Winter is challenging not only on our bodies as we add on extra layers of clothes to stay warm and avoid getting sick from the winter weather, but it can also be tough on your car. You need to winterize your car like you would prepare yourself and your home for winter. Getting your vehicle ready for the cold months ahead means you have a winterized car for cold weather, ice, slush, snow, and rain. This article breaks down what winterizing is, why it is crucial, and what steps to take to ensure it is done correctly.
What is a Winterized Car?
Winter takes a toll on your vehicles, even if you do not live in an area that gets inches of regular snowfall. Freezing temperatures can negatively impact your car, so avoiding damage and winterizing your vehicle is imperative. Basically, winterizing your vehicle is preparing it against the environmental effects of winter to prevent damage from occurring and ensure the safety of the vehicle's occupants.
The best time to winterize your car is before winter starts. Failing to prepare your vehicle in time could leave you stranded in some freezing winter conditions or in need of emergency services.
Winterizing your car depends on several factors, including:
- Where you live and your road conditions during the winter months.
- What kind of car do you own
- How old your car is
While most cars produced after the 1980s have improved their seasonal durability, it is still vital to ensure you have a winterized car. According to an auto repair shop owner, Kevon Roth, winterizing your vehicle is highly important for protecting it against harsh winter conditions, especially concerning snow tires and anti-freeze wiper fluid.
"When people don't get their car winterized, they risk more breakdowns, anti-freeze failure, and not having enough traction on their tires, which can cause an accident," Roth says. As temperatures drop further, your risks increase.
How to Winterize Your Car
There are certain things all drivers can do to winterize their car; however, there isn't a one-size-fits-all method. Still, the tips below in this handy guide can help you get your car winter-ready.
Tip 1: Tire Tread and Type
Regardless of what vehicle gets you from A to B, the only thing connecting your vehicle to the road; the tires. One of the first areas you should inspect on your car as winter approaches are your tires.
Ensure your tires have enough tread depth. The worn-down tread is dangerous because you will notice diminished performance, your stopping distance will be much longer (especially on slippery roads), and your resistance to hydroplaning decreases.
Tip 2: Check Your Tire Pressure
A severely deflated tire can easily cause a blowout, especially if you hit a pothole. A blowout could leave you stranded on the side of the road in freezing temperatures. It could also cause an accident if you are driving on slippery roads.
Regularly check the air pressure in each of your tires. Each 10-degree temperature drop can cause a one-pound loss in air pressure. If you are not sure of what your air pressure should be, then look for a sticker on your car's door jam or trunk lid, or you can consult your owner's manual for the recommended air pressure.
Tip 3: Consider Winter Tires
If you frequently drive in slippery conditions, you should consider changing your all-season tires for a complete set of dedicated winter tires. They are specialized tires that have tread patterns and rubber compounds that provide more traction and a stable driving experience. Even car owners of four-wheel-drive vehicles should consider snow tires. If you decide to go ahead with winter tires, you should mount them on inexpensive steel wheels. As the weather warms up again, you can switch to all-season tires again for better fuel efficiency.
If you know you will endure extreme winter driving conditions, like a snowstorm, studded snow tires or even tire chains may become necessary since they can handle harsh road surfaces. However, before investing in tire chains, make sure they are legal in your home state.
Tip 4: Test Your Car's Battery
Car engines are more difficult to start during cold temperatures because as the temperature drops, the chemical reactions inside the car's battery slow down. At the same time, the engine struggles to turn over in cold weather because of the thickened engine oil.
Ensure you regularly check your battery because batteries do not handle the winter months well. If you have a maintenance-free battery, check the window at the top of the battery as it may indicate how much charge the battery has. If you cannot read the charge, you can take the battery to a service station, repair store, or auto parts store for professional testing.
Tip 5: Check Your Engine Oil
As mentioned in the step above, engine oil thickens during cold temperatures, making it difficult for the engine to turn correctly. Modern vehicles use a multi-weight engine oil which is better suited for varying temperatures. However, some automakers recommend specific grades of oil relative to particular temperature ranges. When in doubt, consult your owner's manual and carefully plan your oil changes so that your engine always has the correct type of oil for the seasonal temperature changes.
