How often should you start a stored car in the winter?

Starting a stored car regularly in the winter is crucial to keeping the battery charged and preventing damage from freezing fluids. When a car sits unused, the battery slowly loses its charge and cold temperatures expedite the discharge. Fuel and fluids also need to circulate periodically to avoid gumming up or freezing. Following proper winter storage procedures will ensure a car is ready to drive when needed.

How often to start a stored car in winter?

Most experts recommend starting a stored car every 2-4 weeks in the winter. The optimal frequency depends on various factors like temperature, battery condition, and length of storage. Here are some general guidelines:

  • At above 32°F (0°C) – Start the car every 4 weeks
  • Between 20°F (-7°C) and 32°F (0°C) – Start the car every 2-3 weeks
  • Below 20°F (-7°C) – Start the car every 1-2 weeks

Colder regions require more frequent starting to combat battery drain. An older battery or one not at full charge will also need to be started more often. For very long-term winter storage of 6 months or longer, consider removing the battery and storing it indoors if possible.

How long should you run a stored car?

When starting a stored vehicle, let it run for 15-20 minutes minimum. This allows the engine to warm up completely and cycle all the fluids through the system.

Driving the car for 30-60 minutes is ideal for winter storage starts. This brings components like the brakes, tires, and transmission up to operating temperature. The extended run time will also allow the alternator to charge the battery.

Should you drive or idle a stored car?

The best method is to actually drive the car when starting it during winter storage. Idling doesn’t circulate fluids as effectively and the battery may not charge fully. If unable to drive, run through the gears in park with the parking brake on to distribute transmission fluid.

Tips when starting a stored vehicle

  • Warm the engine before driving – Let it idle for a few minutes to circulate oil before accelerating.
  • Top off fluids – Check oil, coolant, washer fluid levels before starting.
  • Charge battery – Use a trickle charger if the battery has discharged from sitting.
  • Allow proper air circulation – Open the garage door if running the car indoors.
  • Drive gently – Don’t rev the cold engine or brake harshly until warmed up.

Preparing a car for winter storage

Proper preparation before storage will make starting a stored car easier during winter. Recommended steps include:

  • Wash and wax paint and undercarriage to prevent corrosion.
  • Change the oil and filter to refresh additives.
  • Add fuel stabilizer to prevent gas from deteriorating.
  • Fill up the tank to prevent condensation in a partially full tank.
  • Check coolant strength and fill level.
  • Disconnect the battery or use a battery tender.
  • Inflate tires to recommended pressure.
  • Park over plywood to insulate from cold ground.
  • Clean the interior to prevent musty odors.
  • Use cotton in tailpipe to block rodents, insects, and moisture.
  • Cover the vehicle with a breathable car cover.

What happens if a stored car isn’t started in winter?

Neglecting to start a vehicle during winter storage can lead to several problems including:

  • Dead battery – The battery will eventually discharge from sitting unused in cold.
  • Flat spots on tires – Prolonged sitting can deform suspended tires.
  • Corroded brake rotors – Moisture causes brake discs to rust without use.
  • Gummy oil – Thick oil loses ability to properly lubricate the engine.
  • Fuel varnishing – Old gas leaves sticky deposits that clog fuel systems.
  • Rodent damage – Mice and other rodents are attracted to shelter and warmth.

These conditions become more pronounced the longer a vehicle sits through winter without being driven. Starting the engine periodically runs fluids to combat sticking and deterioration.

What to look out for when starting a stored vehicle?

Be alert for any unusual symptoms when starting a vehicle out of winter storage. Signs of potential problems include:

  • Weak battery cranking – Slow turnover indicates battery discharge.
  • Illumination of dashboard lights – Oil, battery, check engine lights signal issues.
  • High-pitched squealing – Belt slippage from stiff, dried-out rubber.
  • Grinding noises – Rust buildup in brake discs and wheel bearings.
  • Engine misfiring – Old gas and varnished injectors make combustion erratic.
  • Smoke from exhaust – Burning oil deposits as they heat up.
  • Visible fuel leaks – Cracked hoses and seals shrink when cold.

Address any problems detected before attempting to drive the car after long-term storage. This may mean charging or replacing the battery, changing fluids, or repairing leaks or other damage that occurred while sitting.


Regularly starting a stored vehicle is essential for protecting it through frigid winter months. The recommended frequency varies from every 1-4 weeks depending on ambient temperature and battery condition. When starting a vehicle, let it idle for 15-20 minutes minimum to warm up and cycle fluids. Actually driving for 30-60 minutes periodically during winter provides maximum benefit for batteries, brakes, tires and more. Neglecting proper winter storage procedures can lead to dead batteries, stuck components, rodent infestation and costly repairs come spring. Following the guidelines and tips outlined will keep a cherished vehicle ready to drive despite harsh winter conditions.

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