Owners Tips

Tucking in Your Summer Car for the Long Winter Ahead

Originally published on November 28, 2016.

As the mercury drops, thousands of Canadians tuck their good-weather rides in for a long wintertime nap – your writer included. Having owned numerous cars that don’t play nice in the snow, including a Nissan 240SX, Toyota MR2 and Dodge Viper, I’ve avidly researched best practices for summer car storage over the years, validating numerous tips with auto-technician friends, and with real life experience.

Below? Some advice on shelters, devices, procedures and other ideas to help make sure your beloved warm-weather ride has the best possible cold-weather nap.

Be Kind to Your Tires

Do tires need any extra-special care while your ride is stored for the wintertime? That depends on where the ride is being stored, how it’s being stored, and other factors. Bear in mind that oxygen and sunlight are the biggest contributors to the weathering of tires over time, so if your ride will be stored outside under a cover, or in a shelter, consider covering the tires and wheels with a large plastic garbage bag to help keep air and sunlight away.

Many drivers park their summer cars with the tires resting on a softer surface, like a foam workshop floor tile, or a sample tile of thick carpet from a flooring store. This can help prevent flat-spotting and weathering too. Finally, inflate each tire to its maximum rated air pressure, as the tires will likely lose air over the winter, causing them to deflate, sag, deform, and possibly split. A final note: remember not to set your parking brake over the winter, as it could become stuck. Use wheel chocks to keep your ride in place instead, if you’re concerned about it moving.

Pick the Right Shelter

If you haven’t got a garage, but need to store your ride for the winter months, outdoor shelter options are abundant – but remember that there’s a right and wrong way to buy a portable shelter.

General rule of thumb? Spend the money. I learned this the hard way, buying an el cheapo shelter that lasted about two winters before snow and ice and wind stressed and ripped the cheap seams apart, and turned the shelter into a sort of tarp kite, loosely bolted to the driveway, flapping in the wind. It fell apart, and damaged the car inside.

Instead, look for a higher-quality shelter with a tarp or cover that’s double- or triple-stitched together around the edges, with substantial seams. Look for a unit with a guarantee against ripping and tearing, too. Many retailers are now offering shelters with “welded” seams that do away with stitching altogether. Check out the grommets as well: these are passages through the cover that allow it to be attached to the frame by screws, bungee cords or other means. Generally, having more grommets holding the cover in place means it has less room to move over the frame, which results in less ripping, tearing and stress. Less flapping means less stress, and longer cover life.

Finally, don’t underestimate the damage that tree branches, possibly weighed down with snow, can do to your shelter’s cover. Trim nearby branches away so they can’t come in contact with the walls or roof of your shelter, remembering that a sharp branch in a blizzard can cause serious wear. Finally, remember that a domed-roof model will best resist snow and ice buildup. After all, snow is light and fluffy when you’re making snowballs or going skiing, but it’s heavy and dense when it piles up on top of a flat roof.

Mind Your Battery

What to do with the battery in your summer car while it’s asleep for the winter? A few tips are worth considering to ensure your ride’s power source is still in tip-top shape when it’s time for another motoring season. Most cars will draw from their battery even while the car is parked, using power for accessories like the keyless ignition sensor, clock, and even engine computer. Leave your car sitting all winter and the battery may wind up emptier than Whoville on Christmas morning.

On an older ride that’s free of advanced electronics, simply unplugging the battery terminals should prevent parasitic battery drain over the winter. Some owners remove the battery and store it indoors, where temperatures are warmer and more consistent. Just remember that battery disconnection or removal may be a bad idea for a newer, more high-tech ride, with various systems that can be complicated to reset after a power loss.

A solution? A battery trickle charger. A cheap one costs less than $40 at Canadian Tire or Parts Source. You simply plug the charger into your wall outlet, and connect its terminals to your car’s battery. It continually recharges and conditions your battery over the winter months – leaving it full of electrons and eliminating the need to remove any terminals or the battery itself. As an added bonus, a quality trickle charger with conditioning function may actually extend the life of your vehicle’s battery. When springtime rolls around and it’s time for the year’s first cruise, just unplug the trickle charger, and you’re good to go.

Cover Properly

Give your baby a final wash and wax for the year, move it to its resting place, and get a quality cover on, pronto.

Chris Minor, owner of the Refined Shine detailing shop in Lively, Ontario, comments, “Remember that touching your ride’s paint is the worst thing you can do for it, because every time you do, you’re making little scratches as you rub dust and dirt into it. That’s why the very last thing you should do before covering your ride is give it a full wash and dry. Once you’re done, go straight into the garage and get the cover on, right away.”

Minimizing the amount of time between that final wash and applying your cover minimizes the amount of dust, dirt and other particles that will land on your ride’s paint and cause scratching as you slip the cover over. Be sure to use a cover designed for automotive storage and never ever use a tarp. Tarps are good for covering firewood or your air conditioner, but they’re harmful and abrasive to your ride’s paint.

Fill Your Tank

The big Escalade gave an average combined fuel consumption of 12.8 L/100 km, which was not too far from its official ratings of 11.4 on the highway and 16.2 in the city. GM recommends using Premium gas but I used Regular, which tends to have a higher consumption rating.

Full? Empty? Somewhere in between? There’s a perpetual debate on what fuel level is correct when it comes time to store your car for winter. In reality, whether you leave your fuel tank on the full or empty side, your ride will probably be just fine come springtime, but automotive technician Paul Kennaley offers the following advice:

“It’s always best to store a car for the winter on a full tank. This reduces or eliminates condensation build-up in the tank, which can ultimately lead to water in your fuel. It is also a good idea to add fuel stabilizer to the full tank as added protection against fuel deterioration over the long period of time the vehicle is parked.”

Note that fuel stabilizer becomes more important the longer your vehicle will be stored. If you’re in a warmer climate and will only store your ride for two or three months, stabilizer may not be necessary. Stabilizer is cheap though – for extra peace of mind, spend the six bucks and pour some in.