Taking Your Vehicle Out of Winter Storage: 7 Spring Tuneup Tips to Follow

Snow is melting and it's time to take your car out of winter storage. But spring car maintenance is in order - follow these 7 simple tips.

When spring arrives, and if you put away a car for the cold months – as we discuss in this feature with 10 expert tips to store your car for winter – it is the glorious season when you can start thinking about driving it again. If you put it away, it’s obviously a special vehicle, whatever it is, so properly taking it out of hibernation is as important as properly putting it away.

Follow this guide to properly wake your baby from her beauty rest and hit the road with confidence.

7 Spring Car Maintenance Tips:

1. Check fluids and under the hood: Scan with a flashlight

If you read our previous feature about winter storage linked above, you already know some of the steps you need to reverse, but before you do anything, take a good look around. Get out a flashlight and get on the floor: scan underneath the car from stem to stern for any signs of fluid leaks.

Open the hood and check any visible hoses for signs of cracks or loose fittings. Check all fluids, from transmission to power steering. Inspect the battery terminals and clean off any deposits (or reinstall the battery if you’ve kept it inside). Check the air filter and the coolant. Look hard for any signs that turning the key is a bad idea. 

2. Replace the tires

If you followed my advice to install a cheap set of used tires for storage (to prevent putting flat spots on your good tires, and to prevent unnaturally stressing the suspension by lifting the car), now’s the time to put the road tires back on. Check them now for wear, cracks, oxidation, bulges or anything that could lead to failure. If you notice uneven wear now, getting an alignment should give you a summer’s worth of straight-and-narrow driving.

3. Check the Battery

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If you left the battery in the car with a trickle charger, it should be ready to go. If you took it inside and have to reinstall it, check the voltage. If it’s below 12 volts, give it a charge.

Check the oil level, and examine the dipstick for signs of a greenish or reddish sheen, which could indicate contamination from the coolant system, and a leak between the two systems. 

4. Starting a car after winter storage

Once you’ve checked all the fluids, hoses, filters and tires, if all is OK, you can think about starting it. Best is to push the back end of the car out of the garage, and if you have one, a fan to keep the exhaust from accumulating in the garage is also a good safety tip.

Depending on the age of the car, turn the key to on but hold off starting for a few seconds. If you car is a post-1980 model, chances are excellent you have an electric fuel pump. Give it a second or two to spin up and prime the system. If your car is older, it probably has a cam-driven fuel pump that won’t move any fuel until you start cranking 

Once the engine is running, do not blip the throttle. Let the engine warm up before attempting to drive it or revving the engine. Give it a few minutes and let the engine return to normal idle speed naturally. While it’s running, look around for black smoke, white smoke, fluid leaks or anything else out of the ordinary.

Before you go anywhere, press the brake pedal. Brake normally and feel for sponginess, too-easy pedal travel and whether the pedal returns to rest normally. Depending on how long the car has been stored or the last time the brake fluid was changed, you’re likely due for a change. Glycol-based brake fluid will absorb water over time. A flush and a fluid change is, again, good insurance.

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If everything feels good and looks OK, ease your way into driving it. Find non-congested streets and drive slowly, checking steering feel and braking before heading to faster streets or highways.

5. Go for a 30-minute drive

If all seems good, drive it for at least 30-minutes and then stop at your favourite spot for an oil change. It’s best to drive it a bit before changing the oil, as this allows the oil to splash through the engine and loosen any deposits, which will come off the most in the first half-hour. Better to dump these out with the oil you have to change anyway than change the oil too early and have them floating around for the next 3,000 km or three months.

6. Spring check-up

This is also a good time to get a spring check-up: be sure to tell your mechanic the car was in storage for the winter. 

By the way, if you looking for a car storage for your vehicle, check out Auto Vault.

7. Clean it up!

Finally, wash off any dust that accumulated and give it another good waxing, the kind that leaves your arms tired and your car gleaming. Any other kind of waxing isn’t worth the trouble or the money. 

Taking the time to get your car back on the road gives you the best chance at protecting yourself, your car and others on the road. Safety and longevity should trump your impatience to get back on the road, hard as that may be.

Kelly Taylor
Kelly Taylor has been writing about cars since 2000. His favourite ride has been the Audi R8 from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg, where he nearly traded the car for a Ford Ranger, a Greyhound Bus and the Blue Heron Gift Store in Kenora, Ont.