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Preparing your Classic Car for Winter.

A30 covered in winter snow
At least in the UK if not everywhere, winter is but a short hop away as I write this and, while Australians and others are planning what to throw on the barbie for another sundrenched Christmas celebration, hardened Brits should be turning their attentions to the issue of preparing their classic for winter and the onset of chilly northerly winds, snowdrifts, coupled with endless inane television advertisements, and reruns of The Great Escape.

One of the prime things to consider is storage of your classic car or truck. Whether you plan to run your classic through the winter, or lay it up away from the ravages of salty roads and sideways learner drivers (you can read more about laying up your old car here), serious thought must be given to where exactly you will store your old car. Ideally it should be in a de-humidified fully weatherproof garage, but not everyone is in such a fortunate position. A damp and draughty garage is not a pleasant place at the best of times, and if possible any leaks in the roof or walls of your garage should be fixed during the summer months. A leaky garage will do your car no favours whatsoever, and makes for an unpleasant place in which day to day maintenance and repairs are to be carried out - dragging yourself outside to fix your old car can be a struggle at the best of times, and the thought of paddling in a sodden garage with numb fingers is unlikely to help. Some measure of ventilation however is not a bad thing in a garage, as a current of air will circulate around your car helping to dry it off if its parked up while still wet, and will help keep condensation down to a minimum.

It has been said that a soaking wet car may well be better off outside, than being parked up in a hermetically sealed garage for this very reason, allowing a breeze to pass around it and aid the drying out of the nooks and crannies down below.

If a wet car is parked up in the garage, so long as it is clean and free from road dirt, it is a wise idea to dig out your old chamois leather and give the old girl a quick leathering down, mums uncle did this religiously with his A40 (that I now have) and it shows, even 40+ years later, not forgetting behind the bumpers, inside the door shuts, and anywhere else that water may settle and wreak long term havoc. Now is also a perfect time to investigate any leaking window seals that your classic may have - I've discovered strange fungal growths on dampened carpets before now, and whereas in summer (ha) any damp carpets can be hung out to dry after a shower, in winter the opportunity to dry out soggy carpets is minimal at best. Take a good look around all window seals, door seals and other areas where there are gaps in the bodywork, such as where the wiper spindles appear through the scuttle, where aerials and rear view mirrors are mounted, and so on. Pull off any door trims and make sure that the plastic liners usually attached to the door frame are in good order, and whip out any carpets and sound deadening to check for rust holes in the floor (a popular route for water to get in), and any seals that are fitted to pedals as they disappear through either the floor or bulkhead.

If your classic car has a sunroof, check its sealing ok and while you're at it, test to make sure the drain pipes aren't blocked (also worth checking that any door drain holes aren't blocked either at this point). One of the killers for any classic or vintage car is mud build up underneath. Clumps of mud and crud harbour damp like nothing else, and can continue holding dampness against your cars bodywork long after warm weather returns.

cars stuck in the snow, sent in by Les
This picture, sent by Les, was taken in 1968 at Crockham Hill in North Kent, where 20+ cars got stuck for a number of hours in the snow. Shown are a Morris 1100, Minis, a Mk2 Cortina, an A35 van to name a few.
To do the job properly, jack the car up, support it on stands and whip off the wheels. Take a stiff wire brush to all the nooks and crannies under the arches, either end of the sills, behind headlamp bowls and so on, and dig out all accumulated mud, leaves and other dubious substances. Its a filthy job if your car is a daily driver, but well worth it. Once this is done, have a quick look and check that all paint or underseal is in good order and, once it is and everything is dried out (especially if you've jetwashed the underside also), apply a protective waxy substance wherever you can, something like Waxoyl or Dinitrol should do the trick. There's no need to apply it with a shovel, just a nice consistent layer should do. Likewise a light coat of a waxy mixture applied to any box sections, inside door and boot panels and anywhere else out of site, will work wonders in preserving your old motor.

