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Top tips for historic military vehicle winter storage

I know that not all of our historic military vehicle (HMV) owners live in snowy northern climates, but from my perspective these days, that is about all I see — and have done so for most of my life. So, when Thanksgiving rolls around, my thoughts turn toward putting away whatever collector vehicle I am driving along with the lawnmower. Conversely, it is the same time I pull out the generator and snow blower. In all, it takes about a full day of moving machines around the garage and preparing some for winter use, while others are bedded away until warmer days arrive.

Before you store your vehicle for winter, consider these easy 10 tips to ensure your vehicle will be ready next spring.

Before you store your vehicle for winter, consider these easy 10 tips to ensure your vehicle will be ready next spring.

And while many have their own rituals for preparing a vehicle for storage, I thought I would share mine. This list was assembled from a variety of experiences including caring for the Krause Collection of Historic Military Vehicles, listening to my coworkers from Old Cars Weekly and a lengthy career of racing and driving a variety of Volkswagens. While you may or may not agree with all of these, they have proven to be useful when awakening vehicles under my care the following spring.

Top 10 Tips for Historic Military Vehicle Storage

  1. Change the oil. Always store a vehicle with fresh oil. Used oil is full of contaminants. These can attract moisture and can damage your engine if left in the crankcase. The oil will still be “fresh” in the spring and you will be that much closer to rolling out of storage.

  2. Top off all fluids. Make sure your cooling system contains the proper blend of antifreeze so it doesn’t freeze and crack your block. consider changing your brake fluid if it is more than a couple of years old. This is a good time to lube your chassis, too.

  3. Add a fuel-stabilizer and fill your tank. This extends the life of the fuel and protects the tank, fuel system, and engine from moisture (which leads to corrosion). Before driving your vehicle into storage, drive it for 20 minutes or longer. This will do two things: It will circulate the stabilizer through the system and purge the exhaust of any moisture. Top off the tank after you park it in your storage area.

  4. Clean the interior. Vacuum your vehicle. Make sure you get rid of all those bits of food that might attract rodents. Treat and/or polish any leather or vinyl. If you have a fully enclosed vehicle, you may want to consider placing a few packs of desiccant (like baking soda refrigerator packages) inside to wick away moisture. The chances are, though, that your vehicle is open or has such gaps that a desiccant won’t make that much of a difference.

  5. Give your vehicle a good wash — you know the kind, a loving one that allows you to notice any scratches, pitting, or rust. A good wash gets rid of any sand or dirt that may lead to some scratches during the winter. Make sure it is thoroughly dry.

  6. Put down a plastic tarp where you are going to park your vehicle. Whether you are parking on concrete (even if it is painted or epoxy coated), gravel, or dirt, this is a cheap vapor barrier between your vehicle and the ground. While it is best for the paint if your storage area is kept dark, this may not be practical (especially if your Jeep or truck shares a garage with your wife’s vehicle!). In the event that dark storage isn’t possible, you may want to consider in investing in a vehicle cover, preferably, one with a soft inside surface that won’t damage the paint and thick enough to protect the body from anyone or anything bumping into it. Keep in mind, a waterproof cover is not necessary — your vehicle is stored indoors. In this scenario, a cover that “breathes” is actually preferable to a waterproof one.

  7. Inflate your tires. In fact, over-inflate them just a bit. Jack up the vehicle and place it on sturdy jack stands. Place towels on the stand before lowering the vehicle to prevent dimpling the frame. While this is the best method to ensure your tires won’t get “flat spots,” some argue that this places undue strain on the suspension. I suppose you could take off the wheels to eliminate a lot of the weight, but then you have to find a place to stack and store your tires. I will have to let you decide what is best for your particular situation, though I will say, I have done it both ways and can’t say one method is better than the other. If you don’t want to jack up the vehicle, you can use -called tire cradles to avoid flat-spotting — thick sections of corrugated cardboard will work, too.

  8. Stuff wads of steel wool in the exhaust pipe and any other openings, such as the air intake. This will keep rodents from nesting inside these components. I put a note on my steering wheel to remind me to remove these wads in the spring, however — it is too easy to forget that they are there. I haven’t done this, but many recommend placing mothballs around the vehicle. I actually use those tasty green “TomCat” blocks that rodents will nibble on and die within a short time. No mercy when it comes to my vehicles!

  9. Disconnect your battery. If your storage area is unheated, take it inside for the winter. Wherever you store it (even if you just unhook it and leave it in your vehicle), hook it up to a good-quality battery tender — one that has an automatic shut off to avoid overcharging. I do not periodically start my vehicle during the winter, mainly because I know that condensation will form in the exhaust and probably not all evaporate. I prefer to keep the engine and exhaust dry and the fuel tank full through the winter.

  10. And finally, consider your insurance. You can cancel any liability and collision insurance while your vehicle is in storage but be sure to leave your comprehensive in place in case your vehicle is damaged or stolen. This also prevents a gap in your insurance that could cost more money when you renew. Most collector vehicle insurance is inexpensive (as compared to your car insurance), however, so leaving it insured year-round is not usually a huge burden. If you do cancel your insurance, add a reminder to that note on your steering wheel to call your agent next spring. If you're storing your car offsite, some insurance companies require you to report the address of the offsite location. Check with your insurer to determine your policy's requirements.

Not everyone will agree with each of these points, but hopefully, as you read through them, you consider the best methods for storing your vehicle for winter — and next spring, you don’t discover any surprises that these few steps could have prevented.

Keep em rolling,

John Adams-Graf

Editor, Military Vehicles Magazine and Military Trader

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