There are various important things to do before you store a car for winter. Some are non-negotiables; some are optional. Here we take you through them in order of importance.
Where to store a car
Most garages are used for storing family junk rather than cars. Admittedly, a lot of garages are a very tight fit for the modern motor but if you need to store your car, there really is no better place.
Putting it in a garage will keep your car away from the worst of the weather. And it’ll hide it from the prying eyes of anyone who might be looking to nick your sat nav or sunglasses.
If you don’t have a garage or covered car port, try to park away from trees. If you must park it under trees, you might consider investing in a car cover. At the very least, keep an eye on it and regularly wipe bird poo off.
If the car isn’t under cover or a cover, make sure it doesn’t have anything valuable left in it. Also consider investing in some physical protection such as a steering wheel or pedal lock. And if your car is parked on your drive and has ‘keyless’ technology, you should buy a Faraday Bag to ensure you’re not a victim of relay theft.
Clean the car before it goes away
Blasting off the dirt with a jet wash and some good car shampoo will ensure the paint isn’t being attacked by corrosive elements while it’s in storage. Then make sure it’s thoroughly dry before you put it away.
Wax the bodywork to protect the paintwork fully while the car is in storage. This will also ensure your car is resistant to any leftover winter salt on the road when you start driving it again.
Also give the alloy wheels a good clean. Preferably this should be with alloy wheel cleaner to ensure the highly corrosive brake dust that coats them is removed.
There are three more good reasons for cleaning it. First it will make you feel better about your car and inclined to keep an eye on it. You’ll be able to see where any scratches, dents or dings are. If these are added to while the car is parked, you might want to consider moving it. And lastly, it’ll be all spick and span when you get it out at the end of its storage.
Have a look at the oil and/or service record before you store a car. If the oil hasn’t been changed in the past 12 months, now’s the time to do so. If it has been serviced recently, check that the oil is at the right level.
Before leaving a car in cold weather it’s advisable to check all the fluids. You can get an anti-freeze tester for about £5. This will check the concentration of anti-freeze in your coolant. It’s important to have the right consistency to prevent coolant freezing in your engine.
Topping up your screenwash bottle with neat solution will help ensure it doesn’t turn to ice. Proper screenwash has a lower freezing point than water.
Don’t put the parking brake on if you can help it. If it rains, there’s a chance your pads will fuse to the discs. To stop the car moving, leave it in gear or park if it’s an auto. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about a modern automatic car which will probably have the transmission and parking brake linked.
Think about fuel
Brim the tank with fuel at your nearest service station. This will prevent condensation forming in the fuel tank while the car is having its holiday.
Then add some fuel stabiliser. This will stop the fuel ‘going off’. If you add the fuel stabiliser after you’ve filled the car with fuel, running the engine will allow the stabiliser to percolate through the system before you put the car away.
If you drive an electric car, ideally you’ll leave it with the battery charged slightly more than half. This should help to preserve the cells.
Buy a battery charger
Car batteries hate not being used. The battery is the most vulnerable part of your car’s mechanical system in low temperatures. If your car has a weak battery, cold weather will cause it to degrade further.
If you can, buy a smart charger. They’re not too expensive and they will keep the battery in tip-top condition while the car isn’t being used. These help to condition batteries as well as recharging them. And with the best ones, you can charge the battery without taking it out of the car.
Check the windscreen before you store a car
Give your windscreen a once over for damage. If it’s chipped, the temperature changes caused by the weather getting colder overnight could gradually turn a small chip into a large crack.
What about the tyres?
What you do with the tyres really depends on how long the car is going to be stored for. At the very minimum you should ensure the tyres are pumped up to the pressures suggested by the manufacturer in the car’s user manual.
If you’re leaving a car in storage without driving it for three months but you’re getting it out monthly or every six weeks for a run or just to get the fluids circulating, experts from tyre maker Continental say there’s little chance the tyres will suffer from flat spots (where a particular part of the tyre flattens out).
If you’re leaving your car for longer and not moving it around, car storage experts Windrush suggest over inflating your tyres by 50%. If their recommended pressure is 32psi, that means pump them up to 48psi. Just remember to return them to the correct pressure when you get the car out.
When it’s in storage…
Insert a rag into the exhaust pipe. This will stop any undesirable insects or animals making a home in your exhaust system. Do make sure to leave a note for yourself on the steering wheel so you don’t try to start the car with the exhausts blocked.
Leave the windows open a crack (assuming the car is in a garage). This will allow air to circulate around the cockpit but without letting any creatures in.
Run the engine
If you can, start your car once every week or two. Then run the engine for around 15 or ideally 20 minutes. This will help to keep the battery charged. It’s OK to run your engine while the car’s stationary.
But if you can, it’s much better to take the car for a drive. This ensures components such as brake calipers don’t seize up. It also moves fluids round the engine and the car’s hydraulic systems, ensuring seals stay lubricated.
What about admin?
Last but not least, it’s important you remember to keep your car taxed and MOT’d when it’s in storage. It’s easy to forget when you’re not driving regularly. Applying to SORN your car is one option if you don’t think you’ll be driving it for a while and you’re keeping it off the road. But if you’re going to be taking it for a drive every couple of weeks, this isn’t sensible. You can check when your car’s MOT is due using the government’s MOT checking service.
I’ve been writing about cars and motoring for more than 25 years. My career started on a long-departed classic car weekly magazine called AutoClassic. I’ve since pitched up at Autosport, Auto Express, the News of the World, Sunday Times and most recently the Daily Telegraph. When I’m not writing about cars and motoring, I’m probably doing some kind of sport or working in my garden.