting a vehicle away for the winter? 

Drainage, rust and rodents

Every year, about this time, Garry scrambles to find places to store his eclectic fleet of 12 cars and trucks. His1965 Ford F-100 is hibernating for the winter in his mum’s condo parking garage. Safe from the seller’s block for another year. - Garry Sowerby
Every year, about this time, Garry scrambles to find places to store his eclectic fleet of 12 cars and trucks. His1965 Ford F-100 is hibernating for the winter in his mum’s condo parking garage. Safe from the seller’s block for another year. - Garry Sowerby

To start with, find a dry secure place. Avoid dirt floors. Cement floors with a concrete sealer are best. Once the location has been determined, a hand wash and wax should be done to remove grime and contaminants that could eventually damage or stain the paint. After the wash, take it for a spin to ensure the water is blown out of the body and suspension.

Testing antifreeze potency is obviously important and changing the oil and filter is a good idea. Detergents and contaminants in used oil can cause damage to internal engine parts. 

Pump tires to their maximum recommended pressure to minimize flat spots from sitting all winter. I’ve been guilty of not doing this and have paid the price. Our 1995 BMW 540i, with only 62,000 kms, is in dire need of new tires for this exact reason. But since our ‘retirement car’ is rarely driven I’ll put up with flat spots until it becomes a daily driver then refresh it with a set of new tires.

Fuel up with high-octane low ethanol gasoline. Add a fuel conditioner and let the engine idle for 10 minutes to ensure treated fuel gets into injectors or carburetors, fuel lines and the fuel pump. A full tank will keep a lid on condensation build-up in the tank coming back to haunt you when you take your car out of storage in the spring.

With most newer vehicles, battery drain in long-term storage is unavoidable because of the computers and other onboard systems. If the storage facility is not heated, a dead battery will eventually freeze rendering it unchargeable. A new battery every year is an inconvenience and expense no one needs. Avoid this by either removing the battery and storing it in the house or connecting a battery minder to keep the battery at peak performance all winter.

Rodents love to set up shop in stored vehicles and I have been lucky over the years with only one mouse nest in the air intake of our 1991 Pontiac Firefly. Stuff steel wool in the tailpipe and air cleaner intake. That fresh wax job has another benefit with nice slippery surfaces to impede the mouse’s climb. 

Chocking and final touches

Every fall, the shackles of Garry’s stubborn refusal to never sell a vehicle become evident when he has to find shelter for his collection of vehicles. Pictured here, his dusty 1982 Checker taxicab, awaiting a mission besides perpetual storage. - Garry Sowerby
Every fall, the shackles of Garry’s stubborn refusal to never sell a vehicle become evident when he has to find shelter for his collection of vehicles. Pictured here, his dusty 1982 Checker taxicab, awaiting a mission besides perpetual storage. - Garry Sowerby

Leave a window or two down a couple of centimetres to allow air to circulate, minimizing mold in the interior. Place a container of open baking soda inside to soak up moisture.

Don’t apply the park brake since a seized park brake is not what you need in the spring. If it’s a manual, leave the transmission in neutral and chock the wheels to keep it from rolling.

Finally, let your insurance company know the vehicle is in winter storage. Ask if an option exists to cancel the collision portion of the policy while it is in hibernation. That will save enough money to offset costs associated with storage. 

Of course, when I moved the GTI from daughter Lucy’s garage to the storage unit, it was clean but I didn’t have time to wax it. I didn’t pump up the tires and since the battery had already been frozen, I just boosted it for the short drive and parked it with a dead battery. I forgot to leave a window down a bit and didn’t change the oil either. Guess I’m just a bad parent.

But with 10 of 12 of our fleet tucked in now, let winter howl and perhaps during our long, dark winter, my 2020 resolution to sell at least one a year might just gain traction.

Follow Garry on Instagram: @garrysowerby

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