At the helm

by Dave Helms


With the lifting of the clouds this week, we can all see that the changing of the seasons has come.  We are down to the last few weeks of quality fall driving, and it’s time to start thinking of the winter needs of the Ferrari.

I am going to outline the procedures that I have adapted to the Colorado climate. I mention this because my apprenticeship on Ferrari's was undertaken in Minnesota, the land of road salt, high humidity and hideous temperature extremes lasting for close to a half a year. 

These are the factors that we must look at when prepping the car for a winter rest.

The first, and arguably the most important thing to look at are the fluids.  Engine oils are a widely discussed topic already, so I will simply break it down to a Synthetic vs. Petroleum based discussion. 

I recommend the synthetic oils on the cars that see a fair amount of garage time and a lot of city driving. They have a better cling rate, break down slower, flow much better when cold and have a higher flash point than the petroleum based oils. When sitting in T-Rex traffic, with the ambient temperature hovering around 100 degrees, the A/C blasting and the temp gauge edging over that sacred centerline the use of synthetic oil will restore your “peace of mind”.  Petroleum based oils, commonly referred to as "dead dinosaur juice" in the industry, is better suited for a southern climate where the daily low temperatures are very mild, so “cold starts” and “my daily driver” are really relative terms.  When using either petroleum or synthetic oils, over time acids build up in the oil, and these acids eat away at the bearing material in the engine.  The use of titanium and other exotic metals in the late model cars dictates regular oil changes are a must. Winter storage of the Ferrari with fresh oil sitting in the crankcase is one of the best preventative maintenance measures one can do.

Not far behind the engine oil issue is the brake fluid debate.  Brake fluid is hydroscopic, which means it absorbs moisture. When the car becomes inactive over the winter months, water tends to separate and lay on the bottom of various components in the brake system causing corrosion. Ferrari recommends a 12-month change interval on most of its models.  For cars that see track use this interval must be moved up, to as little as 3 months between changes.  It is not uncommon when flushing the brakes to see little black particles being flushed out with the old fluid. Typically these are small chunks of rubber seals that have decomposed from heat or corrosion and must be removed from the system before they contribute to the failure of other components.

The last of the fluids that must be looked at are the coolant and the transmission fluids.  In both of these areas there have been vast improvements in the last few years. First off lets look at the engine coolant.  I recommend only using the extended life Prestone antifreeze in a 50/50 mix with water. 

There are many "recycled" antifreeze brands on the market now, and I have yet to identify all the brands.  With these you can actually see sediment in the bottom of the jug!  This is simply not worth the risk to save literally a few dollars.  I have found that changing the coolant every 2 years has been satisfactory and falls in line with what Ferrari recommends.  The transmission fluid / gear oil debate seems to rage on, with no end in site.  I have been using the Mobil 1, 75w-90 since it was new to the market, and have had no problems.  Amsoil is another high quality gear oil that is commonly used in the Ferraris. Either way, synthetic is the answer here!  Many notchy Ferrari gear change problems have been resolved by a simple fluid change.  Some of the late model cars that use dip sticks for checking transmission fluid level, have the plating etched off of the stick where the fluid is in contact on cars when this interval has not been followed. Play it safe, and stick to Ferraris’ 2-year change interval.


My last column spoke of battery tenders to maintain the cars electrical system over extended non-use periods.  With Colorado weather being as it is, having a fully charged battery ready for that perfect mid winter drive should be reason enough to have one installed. Another way to think of this is to imagine a 5-year battery actually lasting 5 years!  The Ferrari engineers (with their sense of humor) decided somewhere in the early 70's that it was time to make you work, bleed and swear when replacing the battery in your Ferrari. Do yourself a favor and have the tender installed, and consider this a problem of years gone by.

The last thing that I recommend is to get a few cans of WD-40, and mist all of the aluminum and plated components in the engine bay.  Back in Minnesota we started doing this because of salt corrosion.  The salt would drip off the daily driver that was parked next to the Ferrari in the garage, and would in turn start etching all of the aluminum castings and the gold cad. plated hardware. 

I found that spraying the entire engine bay with WD-40 stopped this problem.  Back then I would buy it by the gallon and load it in a garden sprayer to douse the cars.  In the spring we would wash the engine bay, and to our delight the castings were looking like they were showroom new!  Adjusting this procedure from the tundra conditions of Minnesota to the beautiful Colorado climate means you can have the same benefits with a couple of spray cans. Spraying the engine compartment down should be done outside due to the smell and must be done on a cold engine. Let it sit there a few hours for the carrier to evaporate then pull it in the garage.  A few applications like this will bring back the luster and the glow of the incredible aluminum castings.

For those of you that own a Spider, never let it sit with the top down for more than two days, durning the summer or winter. The canvas top material has a nasty tendency to shrink, causing any number of linkage and hydraulic problems.  Cycling the top once every two weeks throughout the winter months, will do the system alot of good.  No need to start the car, just turn the ignition on and run the top through a full cycle or two.
Looking forward to that 60 degree January day,

-- dave helms --