Tip 6: Check Your Cooling System
Extreme cold temperatures can cause the rubber parts of your car to become brittle. During the winter months, check the radiator and the heater hoses for any signs of cracking, leaking, or contamination from grease or oil. The heater hoses should be firm but also somewhat flexible when squeezed. If they feel too soft or brittle, replace them.
A car's cooling system should be flushed every two years to prevent corrosion from building up. If a coolant flush is due soon, rather have it done before the temperatures drop and the winter months roll in. You should refill your cooling system with a coolant mixture of water and anti-freeze - this is typically a 50/50 ratio. This ratio may vary during freezing temperatures from 50/50 to 70/30 or 60/40.
Tip 7: Fill the Fluids
Whether your car is an all-wheel-drive that can get across uneven road surfaces or a four-wheel-drive that can take on snowy roads with ease, it is crucial to maintain proper transmission fluid levels. Your car's transmission plays several roles, including gear lubrication, engine cooling, and protecting the interior metal. Consult your trusty owner's manual for the transmission service intervals.
Before heading out onto wintery roads, make sure you have washer fluid and a full gas tank. Check and fill your windscreen washer fluid frequently because it will help wash away any debris, mud, dirt, ice, etc. while driving. A full gas tank should always be at the top of your list in case you run low and cannot get to a gas station in time. You do not want to be stranded and walking in icy cold temperatures.
Tip 8: Wiper Blades
Heavy rainfall not only causes slippery roads, but it can also make it difficult to see out of the front window. Replace your windshield wipers at least once a year, or every six months. Scratching or squeaking noises on the windshield or skid marks left behind are all signs that your wiper blades need replacing. Some hardware stores and auto parts stores sell heated windshield wipers that last longer, even in freezing temperatures.
Tip 9: Car Wash
Car washes are great because while your car enjoys a fresh new look again, it also helps protects your car's paint. Be mindful, though; car washes can also cause damage. Use the right washing solutions for the different fabrics and areas of your vehicle. Hand-wash the problematic spots that have had dirt build-up for a while and use a microfiber cloth. Waxing your car is another way to help protect your vehicle during the taxing winter months, and it will help the liquids roll right off the surface.
Regular car washes are also beneficial to the lifespan of your car because a good wash keeps the mechanical components in good working order. Road salt, snow, rain, and dusty road conditions can cause paint erosion and damage the car's exterior. If you do not regularly wash your vehicle, gunk can quickly build up and cause fluid leaks, corrosion, and even engine malfunction.
Tip 10: Warm Up the Car
Even if you drive a modern car with all the right bells and whistles, you shouldn't skip the engine warm-up completely. Allowing some idling time before you move off gives the oil some time to warm up, thin out, and flow better. While you scrape away any snow, allow your car some idling time so that it is ready to hit the road.
While you idle the engine to get it going properly and scrape away the snow, you should use your car's defrosters to clear the windshield and ensure you have full visibility before driving away. Test your car's heater regularly to ensure the defrost mode is always in full working order.
Tip 11: Have an Emergency Supplies Kit
You never know when the unexpected may occur, so it is better to always be prepared with an emergency kit.
Consider including the following items:
- Jumper cables
- Tire pressure gauge
- Tire inflator
- Tire patch kit
- Blankets, water, flashlight
- First aid kit
- Phone charger
- Ice scraper
- Non-perishable food
- Tool kit
- Extra clothes
- Preventative Maintenance is Key
Preventative maintenance helps curb severe damage to the vehicle, and most importantly, keeps you and your passengers safe, especially when facing winter driving conditions. Regular servicing and winterizing your car aids preventative maintenance and prolongs your vehicle's lifespan.
Give your car a once over every winter, and remember to keep your emergency kit handy in the car at all times. Patience is vital too when preparing to head out onto the winter roads. Allow your car to warm up and take your time to scrape away ice and snow and defrost the windows. Remember, drive slowly and cautiously and give other drivers plenty of space on the road. A winterized car is excellent, but you need to drive carefully, too.