WINTERIZING TO PROTECT YOUR RACECAR, RV, TRUCK OR STREET ROD
Your racecar, trailer, RV, and tow truck are at risk when in storage, winter or summer!
Posted on October 16, 2023, by Jean Genibrel
Around the end of the year, our race or performance cars, trailers, and tow vehicles are often stowed away and sometimes forgotten until spring. Storing vehicles can create problems unseen during regular operation. Vintage and race cars, weekend time trial or drag cars, Jeeps, Off-Road vehicles, Street Rods, street performance cars, and tow vehicles, when stored in the winter or summer, require some attention to prevent significant problems in the spring. Racecar trailers and their contents are also affected by the weather.
Many parts of the U.S. seldom see freezing temperatures, but most experience high heat. Some parts of the South West endure temperatures in the 100s for months at a time.
The Cooling System
Racing organizations forbid the use of antifreeze due to its slipperiness. Street-driven vehicles should still have the antifreeze checked to prevent cracking the engine the supercharger heat exchanger and the radiator in freezing temperatures. Even a small amount of water can crack a radiator, a heater core, or a heat exchanger when the water freezes. If the car is to be stored, drain the water entirely from the engine and the radiator.
Water pumps, even the better ones like upgraded racing pumps, also can suffer damage from freezing. The seals are vulnerable as they can only withstand so much pressure. Experts at Edelbrock Racing suggest draining the cooling system if it does not contain any antifreeze before storing your race car, street rod, or tow rig before winter hibernation.
This picture from Bill Maropulos illustrates the damage a cold snap can do to a race motor if it still contains pure water. Water expands when it freezes, and it applies extreme pressure to the engine. The weakest point is at the end of the water passages where they meet the cylinder bore. Here, the block, the pistons, and rings are trash, and the whole engine needs a rebuild. In addition, there is no telling what damage the water has created inside the block and the heads. https://www.facebook.com/MaropulosEngines/
Jean Genibrel, the owner of AppliedsSpeed.com, manufactured Checker Racing Batteries in the late 1980s. The batteries were gel-type, deep cycle, thick plates, and all the necessary accouterments to make them fit for racing. Still, in the spring (and between races), they would get calls from racers and street rodders who had "dead batteries." This problem was due to poor preparation for storage.
Modern automobiles and trucks support multiple electrical devices like clocks, radio presets, and security systems that can discharge a battery in less than a month when the car is unused.
AppliedSpeed.com offers Battery Tender trickle chargers that are ideal for maintaining stored lead acid batteries at a safe voltage. Trickle chargers are maintenance chargers only, so make sure the battery is fully charged before installing the trickle charger. For lithium batteries consult the manufacturer.
AGM batteries are most susceptible to going dead when left unattended for some time, especially if they were stored partly discharged in hot weather. This problem is due to their thin plate construction. Store batteries in a cool dry place whether for winter or summer.
Precautions to Prevent Battery Problems
Also remember the batteries in the trailer, the truck, and the generator.
- First, disconnect the terminals and clean them with a terminal brush. Blend a tablespoon-full of baking soda in a glass of water. Pour the solution on the terminals and the posts to neutralize any corrosion.
- Acid fumes that escape from around the terminals cause corrosion. Vibrations and G-loads can loosen the terminals and allow the fumes to escape, even from the so-called AGM "racing" batteries. With heavily corroded terminals, remove the battery and replace it because the corrosion is sure to reoccur.
- Ensure the battery is fully charged (12.6 volts minimum) and then connect a battery maintenance device for the storage duration to ensure the battery is operational in the spring.
- Cars without an alternator should have a fully charged battery and connect a maintenance charger before storage.
- In an extremely cold or hot climate, store the batteries in an environment between 70F and 30F. The beer refrigerator in the garage makes an ideal place for this purpose, winter or summer.
Engine builders recommend using an oil thermostat when using a vehicle equipped with an oil cooler in the winter. Cars like Vintage ones, weekend time trial cars, and street performance cars that are driven in the winter and equipped with an oil cooler would benefit from an oil thermostat. Motor oil, unlike automatic transmission fluid, must warm to at least 165 degrees F. High oil pressure may sound like a good thing, but when very cold, oil does not flow, and this can cause severe engine damage.
Oil thermostats are available from AppliedSpeed.com. These prevent the oil from overcooling and dry starts. They are used on racing engines to allow for quicker warming of the engine oil and on passenger cars for quicker oil warmup.
If you drive your car during the winter, refer to the owners' manual to determine which viscosity oil to run in your engine during those months. Even low viscosity oil can get very thick at low temperatures. Tow vehicles are also candidates for an oil thermostat when equipped with an oil cooler.
During storage, motor oil may absorb water, so change the oil after storage.
Used racing tires, grooved and slicks, will be unusable by springtime anyhow, so you could leave them on the wheels for now.
Tire Rack offers the following information for storing high performance and racing tires: "It is not recommended to drive on these types of tires at temperatures below 40 degrees F (5 degrees C). It is recommended these types of tires be stored indoors at temperatures maintained above 20 degrees F (-7 degrees C) when not in use.
