Winter is on it’s way, and cold weather can be tough on cars. So here are a few simple steps you can take to help protect your car from the badness nature can inflict. They’re not all necessary, but they’re all helpful, so do what you can.
1. Change Your Oil and Oil Filter
Changing your oil is always number 1, it’s one of the most important and helpful things you can do as a car owner. You generally don’t need to change the type of oil you use for the winter unless you live in an area where it gets very cold, consistently 10 degrees F. In that case, you’d want to switch from the usual 10W30 to a thinner 5W30. Thinner oil will flow better cold weather, so that when you start your vehicle, the oil gets moving in the engine faster and more efficiently.
Again, changing the type of oil isn’t necessary unless you live in a considerably cold area. But either way, always make sure to change your oil and oil filter when winter comes around.
2. Check You Battery
So many people forget about their battery and end up stuck in some parking lot in the dead of winter asking strangers for a jumpstart. If the battery 5 years old, get a new one, it’s that simple. If it’s a relatively young battery, just check the cables to see if they’re on tight, and look for corrosion. Battery corrosion will be a greenish white powery substance, like this:
If you see any of that on your battery posts, loosen the cables and clean off the corrosion with a wire brush. Make sure you get it all off and clean it up nicely, it’ll improve your battery’s performance. Then just put the cables back on and tighten them up.
3. Replace the Wipers and Wiper Fluid
Wiper blades and fluid are a lot more important than they may seem. If you’re caught in freezing rain with poor blades and no wiper fluid, you could very easily get into an accident.
Wipers blades are usually only good for a year or so at most. Hot summers will distort the rubber and when winter comes, the freezing temperatures causes them to fall apart. It’s always a good idea to replace your wiper blade in the fall just before any serious cold weather.
As for wiper fluid, just pop the hood and fill up your wiper fluid reservoir. The reservoir bottle should say wiper fluid on it and have a picture of a windshield, pretty obvious. It’s pretty common to have clogged wiper fluid nozzles, so it’s a good idea to make sure the fluid is coming out properly. They’re on the hood or on the arm of the windshield wiper. If they are clogged, just take a pin or needle and clear out the nozzle, and it should be fine.
4. Check Your Tires
The last thing you want is a blowout or a flat in the freezing cold winter months. Rubber doesn’t do well in the cold, so tires that are ready to die have a habit of doing it in the winter.
Inspect your tires and the tread. You can use the old penny trick:
Take a penny and hold it so that the top of Lincoln’s head is showing. Place the top of Lincoln’s head into one of the tire tread grooves; try to measure in the lowest point within the tread. If any part of Lincoln’s head is obscured by the tread, you have a safe amount of tread. However, if you can see above Lincoln’s head, then you’re ready for a new tire. Here’s an example:
5. Check Your Antifreeze/Coolant
Anti-freeze should be replaced at least every two years, so if you didn’t do it last year, it’s time. It’s easy to do with an inexpensive tester available at parts and department stores in the automotive section. Those testers just determine if the mixture is 50/50 (50% water and 50% antifreeze), so in addition to that you’ll want to check the levels by eye. Another good idea is to check the color, which can show you if there are any signs of rust or dirt in the system.
6. Check Your Belts
Just like your tires and your wiper blades, belts are made of rubber. Rubber doesn’t like cold. So if your belts are going to go, they’re going to go in the winter. All you really have to do is check for cracks. It may seem difficult to get in there and look at every inch of the serpentine belt, but remember, it’s much easier to look over your fully intact belt on some Sunday afternoon than it is to try to fix a broken belt on the side of the road in the middle of winter.
7. Replace Your Fuel Filter
Your fuel filter keeps dirt and water out of the fuel going to the engine. So when winter comes, the water that has built up in your fuel filter can freeze, and block or slow the flow of fuel. It’s easier to just get a new fuel filter.
If you’re not down for that, you might want to at least consider putting a moisture removal additive in your fuel tank. It’s nearly impossible to prevent at least a small bit of water from getting into your fuel. In the winter, that can lead to frozen fuel lines, so put that additive in every 5 or so fill-ups.
8. Check You Spark Plugs and Wires
Replacing worn out spark plugs will save you fuel and ensure quick starts on cold mornings.
First you’ll want to look over the spark plug wires and make sure they’re not cracked, since that can affect performance and gas mileage. After you look them over you can just give them a twist and pull them off and then remove the spark plugs themselves. Not everyone is mechanically inclined enough to attempt this, but if you are it can be helpful. It’s actually not that difficult. You just ratchet them out, and examine the electrodes for any excessive wear or contamination from engine oil or fuel. If they look clean, they can be re-used. If they’re corroded or fouled from engine oil, be sure to replace them.
9. Make Sure All Your Lights Are Working
It’s easy to have a bulb go out and not notice it. That’s why when winter comes along, it’s good to take some time to make sure all your bulbs are fine. You’ll need someone else to help you with this, but it’s extremely easy. Just have a friend sit in the driver seat, turn on the headlights, then the highbeams, then the turn signals, then check the turn signals in the rear, and then the brakes, and you’re all set. If any lights are out, just head to an automotive store with your car make and model and they’ll be able to help you out.
10. Have a Winter Kit in Your Car
This is actually more important than it sounds. Your winter car kit should include, jumper cables, a blanket in case you get stranded, a small shovel to dig out your car if need be, and an ice scraper to clean off your windshield, a battery powered radio with extra batteries, road salt or sand, emergency flares, and a fluorescent distress flag. It’s always good to be prepared.