Fall Car Care

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From Don Mallinson:

There are two concerns going into Fall:

  1. Preparing cars for fall/winter driving
  2. Preparing cars (or other equipment) for winter storage.

Note: this is not intended to cover EVERY topic. I will try to hit the highlights.

I use the fall/winter timeline to gauge most maintenance on equipment including lawn mowers.

Preparation for Driving

For preparing for fall/winter driving, I like to look at changing fluids and then the rest.

Basic Mechanical Checks/Changes

  • Flush and fill with fresh anti-freeze every 2-3 years
  • Engine oil/filter change
  • Put in fresh power steering fluid if it has been a while
  • Change the transmission fluid every 2-3 years
  • Bleed brakes
  • Flush brake fluid every couple years at least even if you don't do any racing
  • If you do any track/autocross events, then if you haven't done the brake fluid since the last event, do it now
  • Check tire pressures, they fall as the temps fall, and don't forget the spare
  • Rotate tires and check the backs and tread area for problems
  • Keep a log in your owners manual or on a sheet on the garage wall when you did these things last

Basic Car Wash

For the rest of the car, a good wash, followed by an evaluation is a good idea.

With the car clean outside, run your hand over the paint. Feel any roughness? Kind of like sandpaper? Most cars will get this eventually, it is paint over spray, and other stuff like sand/glass/steel bits literally stuck in the paint.

Clay Bar

Use a detail clay like the one from Mothers and a companion spray (make your own with a spray bottle of water and a couple drops of dishwashing liquid). Follow the instructions on the clay. The clay should ride on a layer of liquid and not stick on the surface. If a little smudging happens, it will come out in the next step.

Note: Even high speed buffing with aggressive compounds won't get out the stuff that clay will. On the other hand, clay won't help your car shine, but getting out that junk and cleaning the surface (note how the clay gets dirty even on a freshly washed car... that is the dirt in the "wax" and in the paint that you are getting out that wash, and even glaze/buffing won't get).

Glaze

Glaze or polish the surface; this is to bring out the shine. Use a product that is a very mild abrasive. Meguiars and Mothers and others sell a cleaner polish that is apt for this job. Some will say not to ever use abrasives, but you need them to remove the scratches. Sometimes you can hide them, but they always come back. Remember that every pair of glasses, microscope or telescope, or camera lens is made with abrasives. It is how you get a shine, and repair minor problems. Use a very fine glaze and apply by hand. You can use a random orbital buffer, but honestly, only those that sell these things think they are any good. They take more effort than doing it by hand my way, with little pressure and not a lot of rubbing.

If you have done the previous steps right, you should be able to look at the car and say, "It is perfect, I don't need wax!" You are partly right. Wax should be used ideally to protect. If you rely on it for shine, your wax job won't last as long.

Wax

Wax follows the glaze and use a pure wax, not a "cleaner" wax, that is why you use the polish step. Cleaner waxes are trying to do two things at once, and they can't do either very well. Good for a quick one-step in-between wax, but two steps will look better and last longer. I like a carnauba paste wax. These go on easy and last longer than liquid waxes. Carnauba does not melt in the sun as some would have you believe, and Carnauba will last as long if not longer than anything on the market, if it is a good wax. Collinite is one of the best brands of canauba wax. There are lots of other good products on the market, and there are minor differences. If you have something you like, stick with it.

Interior

Vacuum the interior, wipe down the vinyl with a good product and/or use a quality leather cleaner and conditioner, depending on your interior surface type(s) (two processes again, don't use a combined leather cleaner/conditioner). I try not to soak carpets with soapy water; it leads to mold/mildew and rust. Use a mild carpet cleaner and spray it on lightly, rub in with a damp cloth or your fingertips. Then buff with a dry towel. Vacuum again now that you have loosened up some of the dirt.

Other Areas

  • Clean the windows inside and out, working left to right inside and up and down outside, that way when you see streaks, you know where they are.
  • I don't recommend chrome cleaner/polish on chrome stainless. Most of them are made for old cars with rust. Use regular wax on these.
  • Still have energy? Look over the underside and check for rusty brake lines, a real problem on older cars these days. Use POR-15 (google it) to coat lines that are rusty but still safe, and any other rust you see.
  • Want to make your car drive and feel better? Clean out the console, trunk and glove box, and drive around with nothing in the car. You will be amazed at how most cars have noises that come from all the stuff we carry. Put it back in better organized in canvas or vinyl bags to keep it from getting all over.

Preparing for Storage

Basic Mechanical Checks/Changes

  • Flush and fill with fresh anti-freeze every 2-3 years
  • Engine oil/filter change
  • Put in fresh power steering fluid if it has been a while
  • Change the transmission fluid every 2-3 years
  • Bleed brakes
  • Flush brake fluid every couple years at least even if you don't do any racing
  • If you do any track/autocross events, then if you haven't done the brake fluid since the last event, do it now
  • Check tire pressures, they fall as the temps fall, and don't forget the spare
  • Rotate tires and check the backs and tread area for problems
  • Keep a log in your owners manual or on a sheet on the garage wall when you did these things last
  • Put a Battery Tender Jr. or similar item on the battery to keep it like new
  • Remove the negative cable to prevent possible fires if the mice chew
  • You don't have to remove the battery to store unless it needs cleaning
  • If there is any acid accumulation, get rid of it, and clean and paint the metal parts

Store Car Flat on Tires

Don't store on jack stands as it puts the suspension in droop where it exposes parts that can rust. Leave the car on the tires or support it on the suspension. Tires won't flat spot like they used to, and if they do, it takes a couple miles for them to be perfect again.

Interior

For stored cars it is a good idea to take out any important papers because mice love to use them for bedding. Not much you can do to stop the buggers, but put out mouse/rat poison and you will keep their population down.

Exterior

A fresh wax job (wipe off the wax, do not leave it on unbuffed!) and lube everything that needs it, grease fittings, hinges etc.

Gas Tank

Most important, fill up the gas tank. A full tank helps prevent moisture accumulation. I am not a fan of Sta-Bil gas additive. Gas will not go bad in a few months. I have been storing old cars for decades, some got driven only 50 miles a year, and I have never had gas go bad. Only time I had to rebuild a carburetor was when I used Sta-Bil. It may have not been the cause, but that same car in future years without the additive had no carburetor problems.

Tips for Storage

  • Do not start the car and run it for a few minutes every month or week. It is better to let a car sit for months or years than to start it for a few minutes. If you start it up, try to make it on a day when you can take it out for a drive for 10 miles or so. Just starting puts moisture in the engine and exhaust that starts rust. Trust me on this.
  • Cover a car if in a garage. Old sheets are good if the wind can't get to the car. I am not a fan of covers for cars stored outside. Most will let dust/dirt under them, and no matter what they say, moisture can collect under. Also, if the cover moves around in the wind (and they all will) it can rub your paint to the metal in months, maybe weeks. Put cardboard to block the sun from the interior if you can, but try not to store cars outside.

Conclusion

Have questions? Go to this page on my site.

You probably won't agree with everything here or on the web site, that is fine, but most of my tips are from experts at caring for old cars, my own experience and just plain common sense. Use what you like and have fun caring for your vehicles.