While the car is jacked up is an excellent time to install guards around the jack stands to prevent critters from attempting to become race car drivers. Those guys can chew through wires, hoses, and upholstery. Cats, rats, racoons, and other wildlife can leave unpleasant surprises on the seat and upholstery.
The Shock Absorbers
AFCO Racing recommends cleaning the shocks, especially aluminum ones, before storage. If you race on dirt, you know how acidic mud can be. Acids can damage the anodizing and can attack the shafts and the seals of race shocks.
It would be best if you lubed the shock tubes and the bearings with thick motor oil or differential fluid.
AFCO Racing also recommends keeping the shocks from freezing. So, if you are in a cold part of the country, removing them and keeping them with the batteries would be a good move.
BTW: Mark the shocks' location and springs before removing them to identify those that go on the left and right side.
Our passenger cars and tow vehicles use antifreeze, but rules forbid its use on the track. In some parts of the country, a cold snap can happen suddenly, even in late spring or early autumn. Race engines are at risk of cracking and breaking from freezing. Draining the water until ready for the next race can avoid serious problems.
As the water freezes, the ice expands, and it places extreme pressure on the block, the radiator, and the heads. The ice expands, and it pulls the water passages apart, and the block eventually cracks at its weakest point. The cooling passage next to the piston sleeves is the most vulnerable.
With older motors, the freeze plugs would pop out (whence their name) and allow for some pressure relief, but new motors like the LS2s with aluminum blocks used in NASCAR'S K&N PRO SERIES do not contain freeze plugs. Fortunately, the heads on LS2s come with freeze plugs, but those still may not be enough to spare the heads from cracking.
Engine Winter/Storage Preparation
- Wrap carburetors in plastic bags to prevent moisture from entering the engine.
- Place a ball in the exhaust or wrap the outlets with a plastic bag. The same goes for the intake. Weber side draft style carburetors have inlets that are ideal to have a ball inserted in them to prevent moisture, bugs, and other perverse elements.
- Apply some oil on unpainted steel parts like exhaust headers. Spray lubricants like WD40 dry up and lose their protection after a few days. Do not oil brake rotors and calipers!
Automatic transmissions can fail if they are left to stand for long periods. When left undriven, varnish and acids form in the fluid, causing the seals to dry and crack. Once a month or so, start the engine and drive the car for a few miles (if possible) or go through the gears on the jack stands until the fluid is warm.
Sunoco Race Fuels suggests the following as guidelines for "optimizing the "shelf life" of racing gasoline but does not cover safety aspects of handling gasoline."
- Keep the fuel in tightly sealed steel containers to prevent evaporation of some of the more volatile race gas components.
- Fill gas tanks and drain the old fuel from the injection system or carburetors.
- Cover open fuel lines and breathers with plastic baggies and tie-straps.
- Keep fuel in areas with low-temperature swings.
- Add some Sta-Bil fuel stabilizer to the fuel if you plan to store it for more than a year.
- Critters, even house pets, can find refuge in the strangest places. One of our correspondents had stored his Crossfire in the fall, and in the spring, when he started the air conditioning, he noticed a nasty smell accompanied by a huge vibration.Upon disassembling the AC, he found a mouse that had seen better days in the cage fan. Further investigation revealed the little guy's family and friends also had a voracious appetite for wires and upholstery. Adding some shields around the jack stands may discourage rodents from climbing into chew heaven.
One of our correspondents had stored his Crossfire for the winter and when he started the car in the spring he smelled a strange odor. When he turned on the air conditioning he felt a severe vibration in the dash accompanied by rather voluminous odoriferous emanations. The picture is evidence of the party some critters had with the car during the winter. The little guy and his friends also partied on wiring and upholstery, and they left little presents on the seats and the carpeting, both solid and liquid.
- Car museums wrap their cars when they go into storage with stretch plastic wrap — lots of work, but worthwhile protection if you own a classic or vintage car.
- A few desiccant bags from your local hardware store placed on the floor and in the trunk help remove moisture from the interior.
- Check for fluid leaks. Over a long winter, fluids can make a real mess of a shop floor, and they can ruin tires that are still on the ground.
- Adding a bottle of Sta-Bil fuel stabilizer to a full tank of gas keeps the fuel fresh for several months. Fill the tank and run the engine for a few minutes to use up the fuel in the lines and the filter. A full tank reduces the air and moisture gap above the fuel.
- Keep cars stored in a dry place away from leaky roofs or floods.
- Store your vehicles away from sandblasters, welders, grinders, and other shop equipment.
- Cover the vehicle with a waterproof tarp or dedicated car cover, but heed the advice of using desiccant as the covers may retain moisture.
- Place barriers around the car like cones or barrels to keep other cars at a safe distance.
One Last Thing
Make a list of all the things you did to winterize your car and place it on the steering wheel. In the spring, before starting the engine, you can undo what you had done in the fall. It would be embarrassing to try and start the engine with a plastic bag over the carburetor.
Happy Performance Motoring