Winterizing 2019

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.

 

TIRES

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).

The sidewall indicates maximum tire pressure of 51 psi; I aimed for 45.

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.

My cost-effective method to prevent flat-spotting

 

FUEL

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.

A fresh bottle of Sta-Bil awaits my use. Note the forlorn Alfa in the background.

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.

Once opened, the contents are good for 2 years. Sta-Bil provides a spot for noting start date.

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.

Sta-Bil was added with tank one-quarter full, after which it was topped off

 

CRITTERS

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.

McCormick calls the coarse ground “table grind”

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.

Potpourri bags are now pepper bags

 

BATTERY

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.

Lights on Battery Tender are only thing to monitor

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.

 

COVER

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.

 

Until next year….

 

All photographs copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Winter Storage, and the Start of the Miata’s Next To-Do List

As happens every winter, the collector cars (loosely defined as the cars that don’t get driven in snow) are put away for the winter. The ritual is one that has evolved over the years and is now consistent: fill the tanks with fresh fuel, add Sta-Bil, pump up the tires at least 10 p.s.i. over normal to avoid flat-spotting, put a trickle charger on the batteries, and cover the cars with a dedicated car cover. It’s easy, takes little time, and doesn’t cost very much.

Before going further, let’s take a moment to say a few words about the brands I use, and have continued to use. (I’m a firm believer in finding good products and sticking with them, even if they cost a trifle more. As the cliché goes, ‘you get what you pay for’.)

The Sta-Bil brand of fuel stabilizer, made by Gold Eagle, has been in use in my garage since I’ve owned powered lawn and garden equipment. Many moons ago, I heard stories about lawn mowers and snow throwers, two examples of gas-engine devices which see seasonal use, failing to run because the old gummed-up gas gummed up the works. As soon as I got my first lawn mower, Sta-Bil went into its tank.  The gumming has never happened to me, and I’ve stuck with the brand ever since.

Sta-Bil STORAGE is your basic fuel additive if fuel is going to sit

Yes, I had my doubts about their ethanol treatment after it seemingly made the Alfa run worse (a conclusion which I now doubt since discovering my carbs are running rich and fouling the plugs a bit), but your basic ‘storage’ version of Sta-Bil is the way to go for any fuel tank in which fuel may sit more than 6 weeks or so.

It’s a similar story with battery chargers. I still have my dad’s Sears charger, which looks like it was made in the 1960s. It works great to jump-start a dead battery, but it ain’t no trickle charger. Long-term battery storage requires both a slow charge (the “trickle”) and a volt-sensing cut-out that won’t overcharge the thing and boil it to death.

You know it’s an old charger when there’s a switch for “6V” and “12V”

The Deltran Battery Tender brand came onto the market several decades ago, and they found their niche for the car collectors whose vehicles are stored in the off-season. While many competing brands have since been introduced, I’ve stayed with what I know works. I think I’m up to 3 of these Battery Tenders in the garage.

Green is good! Battery Tender keeps battery charged without overcharging

Car covers are a relatively new accessory to my winter arsenal. Up until a few years ago, frankly, I didn’t believe in them. It was a combination of fear of paint damage from moisture trapped beneath the cover, and frustration with my inability to find a custom-fit cover for the BMW Isetta (my expectations were a bit high with that one).

Since working at CARiD, I’ve learned a lot about the usefulness of good quality car covers, and one thing I learned is that the Covercraft brand is my favorite. The fit is perfect, and the variety of material choices will satisfy any indoor or outdoor cover needs at any price point.

The indoor-rated Dustop from Covercraft fits the Alfa perfectly

The Alfa has a Covercraft Block-It Dustop (yes, they had the ’67 Alfa pattern in stock), and the Miata wears the Covercraft Evolution indoor-outdoor cover. In the garage, both covers do more than keep dust off the paint; they also protect the interiors from sunlight, and provide some protection from wayward nuts and bolts spinning out of control off my workbench. I would never again think of storing a car without a cover. Even in the nice weather, if it’s going to be more than a week or two before one of the cars gets driven again, the cover goes on.