Now that all the out-of-sight stuff is protected as best as possible, nows the time to turn attention to the paintwork. Wash the car thoroughly, and apply a decent polish. Modern paste-type polishes are ok, although don't last very well if you wash your car regularly with car shampoo. Best bet, if you're especially energetic, is to do like they did in the olden days and apply a proper bees wax type polish, hard work to apply but I find significantly more robust. If you classic is blessed with glistening chrome, you might want to think about protecting it over winter. At the very least give it a good polish, and for ultimate protection use a proper wax polish and don't fully buff it off, leaving your chrome slightly hazy looking but well protected. Try to slop some Waxoyl behind all chrome trim and fitting while you're at it too, not forgetting the edges of bumpers, overriders and so on. The salt spread on our roads at the first hint of frost can trash nice chromework in an alarmingly short period of time, same goes for wheels - if you have a nice set of wire wheels, or groovy Minilite alloys for example, give some thought to having a slave set of steels to use when the salt is around. Another thing worth mentioning is to polish the windows (not the exterior of the windscreen though) as peering through mucky glass, especially when the winter sun is very low and in your eyes, is not at all nice. Depending on the severity of the usual snowfall in your area, it is probably worth throwing a blanket and a shovel in the boot, just in case you get caught in seriously bad weather. Years ago I found myself giving chase to a snowplough on the Pennines in my old Volvo, the only way I was going to make any progress through the mightily deep snow that had formed.

Now that bodily matters have been addressed, there are some mechanical things to check over. Questions to ask yourself include 'Is my antifreeze topped up and still effective?', 'Does the cars heater and demister (where fitted) still do the job?', 'do I have an icescraper in the glovebox?' and 'Are you sure all the lights work as intended?'. If there are any question marks over the reliability of your car, especially if engine / starting related, now is the time to sort them out, as harsh weather will put extra loads on the engine, and ancillaries such as the starter motor, coil and so on, and grovelling around under a freezing car trying to free off a stuck starter is not fun. Have a think about your tyres too - is it worth fitting a set of what were once popular Town and Country's, with their extra thick tread for maximum traction?

cars stuck in the snow, sent by Les
Another pic from Les: Jan 23rd 1958, on the old Dover Hill - Folkestone Road. Getting a helping push are an F Series Vauxhall Victor, a Rover P4, and an Austin Loadstar lorry.
If you do get stuck, and a passing 4x4 offers to lend a hand, you'll be glad that you remembered to throw that old tow rope in the back of your classic, likewise that set of heavy duty (forget the weedy cheapo set at the local car boot sale) jump leads if you get a flat battery will prove a godsend.

If your classic car is to be in daily use throughout the winter, it may be worth considering an engine pre-heater, effectively a heater that you plumb into the engines cooling system, which you connect to a domestic mains supply that pre-warms your engine before you get in in the morning - these help the engine warm up quicker (less wear, fuel used) and offer rapid demisting as the engine's coolant is already heated up.

With the car suitably fettled for the onslought of winter driving, its worth considering whether you as the driver, are upto the task and fully prepared?

Driving in snow and ice demands a much more considered driving approach, and if you're new to driving it will be worth seeking some expert tuition on the techniques of pulling away and driving on snow and ice, correcting understeer and oversteer slides, cadence braking, anticipating grip levels based on road conditions and so on. Preperation and forward planning is everything!

One thing I learnt long after passing my test was about why to treat high up road bridges with even more caution that the roads leading up to it. If the air temperature is just above freezing, chances are the roads may well be damp but not icy. Especially on days where there is a bitter wind, remember that the road as it passes over a bridge will be noticeably cooler on the surface, due to the cold blast of air travelling both over and *beneath* it, thus lowering its temperature. Paying extra regard to the road surface when crossing bridges is therefore essential, as black ice could form just on this section of the road.

And what happens when the snow start to thaw?? yup, the roads start to flood. Les F kindly sent the two photographs above, showing various cars stuck on snowbound roads, and the two images below, showing cars affected by flooding. The first picture, showing an A55, a 307E van and a 100E, was taken in Bromley. The Renault 10 and Austin 1100 were swept down, believe it or not Watery Lane, and dumped into a ditch during flash floods. An interesting leaflet, issued by an Austin dealership on behalf of Esso in the 40s or 50s and giving tips on winter motoring, can be seen here.

cars caught in floodwaters

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