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What to do with a summer car in the winter

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I just moved to Alberta and I was going to trade in my convertible because of the dreaded winters here, even though it would be great for mountain drives when it's warm out again. I complained on Facebook (I love that car) and somebody told me to store it until spring and get a winter beater. I had to look up what a winter beater is. So, where should I store it? My garage isn't heated, and I'm wondering if it's better for the car if it stays warm all winter, like at a storage place. But I've also heard that a heated garage is bad for a car, so what's the answer?

– Austin, Calgary

Remember that old tale of Goldilocks and the Three Garages?

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Your car would prefer being stored in a garage that's just right – not too hot and not too cold – but that's not always possible, says expert Patrick Brown-Harrison.

"In a perfect world, a controlled environment is the best place to store a car," says Brown-Harrison, an instructor at SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary. "That means sunlight will not strike the vehicle and the temperature stays stable at 15C."

You want somewhere clean, dry and secure, so most garages will work.

A mildly heated garage or an indoor parking lot might be ideal, but a car will do just fine spending the winter an unheated garage, or even outside. Even on the Prairies.

"You want to keep your car away from moisture. A garage is great," says Mubasher Faruki, instructor at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. "If it's outside, ideally you'd want a some sort of roof, but you don't need it."

"In my opinion only, a heated garage is okay if you have one, but we're not talking a sauna," Faruki says. "Wherever you store your car, it should be covered to keep it clean and dry."

"Not a tarp – that will trap in moisture and you could get rust and mould," Faruki says. "A breathable cover, and want to put it on after the car has been washed, dried and waxed."

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Even if it's sitting in your garage, a naked car could gather a lot of dust between now and May – and that dust could etch through the paint.

"It doesn't need to be hermetically sealed, but if it's kept sheltered from dust and debris the paint will last longer," says Stephen Leroux, professor at Centennial College in Toronto.

If you're keeping the car outside, the cover should fit snugly – wind will cause a loose cover to rub against your car's paint. If the cover's loose, it's better to take it off and store your car without one, Brown-Harrison says.

If the car's hibernating outside or in a cold garage, you'll want to keep the block heater plugged in, Faruki says.

"And, another simple thing that's really important – make sure your vehicle has some kind of storage insurance," he says. "Who knows, there could be a flood. A lot of things could happen to a car that's parked for months."

And, just in case you couldn't find a definition for a winter beater – it's a cheap used car that's "reliable as hell" for winter driving, Faruki says.

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"I had a few over the years. It's a car you can get for a couple of hundred bucks and it'll take you through hell," says Faruki. "I had a few I used while I kept my Camaro parked for the winter – a Hyundai Excel, an old Toyota Celica. The guys used to give me a hard time about it "But times change – now I have kids and can't afford to have insurance for 15 vehicles."

What makes a good beater? That depends on how much you want to spend, and what you want to be seen driving, Leroux says.

"It may be a beater, but it's still required to meet safety requirements," he says. "You want a reliable vehicle that won't leave you stranded."

If you find a potential beater, get it inspected and make sure the tires, battery and block heater will get you through the winter.

"One of the best winter beaters I ever owned was a '74 Ford Pinto," Leroux says. "It never failed to start, even on the coldest days, and plowed through the snow with a vengeance."

"That being said, I wasn't too concerned about appearances back then."

If you have any repair or maintenance queries for Jason, send him a message at or contact him through Twitter: @JasonTchir

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