Suspended Animation – Storing your Model T Ford

With fall weather approaching many Model T enthusiasts face the last ride of the season. If you live in an area with snowy winter weather the Model T will probably be off the road until spring time brings more favorable driving conditions. This leads us to the subject at hand which is an in depth look at the best practices for keeping the old Model T in shape for that first ride of the next driving season.

Above we see Henry Ford’s personal car in the winter of 1914, a custom built 1914 Couplet. We see snow on the ground next to the driveway – straw hat season is over. Needless to say he would have driven the car to work that day with a bowler hat!

We will break down the areas that need special attention for winter storage. Bear in mind that these same areas would require the same sort of treatment for long term storage. Unless otherwise noted, all the same techniques will be applicable.

Not many of us use our cars during the winter like this fellow.

The cooling system is one of the most important things needing attention on your Model T whether you plan to drive the car today or store it for the next few months. The radiator is one of the most expensive parts of a Model T, with replacements costing anywhere from $700 – $2000 depending upon the year model.  Ford recommended using anti freeze as early as 1909, when motorists typically mixed alcohol with water to use in the radiator during winter months.

A 1937 advertisement for Prestone anti freeze.

The Eveready Corporation invented ethylene glycol “Prestone” brand anti freeze for use in World War 1 aircraft engines. By 1920 it was in wide use as an automotive anti freeze. An added benefit of ethylene glycol is that it prevents corrosion when mixed with an appropriate amount of water.

Here is a chart found on the side of a Peak brand anti freeze jug. Your Model T has between 10 quarts and 14 quarts capacity in its cooling system. For corrosion protection you will want at least 50% ethylene glycol . More than 70% ethylene glycol is not recommended because the ability to transfer heat would be diminished greatly. In general, if the radiator is drained, a gallon of ethylene glycol and the rest water is a good mix for most of the world.

When you store your Model T you do not want to drain the coolant from the radiator. Keeping the system full of coolant prevents corrosion. When warm weather arrives you just need to check the coolant level, which should be a little lower than the word “Ford” on the radiator.

Your Model T’s tires are sensitive to storage conditions. With a new tire costing anywhere from $100 – $300 each it is wise to treat your tires with respect and to care for them appropriately.

The best storage for tires on your Model T would be to remove the weight of the car from the tires entirely. This means the car would be suspended by jack stands under the axles, with the wheels elevated slightly clear of the ground. This will allow the tire to maintain a round shape, eliminating the possibility of flat spots caused by sitting on the floor for months in the same spot. Tire manufacturers suggest reducing tire pressure 50% during such storage. Before the car is lowered onto its tires for driving, the pressure should be adjusted up to proper inflation pressure.

Tire pressure for Model T Fords by tire size:

30″ X 3 1/2″ clincher tire pressure = 60 – 70 PSI

30″ X 3″ clincher tire pressure = 50 – 60 PSI

4.50″ X 21″ tire pressure = 30 – 40 PSI

Tires can also be damaged by sunlight. If the car is stored near a window or in an area with sky lights the tires should be covered with an opaque material such as cloth or plastic to protect the tires from ultra violet rays. Recreational Vehicle stores sell tire covers made especially for this purpose.

model t ford fuel system

In general the gasoline sold today is far better than what was available when our Model T’s were new. One thing that is common between the gasoline of 100 years ago and the gasoline of today is the fact that gasoline does not age well. Unlike a fine Bordeaux or a vintage claret, gasoline begins to go bad from the moment it is dispensed from the pump. There are all sorts of products sold at the auto part store and heavily advertised on TV and radio that claim to increase the shelf life of gasoline. Unfortunately they don’t do much except exploit your hopes and dreams while emptying your wallet.

The best thing that you can do when storing your Model T for more than a week or two is to drain the fuel from both the gas tank and the carburetor. Ford provided petcocks at both locations to make this quite easy. Be careful when draining fuel, this should be done with lots of ventilation. Hot water heaters with gas flames have been known to cause fumes to explode. Gas that is drained can be used in your daily driver. A Model T runs best on fresh fuel. When you drive the car in the spring, a couple gallons of new gas are just the thing you need.

If you are like most Model T owners, your car is equipped with a lead acid battery. One thing that is common to all lead acid batteries: they can easily be ruined if they are allowed to discharge. Lead acid batteries can last up to a decade if they are kept fully charged.  You should invest in a decent battery charger that will maintain your battery properly whether the car is in storage or not.

Antique battery chargers make nice decorations for your man cave or garage. They should not be operated as they can easily overcharge a battery and cause a fire or explosion, or simply ruin the battery. Even if they work perfectly they are not as good as any of the high quality chargers on the market today. Equally dangerous and troublesome are some of the “battery tenders” that have been sold in the past and even until the present time.

What you need to look for in a battery charger is the word “Automatic” on the UL label. You may desire other features, such as a 6 volt / 12 volt selector if you have both kinds of batteries in your vehicles. Modern battery chargers are microprocessor controlled to give a battery a charge cycle that will not overcharge the battery. In fact, the “automatic” feature means that the charger will stop charging once the battery reaches a full state of charge. Generally these automatic battery chargers cost from $50 – $100 so they are not going to cause a financial calamity. In fact a good battery charger, used with care, will save money spent on batteries.

Does this man that you can connect a battery charger and then, as they say in New Jersey, “Fuggettaboutit”? No it does not. Batteries and battery chargers have been known to malfunction.  Anything that can go wrong will – someday when it is most inconvenient for you. You don’t want to have to use your automobile and home owner’s insurance simultaneously to cover a fire ravaged garage and car. Best practice is to connect the charger, use it for 24 hours, then disconnect it for 30 days.

There are also low amperage “Battery Maintainers” that are not really designed to charge a battery, but are advertised as being suitable for connecting to a vehicle in storage, then ignoring them for months. This is a recipe for disaster as seen in the above paragraph. The smaller and cheaper the device, the less quality that it has, and the more likely it is to fail unexpectedly.

The subject of insurance has been mentioned, and it needs to be discussed further. Many enthusiasts live in states or countries where the cost of insurance is astronomical. If you should chose to reduce your insurance coverage during times of storage on your vehicle(s), you still need to maintain adequate fire, theft, and loss coverage, often collectively called “comprehensive” insurance. Some insurance companies will offer this coverage without liability and collision coverage, others will not. Typically home owner’s insurance will not cover damage or losses associated with automobiles. Make sure that you know what you have and what you need.

Protecting the car’s interior and top upholstery from damage by rodents and insects is another problem often encountered when storing a vehicle. Mickey and his friends and family seem harmless when you see them at Disneyland, but they have been known to ruin a car’s interior in a short period of time. Remedies can include cats, traps, repellents, and poison. Use any or all of these depending upon where you live, what type of structure the car is stored in, and what the threat level is. The top is best kept erect on open cars in order to prevent shrinkage and wrinkles. Side curtains should never be folded, they should be either rolled up or stored flat.

A car cover is needed to protect the car’s painted surfaces. If you use a cotton or flannel cover it needs to be washed periodically, perhaps once a year, to keep it useful at stopping dust accumulation. There are custom fitted covers that work on the tallest Model T sedans and the smallest speedster.  Shop carefully  and compare prices. The same cover can be sold for double the price at a boutique operation with a glossy magazine that can be found at Wally World for much less money.

More Model T’s have been hurt by poor storage than by accidents. Take care of yours well and it will last until the next owner buys it at your estate sale some day.

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