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Storage Practices

By Jeff Zurschmeide

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; there’s 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 that’s dry and that avoids extreme temperatures. You want a place that’s 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 don’t value this car the way you do) won’t 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 won’t 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 “Do and Don’t” 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 winter’s 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 what’s 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, you’ll feel the engine struggle against the brakes and then you’ll feel the drums break free and you’re good to go. Unless a chunk of pad material stayed on the drums, which you’ll discover very quickly. In extreme cases, you’ll 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 that’s no fun at all.

Preventive Solution: Don’t 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 can’t really prevent it. If your clutch disc has stuck to the flywheel, you’ll find out when you go to start your car. You press the clutch pedal and go to crank the car, and if you’re in gear, the car lurches forward. If the car is in neutral when you start it up, you’ll 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.

Here’s the procedure to break your clutch free:

1) Turn off the car.

2) Push the car to where you’ve 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. You’ll know when it breaks free, but this is obviously dangerous because of your incomplete control of the vehicle.

When you break your clutch free, it’s usually OK thereafter. But if the clutch disc abrasive material comes apart, you’ll have to replace the clutch disc. You’ll know if this has happened because the clutch will judder, vibrate, and generally not behave the way you expect. So then you’re 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 what’s left when the volatiles evaporate away. The same process starts every time gasoline is exposed to air, and you don’t 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 car’s interior, filling it for all time with the distinct odor of mouse pee. If you live in a dry, desert climate, you’re 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 it’s probably warm and dry and it’s close enough that you won’t 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. It’s 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 it’s sitting cold than when you drive it regularly, and your car will be happier in the spring when it’s time to head out for shows, tours, and summer life again.

Dos and Don'ts
Thumb up  DO
  • Store your car in a warm, dry place
  • Fill your fuel tank and stabilize the fuel before storage
  • Start the car and warm it up on a regular schedule
  • Move the car forward or backward monthly to prevent flat spots on the tires
  • Use moth balls and sonic pest repellers
  • Invest in a top quality battery maintenance charger (the cheap ones don’t work.)

Thumb down  DON’T
  • Don’t leave food in your car, even overnight
  • Don’t store your car in a cold, damp place
  • Don’t store your car with only a little gas in the tank
  • Don’t leave the parking brake on for the winter
The Popular Restorations Feature Car
Author photo

1946 Packard: Winter storage



For a car cover, I bought one from a fellow who advertises them in one of my Packard club newsletters and it is not custom. It is really a cover for an SUV. I use spring clips (for clamping wood while gluing) to take up the excess material and to keep the cover from touching the ground.

Also, I always put a trickle charger on the battery. It is a 1 amp charger but cuts down to much less than that when the battery is fully charged.

I try to be sure to drive the car at least once per month and just keep a little gas in it so that fresh gasoline is added frequently. We have that many dry days in Oregon winters, and if nothing else, it gives me peace of mind, knowing the car is running well.

Also, I wax the chrome and stainless trim so they do not oxidize during the winter months. This has been working quite well.



Harold E. Lemay Museum

By Jeff Zurschmeide

Scot Keller, Curator
917 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98402-4421
(253) 779-8490

PR: What does the LeMay Museum do to keep their display cars and stored cars in shape?

SK: That’s a good distinction between stored and displayed cars, because we do have both. We have a scheduled regime for all our cars that has to do with preserving the automobile from deterioration. Our schedule includes renewal of rubber parts, a schedule of fluid changes, inflation and rotation of the tires -not corner to corner, but rotating the tires so they don’t develop flat spots. It also includes renewing and refreshing interior supple materials. It’s not a dramatic list, but it’s a pretty long list of things we do on intervals, from quarterly to biennially.

And we have cars that are restored to different levels. We have automobiles that are concours-level that have gone to places like Amelia Island and Pebble Beach, and they get a different level of care and feeding than preservation cars, which by definition we want to maintain in their current condition.

PR: Do you do anything special for cars that are not on display?

SK: The ones that are on display obviously get a little more attention on the exterior detailing, and any of the components that get wear when the car is on display. If we allow people to get into the car, then we need to lubricate hinges and so on. The cars on display get more attention to detail from a cosmetic standpoint.

PR: You mentioned fluids. If the car is not being run, do you still change the fluids?

SK: We differentiate our schedule between vehicles that are runners and those that are not. Fluid changes are done on the ones that are runners or drivers.

PR: Climate is a big issue. Do you keep the stored cars in a climate-controlled facility and if so, what climate settings do you use?

SK: The vehicles we have in storage are generally in secure, dry locations, but not climate-controlled. The museum itself is climate-controlled.

PR: Do you use any special lighting to limit UV exposure?

SK: No we don’t, but we’re in a temporary facility right now. We’re looking at that for our permanent facility in Tacoma, which we target to be open in Spring, 2011.

PR: Do you keep the batteries connected?

SK: We do not.

PR: How about fuel?

SK: We also try to monitor the amount of fuel in the vehicles for purposes of limiting leakage and safety, but also guarding against corrosion. It’s difficult, with the running cars, to keep the petroleum products fresh. We keep a minimum amount of fuel in the car to run them efficiently when we do take them out to exercise them.

PR: Anything else that might be surprising about your maintenance and storage practices?

SK: No, I would say that given the nature of the collection and the amount of work that gets done by volunteers, our maintenance schedules and intervals are pretty standard and straightforward. The exception is that for our cars that are runners, we do believe in running and driving them. The surprising part is the real cost associated with performing even minimal maintenance on these vehicles. It’s something that you don’t think much about if you have a couple or three cars, but if you multiply it over hundreds of cars you have to watch that from a cost standpoint.
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How To Build Your Dream Garage
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External Links
PopularMechanics.com has a good article titled Storing Your Car.
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