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driving concerns

Mercedes-Benz 380 SL

I enjoyed the Globe Drive article on tenor John McDermott's favourite car, an '86 Mercedes. No doubt its longevity is due, in part, to the rest period it is given over the winter. Surprising is the period of storage, from October through April. What sort of pre-storage service is required to protect a vehicle? – Paul A. Nelson, Toronto

With apologies to McDermott and the song Danny Boy – "when the summer's gone, and all the flow'rs are dying," well, it might be time to take your baby off the road for the winter.

"You're protecting the car from salt on the roads, potholes, and gravel and you're not putting on unnecessary miles," says Mubasher Faruki, Chief Instructor with the School of Transportation at the British Columbia Institute of Technology in Burnaby. "And, whether it's sub-zero temperatures like on the prairies, or constant rain like we get on the coast, winter's just not a fun environment to drive in. And your chances of getting in an accident are a lot higher."

Putting a prized vehicle – whether it's a classic or just a vehicle you really want to last –away until spring requires preparation.

Gasoline can go bad if it's stored for months. Among other things, it can oxidize and form deposits that could ultimately clog your fuel system. One option is to drain all the gas out of your car. But that's not easy and could expose your gas tank and fuel lines to rust-causing moisture. Adding a fuel stabilizer is a good idea, Faruki says.

"They're fairly inexpensive and they allow the fuel not to deteriorate," Faruki says. "In my opinion, you should keep the fuel tank as close to full as possible to avoid condensation. A stabilizer will also help with that."

Faruki also recommends an oil change – even if you're not due for one for a few miles yet.

"It's a good idea, even if you're only 40 or 50 per cent on the way to an oil change," he says. "As oil gets used, corrosive materials get suspended in it, and they can corrode your engine if they sit there."

And, starting your car regularly – every two or three weeks – while it is stored should keep the cylinders lubricated, he says.

"Run it for 20 minutes, or until it gets to optimal operating temperature," he says.

Some experts say to remove the spark plugs and add oil to the cylinders before storing to keep the oil from slipping off and leaving cylinders exposed and vulnerable to rust and, when you start it again, friction. While that oil will protect the cylinder walls and pistons from rust, it's not a good idea if your car has a catalytic converter, says Patrick Brown-Harrison, instructor at SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary.

"That additional oil will damage the catalytic convertor the next time you start it," Brown-Harrison says. "The best thing is to run the engine regularly."

Next, you'll need to check and, if needed, top off engine coolant, says Stephen Leroux, professor at Centennial College in Toronto. You should get coolant strength tested. If there's too high a concentration of water, it could freeze and, potentially, crack the engine block or cylinder heads, Leroux says.

And, unless you're sure your car will be kept from freezing, you should make sure you're windshield washer fluid reservoir is filled with antifreeze, and not just water – otherwise it could freeze and burst.

Next, you'll need to take out the battery, or hook it up to a smart charger.

If you have an older car without engine computers, it's safe to disconnect the battery – or remove it entirely – while it's stored. Brown-Harrison says a disconnected battery will keep its charge longer if you store it in the freezer.

But disconnecting the battery is a bad idea if you have a newer vehicle with computers – if they lose power, you could face performance problems down the road, Faruki says.

"You won't just lose radio station settings – the computer could lose its settings and that could affect your car's operation," he says. "So, with newer vehicles, you should install a smart charger and keep it plugged in all winter."

Faruki suggests putting your car up on jack stands (not wooden blocks) to get the tires off the ground and take a load off the suspension.

"It helps protect the tires. In my experience, you tend to get a flat spot if the tires aren't rotating all winter," he says.

If you are putting your vehicle up on stands, check with the owner's manual first, Leroux says.

"Some vehicles with adaptive suspension systems may need to have the systems disabled or turned off first," he says.

If you can't keep your car off the ground, you should make sure tires are, at least, inflated to the recommended PSI, Brown-Harrison says. Or, you can over-inflate them to keep them from getting deformed over the winter.

Next, make sure your car is clean, inside and outside.

"Wash it and wax it," Faruki says. "Make sure it's dry and stays dry – the biggest enemy is moisture."

Faruki suggests putting a desiccant, like silica gel, inside the car to absorb excess moisture, especially on the coast, where winter dampness is a problem.

Now's the time to tackle any recent stains on the carpet or upholstery – before they become permanent, Brown-Harrison says.

"It's also a great idea to lubricate all the doors, hinges and weather stripping with a silicone-based spray or paste," Faruki says.

Finally, you'll want to keep mice and bugs from moving in. There are plenty of recommendations out there for repellents – the jury's still out on how well they work.

"My customers suggest moth balls, Irish Spring soap, and a lot of the customers use mouse poison," says Lara-Rae Grant, manager of North Star Mini-Storage in Whitehorse.

Grant says making sure there's no food in your car – that means no emergency chocolate bar in the glove compartment – goes a long way to keeping out pests.

Also, put a rag in the exhaust or any vents where mice can get in.

"Depending on where, how and how long the vehicle is being stored, capping off the throttle body or air intake may be beneficial," Leroux says. "Those of us with older muscle cars with four barrel carburetors know how spiders love to nest."

If you have any repair or maintenance queries for Jason, send him a message at or contact him through Twitter: @JasonTchir

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