With winter just now starting to get harsh, it is a good time to make sure your car is prepared for the conditions to come. Taking a little bit of time and money to prepare your car for winter will almost always pay off in the long run. It is always possible that you can make it through the winter without doing any of these things and have no problems, but if something does happen to come up, you’ll be wishing you had spent a few minutes preparing instead of waiting hours in the freezing cold for help. We have assembled a short list of preparation tips for winterizing your car here, and hopefully with a little bit of prep you can survive another winter trouble-free.
1.Check your coolant
Coolant levels and dilution are of paramount importance when temperatures drop. You should be able to pick up a hydrometer or refractometer for measuring the ratio of coolant:water at most auto parts stores, and by making sure the ratio is correct for the temperatures you will encounter you can prevent the coolant from freezing in your system and causing problems. If you have any questions about how to measure the coolant mixture or what mixture to use in your area, don’t be afraid to ask the folks at your auto parts store or look up charts online.
2. Check your tire pressures
As the temperature drops outside, the air in your tires will get more dense and your tire pressures will drop. This can create dangerous under-inflation conditions which along with decreasing your mileage and tire life can lead to catastrophic failure of your tires. Under-inflation is the leading cause of tire failures, and sadly it is easily preventable. If you do not have a gauge or air compressor, ask around. Most people know someone who has these tools and can help, compressed air is essentially free and so not something most people wont let you have. If you still can’t find anyone go to a dealerships or tire shop and they should be able to help you for no cost.
3. Check your tire tread
Making sure you have traction through the winter months is probably one of the single most important aspects of prepping your car for winter. You can use a ruler or scale if it will fit, or you can use something like a toothpick or small stick to measure the tread depth. Insert the toothpick into the tread and mark the level of the tread rubber on the stick with a marker, then measure the depth using a ruler or tape measure. Check with your local tire shop or online for help on what your measurement means for your specific tire. Most tires have a minimum tread depth of 2/32”. Once the tread wears past this point the tires need replacing, otherwise you will be driving around on essentially ice skates.
4. Consider winter specific tires or traction aids
While most cars come with tires branded as all-season, every car can greatly benefit from a dedicated set of winter tires or in extreme cases chains or studs. Most dealerships or tire sales places can offer you a vehicle matched set of winter tires and rims that will increase the safety of your vehicle on treacherous roads. Winter tires are made with special rubber compounds and tread patterns to enhance traction on slippery surfaces, but would wear too quickly on normal roads during the summer months. Make sure to switch back to regular tires once the threat of snow/ice has moved on for the year. In areas where there will be snow or ice on the roads for long periods of time, chains or studs for your tires are the best option. The only downside to these aids is that they should not be used on normal asphalt, so they are recommended only for areas with prolonged snow coverage.
5.Have your battery and alternator checked
Cold temperatures can cause your battery to produce less cranking amps and leave you stranded on a cold night. Many local auto parts stores can now check your charging system and make sure that your battery will not leave you stranded. They can also make sure your alternator is putting out the correct amperage so that it does not put extra stress on your battery during the harsh winter months and cause it to die on you in the cold.
6. Make sure your engine has the correct viscosity oil
In many part of the world, one weight motor oil will suffice year round. But in certain places, it may be beneficial to switch to a thinner oil during the winter season to provide greater protection during cold starts. Most wear on your engines’ parts occur immediately after cold starts while the engine oil is too thick to properly lubricate moving parts. By switching to less viscous oil you can allow for better protection during the critical warm-up period of your engine running. Sometimes your cars’ owners manual will provide a chart of what weight oil to use for given ambient temperatures, otherwise ask a local mechanic or parts shop employee for recommendations.
7. Be prepared for a breakdown
Being stranded in the cold can be a very dangerous situation, so you should be prepared by making an emergency kit tailored for winter. Include blankets or extra jackets to help keep you warm in case of a breakdown, jumper cables, flares to make you visible to other drivers, and maybe a small shovel in case you get stuck in snow. Spending a few extra dollars and minutes preparing before something happens will make your experience much more bearable if things do break down.
8.Prep your car to increase your visibility
With visibility falling as snowfall picks up, you’re going to want to have prepared your car to offer you the best visibility possible in such terrible conditions. Check your windshield wipers to make sure they are in good condition, and if you anticipate large ice loads they make special wipers for winter driving. You may also want to consider special de-icing washer fluid that wont freeze in your lines and will help clear your windshield. Another good option for helping keep you windows clear is window treatments such as Rain-X which will help keep the ice from sticking and the salty water mess from blocking your view of the roads.
9.Check all the lights on your car
Making sure that other cars can see you is just as important as making sure you can see other cars. Check every bulb on your car and replace any that are dim or burnt out. You may need to recruit a helper to check some of the lights on the rear of your vehicle, but making sure that every bulb works and is the correct bulb can go a long way toward preventing other vehicles from running into you for lack of knowing you are there.
10.Prepare fuel lines and system to stop them from freezing
If your car is older or has been in a cold weather environment for multiple years, it is possible that some water has gotten into the fuel tank and this could lead to freezing in your fuel lines. Most fuels nowadays contain some ethanol (~10%) which should help keep the water from causing problems, but if you have ever had trouble in the past with fuel supply issues or specifically freezing water in your lines you may want to prep the system with one of the the many available additives which can help get rid of water in your fuel system. There are many products out there and running a bottle through your system before temperatures drop could help prevent you form being stranded due to ice in your lines.
You do not want to be stuck out in the freezing snow because of something that could have been prevented by spending 10 minutes at home.