Where did the year go? I swear that just the other day was sunny and 75; today is frosty and 40….. Every year I need to remind myself that putting the cars away for the winter needs to be done well before Thanksgiving, lest we get an early taste of winter and my ever-shrinking window of opportunity gets blown away like the final leaves of autumn.
Today was the day to put the Miata to rest until spring. The Alfa, on the other hand, is still up on four jack stands as it patiently waits for me to complete the brake overhaul I started during the summer. The only accomplishment today in the Alfa’s favor was funneling a few ounces of Sta-Bil into the tank. I can’t start her up, because the battery positive cable and carburetor intake plenum have been temporarily displaced. We’ll save the rest of that story for the next post about the brakes.
Back to the Miata: my routine for winterizing this car, or any of my cars, is fairly simple. Unlike some friends who keep their collector cars “at the ready” should we get a sunny dry day above the freezing mark, I believe in putting them down with the intent of not starting them again until spring returns. The tasks to reach that goal are: add air to the tires; fill the tank and add fuel stabilizer; dissuade critters from making my car their winter getaway; connect the battery charger; and cover the car to protect the paint.
Tire flat-spotting is a potential problem with any car, even one that sits only for a few days. The issue seems to vary among tire brands. When I bought my Acura TSX, the tires on it would be flat-spotted every morning. It took 2-3 miles of driving for them to warm up and stop going “thump-thump-thump”. A car which sits all winter is especially prone to this problem.
Like everything else I’m recommending, there is more than one solution. I’ve read that you should remove all the tires from your vehicle (necessitates jack stands) and store the tires on a wall-mounted tire rack (takes up extra space). You can buy cradles designed to go under each tire which distribute the car’s weight more evenly along the tread (more cash outlay, and I’ll need to store the cradles when not using them).
My method, which I’ve used for almost 20 years, is to over-inflate the tires and just let them sit. The extra air supports more weight, and it costs nothing other than about 10 minutes of work. I check the tire sidewall for the tire manufacturer’s maximum tire pressure, and aim for a number about 5 psi below that. Come spring, I bleed the tires back down to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation, and drive off without any thumping. Tires I’ve treated like this have never flat-spotted.
Modern fuel will go bad in about 6 months; it’s been said that the ethanol in today’s fuel only exacerbates the problem. Besides the fuel turning to gel, condensation (from minuscule amounts of water in the fuel) can end up on the tank’s walls and cause corrosion.
There are two good solutions for the condensation issue: store the car (or lawn mower, or snow thrower) with a full tank of gas, or with a completely empty tank. My lawn equipment, with its pint-sized plastic tanks, easily lends itself to the empty tank approach. But I do the opposite for the cars, because I don’t want to expose the remainder of the fuel system to whatever debris is likely lounging at the bottom.
I’ve written before about fuel stabilizers; there are a few different brands, and I’ve been partial to Sta-Bil by Gold Eagle, simply because I’ve been using it for years and it works very well for me. One necessity with any fuel stabilizer is to run the engine for at least 5 minutes AFTER you’ve added the stuff, to circulate it through the rest of the fuel system. I’ve one more trick, and that is to add the Sta-Bil to the tank before filling it up. As fresh fuel is added, it mixes the two, and the drive back from the filling station usually suffices to distribute to good stuff through the carbs, injectors, and what-have-you.
The good news is, I have a 3-car detached garage in the yard next to my house. The bad news is, I have a 3-car detached garage in the yard next to my house. I joke; there is no bad news. Except sometimes, critters, mainly field mice, want to see my collection. They think it’s cute. I don’t think they are cute. While no real damage has occurred, I’ve caught a few of them in there. They are not welcome. Rather than catch them, I’d sooner discourage them from entering. Through the years, I’ve used bait, traps, dryer sheets, mothballs, and black pepper, to varying degrees of success. Last year, the black pepper approach seemed to help, but it was loose on paper plates, and invariably, I would kick the plates and scatter the pepper about.
My wife came up with this suggestion: she offered to buy “potpourri” bags, like you’d use in the house for scented objects. (She got them in Michael’s in the bride’s section.) I bought an institutional-sized container of black pepper from Costco (get the coarse ground, not the fine), and filled a dozen bags with pepper. These went into the interior floor, trunk, and engine compartment. My entire garage smells like pepper (it’s better than mothballs; the one time I used them, the odor lingered for almost a year). As long as I spot no signs of toothsome damage, I’ll consider the pepper bags a success.
Again, there are multiple approaches for off-season battery maintenance, and none of them is wrong. What’s important is that your battery charger offers a trickle-charge function so the battery does not overcharge and boil over. The Battery Tender brand has been my choice, simply because that was the first one I bought. I now own several.
I used to remove the batteries from the cars and arrange them on a shelf, connecting each one to a separate charger. (If you have multiple cars, and access to a wall outlet is an issue, there are trickle chargers designed to charge an entire bank of batteries.) I’ve now decided that there is no advantage to taking the battery out of the car; it’s just more work. However, I disconnect the negative cable to isolate the electrical system during charging. Once the terminal clamps are connected and the unit is plugged in, my work is done.
Before working at my current employer, I didn’t believe in car covers. Somehow I was convinced that they did more harm than good. Then I researched some of the better covers that we sell, and did a 180 on them. My brand of choice is Covercraft: the fit is excellent, the materials are top-notch, and there is a good variety of covers at different price points. Once the tires, fuel system, battery, and interior are treated, on goes the cover.
The first day of spring next year is Friday 03/20/20. I’ll be OK with it if Mother Nature wants to usher it in a week or two sooner, so I can undo all the above and take the Miata on its first spin of 2020.
All photographs copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.