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Winterizing a Car Tips

Woman removing snow and ice buildup from her car - winterizing a car.
Table of Contents

When winter arrives, most people prepare their homes and change their wardrobes. Yet, how to winterizing a car is one winter chore that is often overlooked. Cold air, winter precipitation, and rapidly changing driving conditions can have a major effect on your vehicle. As such, it’s important to take steps to prepare your vehicle for the cold months ahead and make sure it’s in the best shape possible to avoid a breakdown during dangerously cold weather.

Take these steps to ensure your vehicle is prepared to handle all your winter driving needs.

1. Make Sure Your Battery is in Top Shape

Your battery’s cranking ability is naturally reduced in cold weather. While this might not be an issue if you have a fairly new battery. A weak or failing battery may not have enough power to start your car in freezing temperatures. Inspect your battery to find the manufacturer’s date. The date label is usually located on the top or back side of the battery. The date on your battery may use a number or letter to represent the month, which can be confusing.

When in doubt about the date of your battery, a parts store representative can likely help you decode your sticker. If the battery is over five years old, you may want to consider a replacement. When winterizing a car, take the time to inspect the battery wires and terminals for corrosion or debris that could impact connectivity.

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2. Check Your Tires

As temperatures get colder, the pressure in your tires decreases. Tire pressure is listed in pounds per square inch (PSI), and the proper pressure for your tires can usually be found on a sticker inside the driver’s door or in the owner’s manual. Use a gauge to check your tire pressure and add air to your tires if needed.

When winterizing a car, it’s also a good idea to check the air in your spare tire and fill it if necessary. Alternatively, if you drive in a lot of slippery conditions, it might be a good idea to switch winter tires.

3. Check and Change Fluids

At the start of winter, it’s important to check all your car’s fluids. Your coolant is most important when temperatures drop. In most locations, it’s recommended that you have a 50/50 balance of antifreeze and water. If you expect to experience extreme cold, a 70/30 ratio might be more appropriate. After you have the right amount of antifreeze, consult your owner’s manual to see if you should use a thinner oil during the winter. Many modern vehicles run the same weight oil during all seasons.

Finally, check your vehicle’s washer fluid. If water was used in your tank, it can cause the tank to crack when temperatures drop below freezing. Fill your washer fluid tank with washer fluid, as there is likely to be more road grime during the winter.

4. Take Steps to Improve Visibility

Winter weather can also mean that your windshield wipers have to work harder. Furthermore, visibility is key in hazardous driving conditions. If your wipers are leaving streaks of water on the windshield or the rubber on the wiper blades shows any signs of cracking or stiffness, it’s time for a new set. You can also change them yourself or have them changed by your mechanic or at your favorite auto parts store.

5. Inspect Belts and Hoses

Rubber belts and hoses become less pliable during the winter and more prone to cracks and breaks. When winterizing a car, check your vehicle’s engine belts and hoses for any cracks and looseness. If you’re unsure about the condition of these parts, take your car to a professional mechanic for a closer inspection and replacement if needed.

6. Clean and Wax Your Car

Rain, snow, and road salt can damage your car’s paint. Washing your vehicle frequently can remove dust and road grime and remove the road salt and other chemicals routinely. By waxing your car before the winter weather sets in, you can make road grime and other debris easier to remove.

Man checking his car's windshield wipers during the winter - winterizing a car tips.

7. Review Your Insurance Coverage

Snow and ice can mean even the most experienced drivers are more likely to get in an accident. If you’re unsure you have adequate auto insurance coverage, it’s important to talk about your potential risks with your independent insurance agent. Ask about your current coverage and if there are any potential gaps in coverage. If you’re concerned about the cost, it’s also a great time to ask about discounts you may be eligible for.

Taking special care of your car during the winter months can help you prolong its lifespan and keep your vehicle running during frigid temperatures and inclement weather. Like protecting your home and yourself from the cold temperatures, winterizing a car goes a long way.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I really need to winterize my car?

Yes. Winter weather and road conditions make a big impact on the way your vehicle runs and drives. Without the right antifreeze ratio, water can freeze in your radiator or different motor parts and cause significant damage to your car. If you’re unfamiliar with winterizing a car, make an appointment to have it taken care of by a mechanic.

How do I know if I need to change my fluids?

If you regularly maintain your own vehicle, it’s important to write down the details of each service. It’s also a good idea to keep service records if you regularly have your car serviced by a professional mechanic. If you’re unsure about changing your fluids for the winter, your owner’s manual is a good place to start. You can learn about the fluids your car should run in the winter.

When in doubt, it’s best to take your car to a mechanic to have it inspected and serviced.

What items should I have in a winter emergency roadside kit?

There are many reasons winter weather can leave you stranded on the road. Cold temperatures also mean the situation can quickly become dangerous. Your emergency roadside kit should include:

  • A blanket
  • Jumper cables
  • Tire patch kit
  • Ice scraper and brush
  • Flashlight
  • Road flares
  • First aid kit
  • Phone charger
  • Cat litter or traction pads

What can I do if my door lock is frozen?

Forcing frozen door locks can break locking mechanisms or door keys if you try to force them. Hot water can compound the problem when the lock freezes again. Hardware stores and auto parts stores also carry glycerin de-icing sprays that can be used to thaw frozen locks.

Can road salt damage my car?

The chemicals used to melt ice and snow on public roads can have a major impact on your vehicle’s paint, metal body, and frame. Road salts also react chemically with water and air to speed up the oxidation process that causes rust. To avoid damage, it’s important to wash your car frequently and thoroughly during the winter.

For more tips about winterizing a car and other important car maintenance tips, contact us today.

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