Your restoration probably cost you several tens of thousands of dollars--maybe more. So safely storing your completed restoration project is not just a matter of vanity; thereís a serious investment at stake!
When you plan your storage, common sense gets you most of the way to the right answer. You want a place thatís dry and that avoids extreme temperatures. You want a place thatís not exposed to sunlight or infested with bugs and rodents. You want a place that has enough room so that you or your family members (who donít value this car the way you do) wonít be tempted to set stuff down on your pride and joy. The space should also be free from brooms and ladders leaned up against the wall nearby, because they will fall and dent your bodywork sooner or later.
In short, you need a dedicated place for your car. You probably wonít be driving your classic all that often, so it will spend a lot of time in the storage space. Storage time also generally includes a long spell through each winter. Cars do best when they get started up and exercised regularly, but there are specific steps you can take to help your car weather the long cold winter. These steps are listed in the ďDo and DonítĒ section after this article.
What I want to cover here is the list of common problems that you may encounter with your vehicle at the end of a long winterís hiatus. Some of them require some effort, so if you remember nothing else, remember to go out and get your car out of storage at least a couple weeks before the first time you really need to drive it. The morning of a big car show is not the time to discover whatís gone wrong in the dark months.
Problem: Stuck Brakes
If you parked for the winter with the parking brake on, you may find that your brake shoes have welded themselves to their drums. You can release the parking brake, but the shoes stay put. Most of the time, you discover this when you put your car in gear and try to drive off. And most of the time, youíll feel the engine struggle against the brakes and then youíll feel the drums break free and youíre good to go. Unless a chunk of pad material stayed on the drums, which youíll discover very quickly. In extreme cases, youíll need to take off the wheel, back off the shoe adjuster, and take the drum off the car with great difficulty. You might even end up having to replace your brake shoes, and thatís no fun at all.
Preventive Solution: Donít set your parking brake over the winter.
Problem: Stuck Clutch
Like brake shoes and drums, clutch discs can occasionally glue themselves to the flywheel over a cold, wet winter, and you canít really prevent it. If your clutch disc has stuck to the flywheel, youíll find out when you go to start your car. You press the clutch pedal and go to crank the car, and if youíre in gear, the car lurches forward. If the car is in neutral when you start it up, youíll hear and feel grinding when you try to select a gear. You have two options if this happens to you. One is to take apart your drivetrain and gently tap the clutch disc free. The second is to break the disc loose by driving.
Hereís the procedure to break your clutch free:
1) Turn off the car.
2) Push the car to where youíve got some space for lurching.
3) Start the car in neutral, and then step on the clutch pedal and release it about 20 times while the car warms up completely. Turn the car off again.
4) Put the car in gear and step on the clutch pedal, then restart. The car is likely to lurch, so be careful and be ready to turn the car off again. Chances are good that the bond will break and your clutch will work again. You might have to do this several times, in reverse and first gear.
5) In extreme cases, you might need to drive a short distance with the car in gear and your foot on the clutch. Youíll know when it breaks free, but this is obviously dangerous because of your incomplete control of the vehicle.
When you break your clutch free, itís usually OK thereafter. But if the clutch disc abrasive material comes apart, youíll have to replace the clutch disc. Youíll know if this has happened because the clutch will judder, vibrate, and generally not behave the way you expect. So then youíre back to disassembling your clutch and replacing the disc. Go ahead and clean up the flywheel with sandpaper, too -it will have clutch material stuck to it.
Preventive Solution: Store your car in a warm, dry place and drive it from time to time.
Problem: Ignition Corrosion
Another maintenance issue is corrosion on your ignition components. Because these parts rely on clean contacts for electrical current, moisture in the winter can cause oxidation and accumulation of corrosion. If your car is reluctant to start after a long rest, you might need to clean the points and examine other connections for corrosion.
Preventive Solution: Spray your ignition and electrical components with anti-corrosion spray before you put car to bed for the winter.
Problem: Fuel Degradation
Gasoline is largely made of volatile compounds, and its chemistry changes if it sits in your tank. Once again, condensation puts water into the mix and the volatile organic compounds evaporate off. If you pulled your car out of a barn or blackberry patch before you restored it, you probably remember the smell and the residue when you opened the gas tank and the carburetor float bowl. That residue is whatís left when the volatiles evaporate away. The same process starts every time gasoline is exposed to air, and you donít want water condensation forming in your gas tank, so carefully prepping your car for storage is key to keeping your fuel system in top shape. If your fuel gets gunky, you can either run it through the engine and cross your fingers, or engage in the laborious, stinky, and hazardous process of draining and flushing your fuel tank and lines, and cleaning your carburetor.
Preventive Solution: Prior to storage, fill your fuel tank with fresh fuel and add fuel stabilizer. A full tank prevents condensation and evaporation by eliminating air, and the fuel stabilizer solution helps limit chemical changes. In the spring, burn through that tank of gas as quickly as feasible.
Problem: Rodents and Bugs
Mice love your classic car. So do moths. They like to live in it, eat it, and chew it up for nesting material. Mice seem to like wiring insulation and anything made of fur particularly. And mice like to urinate all over your carís interior, filling it for all time with the distinct odor of mouse pee. If you live in a dry, desert climate, youíre also at risk of picking up hantavirus from the mouse droppings. Nothing good happens when rodents and vermin get into your restored classic car, but it happens all the time. When you discover that rodents have visited your car, first you will want to assess the damage and make plans to repair it. A negative ion generator is about the best bet going for reducing urine odors. A good detailing will also help clean out mouse droppings. Then you get to embark on a mouse hunt. Traditional traps work, as do poisons, but keep them away from your cars, children, and cats.
Preventive Solution: Above all, never leave food in your car. Rodents will be drawn from miles away to feast on a granola bar in the glovebox. Second, place traps away from the car to keep rodents from dying in your car. Use mothballs to keep moths away.
The Overall Solution: Drive Your Car
The best solution to keeping your car going is not to put it in cold storage. Your attached garage is generally a better place to keep your car because itís probably warm and dry and itís close enough that you wonít forget to look at your car for 6 months. Keeping your car close by may not be practical, but at a minimum you want to fire up the car and let it warm up on a monthly basis. Itís good if you can drive it around for 10 miles or so and get everything limbered up and flowing. On balance, more things go wrong your car when itís sitting cold than when you drive it regularly, and your car will be happier in the spring when itís time to head out for shows, tours, and summer life again.