How to Store a Car for Winter (or Any Stretch of Time)

How to Store a Car for Winter (or Any Stretch of Time)

Last Updated March 29, 2024 | Hamilton Schutt

Whether you’re avoiding driving in the snow or preserving your prized show car, keeping your vehicle in storage until spring is a smart choice. While storing your ride will keep it safe from most hazards, there are some things you need to keep in mind to prevent damage. Follow this guide to safely store your vehicle for winter, or any long period of time.

When to Start Preparing for Winter

Where you live plays a huge role in determining when you should start your winter preparations. Use the color-coded map below to find when you should start getting your car or truck ready for extended storage.

Map of the USA color-coded by first snowfalls

Thoroughly Detail Your Vehicle

Wash your car to get all the dirt, sap, bird droppings, tar, and bugs off of it. You don’t want these things eating away at your clear coat all winter. If a good scrub doesn’t get the paint clean, try claying it. A clay bar will remove bonded contaminants like brake dust, water spots, overspray, and small scratches or swirls. Once your paint is as smooth as glass, apply a coat of wax to help protect the finish.

Waxing a car with a microfiber cloth

After you detail your car's exterior, it’s time to give that same level of care to the interior. Clear out any trash or perishable items from your cabin. Then, give the dash and trim a good dusting and vacuum the whole car.

Spot clean your carpets and upholstery using upholstery shampoo, a brush, and a towel. For really tough stains and dirt, a steam cleaner or carpet extractor will do the trick. You should also scrub your floor mats, whether they’re carpet or rubber.

Vacuuming carpet in a car

Finally, clean off any dirt or stains from the rest of the car with an all-purpose cleaner. Then, apply your favorite protectant to the dash and trim. If you’ve got leather seats, wipe them down with a leather cleaner and conditioner to finish your detail.

Do Some Cold Weather Maintenance

You’ll want to perform these maintenance tasks as close to the time you plan on storing your car as possible.

Disconnect the Battery or Trickle Charge It

Battery Tender plugged into wall

Cold weather is one of the top battery killers, but there are a couple of ways to stay protected. A trickle charger or battery charging system plugs into the wall and releases a slow flow of electricity to your battery. This allows you to keep the battery connected to your car. However, these chargers need working electrical sockets.

If you plan to store your vehicle outside, or your storage area isn't equipped with sockets, bring the battery inside to preserve its charge.

Get an Oil Change

Used oil is full of contaminants that could cause damage to the engine in your car or truck if it sits beyond a month. Make sure to get an oil change and run the car long enough to let the new oil circulate through the engine.

Add or Top Off Coolant

Using distilled or softened water as coolant in warm months is a common practice on performance cars. But once cold weather hits, you need to make sure you add coolant. You can either flush your cooling system and fill it with coolant, or use an additive with what’s already in the reservoir.

If you plan to mix the coolant with the water in the reservoir, use a coolant tester afterward to make sure it can withstand freezing temperatures. You can pick one up at any auto parts store for just a few bucks.

Testing coolant levels with a tester

Fill Your Tank and Use a Fuel Stabilizer

Adding fuel stabilizer to Mustang fuel tank

To protect your fuel system, you’ll want to fill your tank all the way up before you put the car in storage. Keeping the tank full will allow less room for condensation to form, which will keep water out.

You’ll also want to pick up a bottle of fuel stabilizer from an auto parts store and add it to the tank. Fuel stabilizers prevent the gas in your car from becoming oxidized while it sits for the season. Due to the rapid evaporation rate of fuel, if you don't use a stabilizer, the fuel could turn into a sticky resin that can damage the fuel system.

Once you’ve added the fuel stabilizer, go ahead and run the car for a few minutes to circulate the gas and stabilizer throughout the system.

Prevent Moisture Damage

Moisture can cause damage to the fuel system, engine, tires, body, and interior. So you’re going to want to do all you can to keep your vehicle dry.

Moisture damage will be more or less of an issue depending on what kind of storage space you have. If the floor is bare cement or dirt, laying plywood or a plastic tarp under your car will help avoid damage from rising moisture and prevent rust or rot. If you’re renting a storage space that’s well-insulated with a sealed floor, you can probably skip the tarp.

