As days grow shorter and pumpkin-spiced everything makes way for the winter season; snow, sleet, and rain can turn your daily commute into quite an adventure. But more importantly, the cold weather can take a toll on your beloved ride. So, it’s not just about staying warm; it’s about ensuring your car is up to the challenge.
With that in mind, here are some expert tips to winterize your car:
1. Wash Your Car
What? Wash your car in winter?
Washing your vehicle regularly in any season will help prolong its paint job. But in winter, the rain, snow, and road salt can cause havoc, not only on the finish but rust metal parts too!
If you don’t want to deal with it yourself, you can always go to a car wash service and get it done. Either way, make sure to keep the grime off your vehicle to keep it in good condition.
2. Replace Your Wiper Blades and Keep the Windshield Washer Fluid Full
Fully functional windshield wiper blades become incredibly critical when you’re caught in heavy rain or snowstorms. Switch to new wiper blades if they’re starting to create streaks across your view. You can even get your windshield wiper set customized to the kind of weather you expect to face.
Plenty of snow?
Get winter wiper blades with their own heating element. These will work great with a heated windshield to combat winter conditions.
Expect to face a downpour?
Install wiper blades with a hydrophobic agent that’ll leave a coating on your windshield to help bead water droplets.
And don’t forget to keep your windshield wiper fluid topped up. A single winter storm can empty your wiper fluid reservoir faster than you realize. Preferably, opt for an antifreeze washer fluid that won’t quickly freeze in severe winter weather.
3. Consider Switching to Dedicated Winter Tires
Skiing can be fun, but it’s not something you want to do with your car.
While all-season tires may work, they won’t give you the maximum maneuverability and protection when facing snowy, sleet-coated roads — that’s where dedicated winter tires come in.
If you drive in frigid winters, switching to snow tires is a good idea.
Winter tire material is formulated to resist hardening in freezing temperature conditions and give you better traction in ice, slush, and snow. For extreme winter conditions, you may even require studded tires or tire chains (snow chains). However, check if they’re legal in your area, as some states allow tire chains only on certain roads. Also, not all snow tires are studdable, so keep that in mind if you need studs.
If you live in areas that don’t face extreme cold weather, you can skip the winter tires. But ensure that your all-season tires have enough tread depth to maintain road traction.
4. Check Your Tire Pressure
Cold temperatures affect tire pressure. For every 10oF, your tire pressure drops by 1 PSI (pound per square inch). And that’s happening while your car isn’t even moving.
If your vehicle doesn’t have a tire pressure monitor system, it’s a good idea to have a tire gauge handy. Even better, bring a portable air compressor to pump your tires when the pressure drops.
Also, remember to check the tire pressure in your spare tire to keep it ready for emergencies.
5. Keep Your Fuel Tank At Least Half Filled
Don’t let your gas tank gauge drop below half during winter months.
A full gas tank reduces condensation, which helps prevent fuel line freeze-ups when the colder temperature hits. Also, if you get stranded in a snowdrift, your car might be the only heated refuge available until help comes. So fill up often!
6. Get Your Car Serviced
Winter driving can present many challenges with the freezing temperature and the possibility of a winter storm. With the onset of harsh winter weather, it helps to get a professional checkup and have your vehicle parts winter-prepped:
- Car battery: It takes more battery juice to crank your car in low temperatures. So, get a car battery with at least 600 CCA for optimum winter performance.
- Brakes: Make sure your brakes are at peak performance to cope with slippery, icy conditions.
- Motor oil: Use the correct oil viscosity rating and get regular motor oil changes to avoid viscosity problems.
- Spark plugs, belting, hoses, cables: While these aren’t necessarily affected by cold temperatures, you wouldn’t want any of them to fail and leave you stranded in the cold weather.
- Cabin air filter: Get your car’s cabin air filter replaced to ensure you breathe fresh air, there’s adequate airflow through your car’s heater, and your windows defrost quickly.
- Cooling system: You’ll need the appropriate ratio of coolant (antifreeze) to water to prevent freezing and corrosion. This ratio will typically fall between 50/50 to 70/30. You can check the instructions in your owner’s manual or the back of the antifreeze container. Also, ensure you have added enough coolant to the reservoir to reach your vehicle’s coolant channels and hoses for maximum protection.
7. Prepare a Winter Emergency Kit
You never know what can happen during winter driving, so it doesn’t hurt to prepare an emergency kit for that ‘just-in-case’ situation.
Here’s what your vehicle’s emergency aid kit must have to cope with severe winter weather:
- Jumper cables
- Tire inflator
- Tire patch kit
- Tire pressure gauge
- Triangle reflectors
- Road flares
- Ice scraper and brush
- First aid kit
- Drinking water and snacks
- Gloves and blankets
- Cellphone and charger
8. If Storing, Keep Your Car Safe from Elements
Snow and ice aren’t good for your car. If you want to store your vehicle during winter months, keeping it safe from the elements is the most important thing for any car owner.
If you have a garage, then great — store it there and try to maintain a decent temperature. Otherwise, use a car cover to shield it from rain, ice, and snow.
Do you own a classic car or a recreational vehicle?
You can unplug the battery and store it in a protected place to keep it in good condition. However, this isn’t recommended for modern vehicles as this can reset the engine computer.
Also, you’ll need to keep the tires well inflated and the fluids (fuel, coolant, brake fluid) topped up. Run the engine every week or two to keep the battery charged, or use a battery tender if you aren’t using your car for some time.