Check your coolant
Water expands as it freezes, and that expansion packs enough power to split engine blocks. If you run straight water in your cooling system, now is the time to drain it before you end up with an unintentional two-piece engine block. Storing with zero coolant in the system is one option, but that allows the walls of the metal surfaces to corrode and may lessen the efficiency of the cooling system.
Filling with a standard 50/50 mix—that’s 50-percent antifreeze and 50-percent water—is a safe way to protect the engine block from freezing, even to temperatures as low at -45 degrees Fahrenheit. Plus, the coolant also contains additives to prevent corrosion from taking place inside the cooling system. If your system is already full, be sure to check the condition of the coolant with test strips or a hydrometer to ensure it is still in serviceable condition.
Change the oil
The oil in your engine may look clean on the dipstick, but that lubricating fluid also picks up byproducts of combustion which are less visible but still damaging to the inside of an engine. A quick oil change before storage will ensure the lifeblood of your engine is helping the condition of the metal components, not hurting them.
Change the oil and filter, run the engine to temperature to distribute the fresh oil throughout the engine, and boil off any water that was in the crankcase before shutting the ignition off for the season. Come spring, take the first drive on this oil and then change it again.
Inflate the tires
Tires are meant for driving; sitting in once place can be tough on them. There are two options for ensuring your treads will be ready come spring—overinflation, or placing the car on jack stands.
Overinflating the tires is my preferred method, as it still allows me to move the vehicle if needed. Adding 5–10 psi of pressure over the factory-recommended specification will help each tire keep its shape through the season and also help compensate for any temperature-related pressure loss, since tires can lose roughly 1 psi per each 10-degree drop in the thermometer (Fahrenheit).
If you choose to place the vehicle on jack stands, the best practice is to make sure the suspension is not hanging. A car’s suspension is designed to be compressed, to some degree or another, under the weight of the vehicle, so putting the vehicle on jack stands puts the suspension under abnormal stress.
Top off the tank
The air we breathe has a small amount of moisture in it, and if you leave space for air in the metal gas tank of your favorite ride, that moisture can condense and produce rust and corrosion. To keep that process at bay, top up the tank prior to putting the car in storage.
What exactly should you fill that tank with? For anything running gasoline, it’s worth the extra effort to find ethanol-free fuel. With little-to-no ethanol content, the fuel ages significantly better and also does not cause corrosion inside carburetors the way E10 (gasoline with 10-percent ethanol content) fuels do.
Take care of the battery
Adding some type of storage charger to a battery will make sure that, come spring, your hot rod will crank right to life. I recommend paying a little more up front for a brand-name version—it provides me peace of mind and comforts me that my car won’t catch fire in the middle of the night while I am dreaming of curvy roads. I also know folks who have had good luck with cheaper versions, though.
Make it look nice—then cover it up
Once all the technical items are taken care of, get out the cleaning products. Wash and wax, vacuum and wipe down. Don’t leave anything on the paint or in the interior that you would not want to become permanent. Once the paint surface is clean and sealed with a fresh coat of wax, add a car cover for extra protection (Hagerty Drivers Club members get a discount on California Car Covers) while moving around the car during the season.
It is sad to say, but always assume you are putting away the car for more than just the season. Prepare for it to be stored for a few years, because you never know what may pop up and prevent you from reviving the car come spring; a new purchase that takes priority, a move to a new house—any number of things can block the path to waking a slumbering classic. If properly stored, your future self will thank current you for making life easy.
If you have any additional tips or experience, be sure to share it in the Hagerty Forums below. You experience just might help someone who is new to classics ownership keep the passion alive for another driving season.