Also make sure remove any surface rust on the car to keep it from spreading while the car is in storage.

You’ll also want to protect your interior from collecting mildew and smelling like a dirty gym sock. Keep moisture levels low with absorbent materials like baking soda, desiccant, or dryer sheets. If you’re worried about excessive condensation, setting up a dehumidifier in your garage or storage space is also a great option.

Keep Critters Out

With manufacturers starting to use soy-based coatings for wiring insulation, rodents are becoming more of a problem in newer vehicles.¹ Here are a few ways to keep your pipes and wires from being turned into a nest.

Plug Up Entry Points

Plug the tailpipes and air intake ducts with steel wool or aluminum foil to prevent small animals from getting into your car. Make sure you also close the air inlets, since they can provide easy access for unwelcome guests.

Important: Don’t forget to remove the steel wool or foil from your ducts and pipes before you start your car.

Use Repellants

Loaded mousetrap on cement floor

Rodent repellents are available in many forms. Poisons are effective, but not advised if you have pets or small children around. If you don’t want to use chemicals or poisons, peppermint, cayenne pepper, and clove essential oils are natural repellents. You can also buy devices that emit ultrasonic frequencies to drive rodents away.

Set Traps

Place a few traps outside your vehicle (never inside) or near known points of entry to catch critters before they can do any damage. If you go this route, make sure you check the traps often to avoid unpleasant smells. Catch-and-release traps are one of the most humane options available. They also won't leave your storage area littered with dead rodents, or the problems they bring.

Preserve Your Tires to Avoid Flat Spots

If you're going to lift your car or truck on jack stands or blocks, the most attention you’ll need to give your tires is maintaining the recommended PSI. You might also want to put some wood planks under the jack stands to prevent indents on your floor.

Checking a Mustang's tire pressure with a tire pressure gauge

If you’re planning to leave your car resting on its tires all winter, be aware that the tires could develop flat spots. Flat spots occur when your tires have been sitting under load for an extended period of time. The speed at which flat spots form varies from tire to tire, but performance tires are more prone to them. Drive your car for about 20 miles a week to help remove and prevent flat spots.

Disengage Parking Brake

Normally, using the parking brake to keep your car or truck from rolling away is a good call. But this isn’t the case for extended periods of storage. There’s a slim chance that the brake pads could fuse with the rotors, rendering your brakes useless. A set of wheel chocks is your best bet if you don’t plan to lift your ride onto jack stands.

Get a Car Cover

Car cover on a Classic Mustang

A car cover can keep your ride’s paint and finish safe from dirt, animal droppings, and even the elements. Where you plan to store your car has a big impact on which type of cover you choose, though. If you’re keeping your vehicle in a covered area with sturdy walls, a simple dust cover will be fine.

A heavy-duty weatherproof cover is essential for vehicles that will be kept outside. These covers protect the paint from UV rays, acid rain, sleet, and ice buildup.

A lock and cable kit is also a good call if your car is fully or somewhat exposed to the elements. These kits allow you to securely fasten the cover to the body, keeping it from flying off in strong winds. Brands like Covercraft and Coverking offer car covers that are custom-fitted to your vehicle, which should also keep it from blowing off.

Run Your Engine

Starting your car once a week will help keep vital systems lubricated and functional throughout the winter. While there is some debate about condensation rusting out your exhaust, as long as you're set up with stainless steel pipes, you should be in the clear.

If your jack stands are properly placed and secure, you can start your car or truck and shift into gear while it’s lifted. But make sure you don’t give it a lot of gas. This could make your vehicle torque to the side and fall off the stands.

Reminder: If you’ve plugged your exhaust pipe or air intake with steel wool or aluminum foil, don’t forget to remove it before you start your car.

Use the Downtime to Mod Your Ride

Just because you can’t drive your car for several months doesn’t mean you can’t work on it. Winter is the perfect time to tackle a big project or install some mods to get it ready for spring. If you've already modded your ride to perfection, make sure you check for leaks every now and then while you count the days until warm weather returns.

Reach out to us on social media if there’s something we missed, or to share some pictures of your winter storage setup!

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Source: 1. Rodents Are Feasting On Newer Cars' Soy-Based Wiring Insulation, The Drive

This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.