The autumn is a time for reflection, preparation, and hunkering down; with the fruit picked, jam made and wood stacked, now is the time to prepare your cherished classic car for hibernation.
If you get it right, you’ll reap the rewards next spring when it fires up first time and roars into a new season without a blip.
Get it wrong, and you’ll be churning away on the starter motor for hours with a can of WD40 in one hand, and some Easy Start in the other…
Five simple steps to keep your car healthy
The oily bits
Now is the time to grease any lubrication points, change the engine oil to a proper storage oil (I’ve used Millers Classic Preservation Oil with good results, and it can be left in the engine if your classic car does fewer than 2,000 miles a year), and top-up the coolant system with a 50:50 anti-freeze mixture.
Slacken all drive belts (but not the cambelt) to ease any strain on generators and alternators.
Lubricate door striker plates and locks with a special lock lubricant, but don’t be tempted to use general-purpose oil as it will gum up and attract dust.
Unleaded petrol goes off more quickly than leaded used to, gumming up carburetors and causing starting problems in the spring, so you need to think about how you want to deal with that.
There are three schools of thought: brim the tank to minimise the amount of petrol that is exposed to the air; drain the tank through use and store it almost empty, topping it up with fresh fuel in the spring; or add a petrol stabilizer like Millers Tank Safe. The latter is the safest course of action and isn’t expensive.
Tips for driving in winter weather conditions
Clean and protect
Treat your car to a thorough wash with car shampoo to remove any traffic film, atmospheric pollution, and tar spots.
Any stubborn marks can be removed with something like Autoglym’s Intensive Tar Remover or a mildly abrasive polish like T-Cut. Finish with a good wax polish of all the paintwork, not forgetting to include all the wheels if they are painted steel or alloy.
Wire wheels can be sprayed with a light coating of WD40, which will help stop any corrosion; WD40 also works well on any chrome work too. (In fact, WD40 is indispensable: as the old engineers’ joke goes; if it moves and it shouldn’t, use duct tape. If it doesn’t move and it should, use WD40.)
Leather seats need a good clean and feed to help prevent fungi and mould growing on them.
Have you heard about the petrol and rings scam?
The electrical system
Spending £50 on a decent battery maintainer/trickle charging system might be the best investment you’ll make for keeping your classic on-the-button and ready for use. I’ve got an Optimate 4 and have been very pleased with it; it’s genuinely ‘fit and forget’ and makes sure that my classic is always charged and ready to go.
If you don’t want to go to that expense, you can just disconnect your car’s battery earth lead, which will prevent the battery draining. However, it will stop any car alarm working, which could invalidate your insurance.
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What's that banging noise? Understand what your car is trying to tell you.
You have three options with tyres: do nothing, and risk flat spots developing; pump them up to around 50psi, which will help stop the problem; or raise the car and leave it on axle stands. The latter is the best solution but do take care to ensure the car is safely supported.
How to look after your car tyres
The final resting position
The cautious can lay a large sheet of plastic on the garage floor, topped with a layer of cardboard, which will help prevent damp air rising and causing underbody rust - but this step shouldn’t be necessary if your garage is dry.
Drive the car into position and chock the wheels or jack the car up, depending on how you have decided to store it. Leave the handbrake off and a couple of windows slightly open to prevent musty smells developing. Connect the battery charger and throw an old cotton sheet or dedicated car cover over it to protect the bodywork.
It should sit like this very happily for at least six months without harm, especially if you pump the clutch pedal every couple of weeks to stop it sticking to the flywheel.
Finally, don’t forget to declare your car as being off the road via the DVLA’s Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN) scheme. If you don’t, you risk a fine of up to £1,000.