The Covercraft Evolution cover on the Miata is rated for indoor and outdoor use

All this is a prelude to an announcement about my Mazda Miata: after giving some thought to selling it, I’ve now decided to keep the car. What’s more, next year, in 2018, this 1993 automobile will be 25 years old, making it eligible for AACA events. So I’m going to turn it into a show car.

The plan is to spend the winter tending to some mechanical maintenance, but also attending to some detail work in order to display the car at shows next year as a 25-year-old original unrestored car.

The mechanical list includes new rear brake calipers (one of the parking brake adjusters is stuck), new tires (tread is good, but they’re 10 years old), and a continuation of the LED bulb upgrade. The detail work involves a new convertible top (worn and dirty), an engine compartment detail, Paintless Dent Removal work on some small dings, and a complete polish and wax.

Here’s hoping for a mild winter, which will encourage me to get out to the garage! As long as the temperature is above freezing, I can spend a few hours out there. Watch this blog for updates on my progress with the Miata.

 

Is it spring yet?

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

The Alfa Goes To Sleep For The Winter

The 1967 Alfa before the slumber
The 1967 Alfa before the slumber

 

An annual ritual was completed today, when I put my 1967 Alfa Romeo away for the winter. I’ve followed the same basic checklist for a number of years, on this car as well as on my previously owned collectibles. The success rate has been very good, with all the cars eagerly starting up on first try once the spring weather returns. I’ve been spared any issues with dead batteries, flat-spotted tires, or gummy fuel systems, by completing a few steps which are quite simple to do.

Friday, November 6, 2015, was unusually warm in New Jersey, so it was a good day to take the Alfa for one more brief maintenance run before beginning the winterization process. The car ran superbly, as it has since I bought it in the spring of 2013. Once back home, I added about 4 ounces of Sta-Bil fuel stabilizer, then headed to my local Shell station to top off the tank.

Sta-Bil is my friend. Have used it for years
Sta-Bil is my friend. Have used it for years

The Sta-Bil was added first in order to better blend it with the fuel. Purchasing the 6 gallons I need to fill the tank ensured that the stabilizer would be more thoroughly blended. If I had added the Sta-Bil after the fill-up, it would be less likely to completely mix with the fuel in the tank. I always store the car with a completely full fuel tank, as this minimizes the chance of condensation on the inside of the tank walls. I let the car idle for 5 minutes or so, in order for the gasoline/Sta-Bil combination to circulate through the carburetors.

Pouring the Sta-Bil left-handed
Pouring the Sta-Bil left-handed

The Sta-Bil label recommends that the product be used within two years of opening it, and since I use it in the Mazda Miata, the lawn mower, weed trimmer, and snow thrower, I don’t have too much of an issue consuming a 32 oz. bottle within that time frame.

My German side makes me do these things
My German side makes me do these things

Next on the list were the tires, specifically, resetting the pressures. Because I let my cars sit on the garage floor during the winter, the car’s weight continues to bear down on the tires. It would be better to get the car up on 4 jack stands, remove the tires, and store them horizontally, but I have found this method avoids all that. I overinflate the tires, being careful to stay within the maximum pressure on the tire’s sidewall. The 155-15 Vredesteins on the Alfa indicate a maximum pressure of 51 psi, significantly above my driving pressure of around 26-28 psi. I decided on 40 psi, and all tires were pumped up to that.

Part of the winter ritual is a fresh oil and filter change. However, given that the Alfa got that done just several hundred miles ago, I didn’t do that today. Instead, the car was backed into its garage bay, all windows were rolled up, and the battery kill switch was turned to “off”. The car was once again cocooned under its cover, and except for attaching a Battery Tender, which will be done later in the weekend, the task was finished.

Done. Hoping for an early spring!
Done. Hoping for an early spring!

Last year, the car was up on four jack stands, as I spent much of the winter, and a good part of early spring, rebuilding the front suspension. There are no winter projects for the Alfa this year. Come spring, I will tune it up and change some filters, as I haven’t done that since first acquiring the car, when it had 54,000 miles. Hard to believe I’ve driven it 7,000 miles over three driving seasons. The car’s reliability all that time has been remarkable. Yes, there have been some hiccups, but it has never failed to get me where I was going, or get me back home. The plan is to continue that for 2016!

 

Only 2,333 miles per year
Only 2,333 miles per year

 

All photographs copyright © 2015 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.