Each fall we prep our cars for winter storage, but as the gas, lubricants, coolants, etc. have changed, the way we use them must change to give our cars the most protection. Before ethanol gas, the common wisdom for winter storage was to fill up the tank to prevent condensation, all antifreeze blended, and batteries went down anyway (there weren't any maintainers around) so when they did you just slow-charged them back up or replaced them. Brake fluid was just standard OEM Dot 3 and was available at all the parts stores, so you just kept that topped up or cleaned the system out with denatured alcohol and replaced it with silicone, if you liked that system.
Now, everything has changed! Gasoline has become a real problem, with most stations selling gas with at least 10% ethanol, that wreaks havoc on old car's fuel systems. Ethanol has a much higher alcohol content and cleans out the tank and lines, stopping up fuel filters, pumps and carburetors. And it goes bad much faster than non-ethanol. Recently we replaced fuel filters, fuel pumps and three carburetors on cars that had sat un-started for only four months. One carburetor, a rare Stromberg EE23 for our '36 Packard, was a gummed up mess. The car would idle but not throttle. It had to be completely rebuilt--stuck needle and seat, and all. What a mess!
So to help compensate for these new products, we have put together our Winter Prep List. For the past two winters, it has worked for us, and here it is:
First, make a chart of all of your cars with column headings for BATTERY, OIL, WATER, FILTERS and GASOLINE, and notes of what and when things were done.
BATTERIES: We first disconnect the cables, check the water levels and refill if needed with distilled water. Clean the posts and put red and green felt washers on the posts for quick identification of positive and negative. Being disconnected will prevent any current from going through the system. We, of course, use battery disconnects on some of the cars, but find that the ones that attach to the ground post will rot and break over a period of time, sometimes resulting in a hairline crack that is hard to detect. The ones that work best for us are the switchblade type. They deliver full volts/amps and weve never had one to go bad. We leave battery maintainers on the stored cars all of the time, and have found that in about four months, the maintainers boil the water out of the battery. In about six months, the level can be down to the plates. We recently replaced three batteries and found that even though the maintainer's green light is on, the battery can be out of water. Some of our batteries are under seats, under the floor boards, the rumble seat, etc., hard to get to, but you can't use that as an excuse not to check the condition. We use a mechanic's mirror to help in the inspection on the cars.
OIL: The oil levels are checked and the oil is checked for gas foul, which usually accompanies starting and stopping an engine, not letting it reach operating temperature. This is obvious, and can be smelled in the oil, and we've seen the level on the dipstick come up about a quart of unburned gas. We always change the oil in the spring, not so much for mileage on the oil as for condensation that will form over the winter. We don't usually put in oil additives, but if we do, it's important to make sure they are compatible with the oil, not mixing synthetics with non-synthetics, or non-detergent with detergent, etc.
COOLANT: Coolant must always be changed on schedule, then checked and topped off with a compatible type. There are antifreezes that dont mix! Check the labels. Some cars like our '30's Packards require putting an extension hose on the tester pickup tube to get down into the filler neck, down to the radiator. If the reading is safe but the coolant level is low, we add a 50/50 blend to keep the reading consistent. Adding straight antifreeze to the top of a radiator will give an extreme protection reading. Remember, don't mix the green with the orange! Green is the silicate type used for older cars, but both are ethylene glycol based. But don't mix the orange (for newer cars) with the green. The orange contains a different type of corrosion inhibitor and will gel when mixed with the green, creating real problems in your car's cooling system.
GASOLINE: We only use non-ethanol gas in our old cars. There are only a few stations in our area that post "No Ethanol" signs on the pump. For our project cars that can't be driven to the station, we have to carry 5-gallon containers to the station, adding stabilizer first then the gasoline, to mix and swirl the stabilizer as the gas is pumped. We only put about two to three gallons in each cars tank, then run the engine until the non-ethanol/stabilizer gas is in the carburetor. We also change all of the fuel filters at that time, and log the change. It is also a good idea to test your gas (ethanol testers are available online). It is possible that just because the pump states that the gas is non-ethanol, it might actually contain ethanol. If you want to see what ethanol gas can do to your system, put a few ounces in a glass container with no stabilizer and watch it go bad. It is usually noticeable in a few weeks. We've found that these considerations, along with regular winterizing procedures may make our old cars a lot easier to start in the spring, requiring very little further maintenance. Enjoy your cars. Happy Thanksgiving, and keep 'em driving!