It’s time to think about preparing your car for winter. If you use your car all year round then it’s not so much of a problem, but many of us still take our vehicles for granted and a little care would save money and increase the life (and value) of our cars.
Do ensure your car radiator is topped up with anti-freeze (which is also coolant – so should be in the car year round). There are different colours of anti-freeze/coolant now. For modern cars use the red, orange or pink OAT (Organic Acid Technology). This antifreeze is best avoided in classic cars, as it can soften hoses and attack some metal alloys. Just use a regular mixture of one-third ethylene glycol antifreeze and two-thirds water (preferably soft or distilled). Ethylene glycol is the blue or green stuff that’s been around for years – and can be used in any car of any age. We’ve yet to find anything it disagrees with. Change it every two years if you’re feeling keen – that’s the minimum lifespan of the anticorrosive agents added.
It can be well worth in investing in a set of winter tyres if you do a fair bit of driving. Most UK cars are fitted with summer tyres and some with all-season tyres. But winter tyres are designed specifically to remain supple in colder temperatures and maximise traction when driving on snow and ice. They are good at gripping in cold, damp conditions below 7degC, and offer improved traction on slippery surfaces.
The key differences are:
- they use a softer rubber compound (usually by including more natural rubber in the mix)
- the surface of the tread blocks is covered with little jagged slits – called sipes
- they generally have deeper tread grooves than conventional summer tyres.
If you have a car for occasional use then it makes sense to store your car properly. With even modest classic cars holding their values and with some increasing hugely, it makes sense to take these precautions to minimise deterioration during the season when the elements will be doing their best to reduce your pride and joy to its constituent elements. It is no wonder that many thousands of classic and sports cars now spend the winter in the care of specialist storage facilities where these issues are all addressed professionally, often for less than the equivalent cost of a pint of bitter per day!
- Control moisture. Damp will cause damage to both interior and exterior, and controlling the humidity in which your car is stored is very important. The high levels of relative humidity in the atmosphere combined with changes in temperature can cause condensation to form on your car, even indoors and under covers, and this will encourage corrosion. Hot air can hold more moisture than cold, so a heated garage without effective dehumidification isn’t necessarily the answer – a properly humidity controlled environment is what is required.
- Clean and cover. Damp will linger in dirt and mud hidden in wheel arches and cavities, helping corrosion. Cleaning the interior and removing anything that might be attractive to wildlife will discourage fungal growth, infestation and consequent damage. Make sure your storage is proof against vermin that will think a warm and dry environment is ideal for their winter quarters too, and that your car’s upholstery and wiring could be used to make a cosy nest. Give your car a thorough clean and polish, and use a soft, breathable cover to protect paintwork. Check for drips from leaky roofs and condensation that could mark the paintwork permanently.
- Check your fluid levels and make sure that you have the correct concentration of antifreeze in the coolant. Fill up with fuel and use a fuel preserving agent to prevent the fuel from degrading. Modern petrol contains ethanol which is hygroscopic, eventually attracting water from the atmosphere. This can lead to fuel forming deposits in the fuel system leading to starting and running issues. Filling the tank prevents condensation forming and causing corrosion on the inside of the tank.
- Invest in a battery conditioner and keep your battery on trickle charge. When parked up for storage if possible leave the handbrake off (using chocks instead) to prevent the brakes from seizing on. Keep tyres pumped to around 40-50psi to prevent flat spotting.
- Start the car once a month, and go for a short drive on a dry day, avoiding salted roads. This will help to keep moving parts free. Avoid just starting the car and running up to temperature – engine parts like valve springs and bearings need to move to keep them operating properly.