By Jean Genibrel, AppliedSpeed.com
Around the end of the year, our race or performance cars and tow vehicles are often stowed away and sometimes forgotten until spring. Storing vehicles can create problems unseen during normal 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, require some attention to prevent big problems in the spring.
The Cooling System:
Racing organizations forbid the use of antifreeze due to its slipperiness, but street-driven vehicles should have the antifreeze checked to prevent cracking the engine and the radiator in freezing temperatures. Even a small amount of water can crack a radiator when the water freezes. If the car is to be stored, drain the water completely from the engine and the radiator. The picture below shows the kind of damage a freeze can do to a race motor that contains only water.
This picture from Maropulos Racing Engines clearly depicts the type of problem that can be avoided by winterizing your race car.
Jean Genibrel, the owner of AppliedsSpeed.com, manufactured Checker Racing Batteries in the late 1980s. The batteries were gel-type, deep cycle, with thick plates and all the necessary accouterments to make them fit for racing. Nevertheless, in the spring, we would get calls from racers and street rodders who had “dead batteries.” This problem was due to poor preparation for storage.
Unfortunately, the new AGM batteries are most susceptible to going dead when left unattended for some time, especially if they were stored when partly discharged. This problem is due to their thin plate construction. Some precautions can alleviate battery problems.
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. Connect a battery maintenance device for the storage duration will ensure the battery will be operational in the spring.
Owners of race cars without an alternator should fully charge their battery and connect a maintenance charger before storage.
Battery Tender company products are available on APPLIEDSPEED.com. For storage buy a trickle charger, not a full bore charger or one of those will overheat and destroy a battery over a period of time.
Engine builders recommend using an oil thermostat when using a vehicle equipped with an oil cooler in the winter. In some parts of the U.S., like the low lying areas of California, will never see freezing temperatures. However, driving a few miles into the desert- where we can find many race tracks - or in the mountains, the temperature can drop dramatically and quickly. Cars like Vintage ones, weekend time trial cars, and street performance cars driven in the winter and equipped with an oil cooler would benefit from and 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.
If you will 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 they are equipped with an oil cooler.
During storage, motor oil may gather some water, so change the oil after storage.
Used racing tires 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 at above 20 degrees F (-7 degrees C) when not in use.
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. So perhaps 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.
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 components of race gas.
- 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.
- Car museums wrap their cars when they go into storage with stretch plastic wrap — lots of work, but worthwhile protection.
- A few bags of desiccant from your local hardware store placed on the floor and in the trunk will 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 will keep 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. The full tank will reduce 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.
- Wrap carburetors in plastic bags to prevent moisture from entering the engine. The same goes for the exhaust.
Happy Performance Motoring