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Open Diff – Springtime rituals

Published in blog.hemmings.com

The Miata in winter storage. Photo by author.

It’s been a long, cold winter here in Vermont, and if history is any indicator, it isn’t over quite yet. While my own seasonal car isn’t a collector’s item (yet), I still take great care to store it safely in the back of the garage — next to the pallets of wood pellets — from the first salting of the roads until spring rains wash away the last traces of the nefarious chemical.

Then, with robins chirping in the trees and the sun glowing in a cloudless sky, I gently awaken the car from its winter hibernation, grateful that I’d carefully prepared it for storage. Before parking the Miata for its slumber, I diligently check the level of electrolyte in the battery, perform a fresh oil change, fill the fuel tank — careful to add the right amount of fuel stabilizer — wash and wax the paint and wheels, and fill the tires to a higher pressure than normal to minimize the potential of flat spots or deflated tires from long-term storage. I also wire up a proper “smart” charger to the battery — leaving the hood open to prevent buildup of hydrogen gas — to ensure that the driving season does not begin with a trip to the auto parts store for a new battery.

With this kind of preparation, returning a seasonal car to the road typically involves little drama beyond adjusting the tire pressure, removing the battery charger, and turning the key. Assuming it fires right up, the next step is a fresh wash and vacuum, followed by a lengthy and enjoyable reunion on favorite roads.

But it’s confession time, dear reader: Last fall, I was not that diligent owner. Once again, winter took us by surprise in the northern climes, forcing me to park the Miata with a half-full tank and no other preparation aside from a recent oil change and brand-spanking-new Battery Tender. I neglected to add fuel stabilizer, forgot to adjust tire pressure (which will make the first few miles particularly entertaining, since the B.F. Goodrich Comp-2 A/S tires have a habit of flat-spotting when parked overnight), and didn’t even check the battery electrolyte level. Which was low in one of the unreachable-with-a-squirt-bottle cells the last time I did look.

The Miata is parked across the back of the garage, which forces me to look at it in profile every day when I park the daily driver. The brake rotors are badly rusted now, thanks to our damp winter, but the optimist in me says “they’ll clean themselves after a few miles.” The mechanic in me thinks that pulling the wheels and rotors will let me scrub them properly, while also allowing me to see if I’ll need new pads in the coming year. The battery — now seven years old — has long since passed its use-by date, so I’m fairly certain that even the Battery Tender won’t put off that expense much longer. It’s time to flush the brake fluid, too, which has me thinking that installing new brake pads at the same time may not be a bad idea. Then there’s the transmission service that I meant to tackle last summer, but didn’t.

As much work as it all may be, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to it once the weather warms up a bit. After a long winter’s hibernation, a day or two spinning wrenches in the garage will go a long way to shaking off my own cobwebs, let alone those on the Miata.

How attentive were you in putting up any seasonal drivers last winter? How obsessive are you with prep before returning a car to the road? What are your “didn’t-see-that-coming” stories of temporary storage?