How to Winterize Your Car for Cold Weather Driving

Winter months can be very damaging to a vehicle. Cold air can freeze water lines and make it hard for an engine to work properly. Snow and ice can produce potholes and make driving surfaces slick and hazardous.

The time to prepare your vehicle for the winter months is before inclement weather begins. There are several steps you can take to winterize your vehicle in preparation for the upcoming winter season. Most of these steps can be completed by yourself with only a minimal amount of money out of pocket. Completing just a few of these tips will help keep you and your family safe during the upcoming winter driving season.

Simple Tips To Winterize a Car for Cold Weather Driving

1) Check Water/Antifreeze Mixture - This is the most important item to inspect BEFORE it gets to cold outside. If the fluid inside your radiator is not mixed correctly, it could freeze and seriously damage your engine and/or some internal parts.

The standard formula is 50:50, water and coolant (antifreeze). if the formula is high or low on either side, the cold or hot performance of the mixture may suffer and damage your engine. Most antifreeze comes pre-mixed when you buy it from a store, these mixtures will keep the fluid in your radiator from freezing until the temperature drops below -34 degrees F.

Most auto parts stores will test your vehicle's radiator mixture with an antifreeze tester for free in hopes you'll purchase from them if you're in need of more. If the mixture is off, just add more antifreeze.

2) Inspect the Vehicle's Battery - Cold weather will kill a car's battery quickly and without warning. Keep in mind, this normally happens at the worst possible time (When you have to be somewhere right now). It takes more current to turn over an engine on a cold winter's day and on very cold days a fully charged battery will only have about half of its useful power to turn over the engine.

Visually inspect the battery of the vehicle, if you notice corrosion on the posts, clean them with a water/baking soda mixture and a small wire brush. If your battery is three years old, or older. Have it tested by a certified mechanic or repair facility (many auto parts stores will do a charging system test free of charge).

3) Visually Inspect all Belts and Hoses - Although it doesn't happen often, prolonged exposure to cold weather can accelerate the deterioration of belts and hoses on a vehicle. Inspect them for abnormal cracks or wear, especially in the bends of the hose. You can do this yourself or have a certified mechanic look at them before the start of winter. Keep in mind, if you throw a belt during the winter, you'll have to wait in the freezing cold until the tow truck driver picks you up.

4) Change the Engine Oil and Adjust the Viscosity - Cold temperatures can severely reduce engine oil's effectiveness. The colder it is outside, the thicker the oil gets and makes it unable to lubricate the engine as well as a thinner oil can. This can really effect a vehicle when first starting it up after it's been parked in the cold for a long period of time. You should never rev-up a vehicle's engine during start up. This can have negative effects on the internal components since the oil has not been thoroughly circulated.

To make sure you have proper lubrication for your engine in the winter. Check the vehicle's owner's manual to see what viscosity oil is recommended for the climate you will be driving in.

5) Windshield Wiper Fluid and Blades - Most drivers will use their windshield wipers more during the winter than any other time of the year. You should inspect your wipers for any wear or tear, the lifespan of a wiper blade is about one year. A good habit to get into is changing them right before the winter season because there's nothing like driving through precipitation with brand new windshield wipers on your car.

Make sure your windshield wiper reservoir is topped off also. There are many fluids available with a de-icer mixed in to give it a lower freezing temperature.

Add a coat of Rain-X to your windshield (and other glass) this will help bead up precipitation and also make it easier to clean salt, grime and bug residue off your windshield.

6) Check for the Correct Tire Pressure - Keep your tires properly inflated. Your tire's air pressure will drop one pound per square inch (PSI) for every ten degree drop in temperature. Properly inflated tires give you the best grip between you and the road, especially driving in undesirable conditions.

7) Make Sure the Four-Wheel-Drive System Works Properly - If your vehicle is equipped with four-wheel-drive (4WD), you will want to make sure it engages and disengages without any problems. Make sure the gear and transmission oil levels are correct and there are no strange noises coming from the system while it's in being used.

If it has been a long time since you've activated the 4WD. Review the owner's manual to make sure all the driver's know how and at what speeds to activate the 4WD.

8) Operate the Heater and Windshield Defroster - The time to find out your windshield defroster doesn't work is not when it's freezing outside. Operate your heater and defroster before you need it to make sure it works. Go ahead and check the air conditioner also. If you're unaware, you can expedite the defrost process is to run the A/C at the same time. Just turn the temp dial to warm so you're not defeating your purpose. Don't forget to check your heater system while your checking the defroster also.

9) Look into a Set of Snow Tires - If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow during the winter and you have a little extra cash, you may want to consider purchasing a good set of snow tires.

Snow tires are made of a softer material for better flexibility, have special tread patterns, and some even have built in studs for better traction on the ice and snow. Snow tires are not the "cure all" for driving in the winter, but they will give you more stability than you would have with regular all-season tires.

10) Roadside Emergency Kit - A small kit of emergency supplies is always nice to have if you find yourself stuck on the side of the road on a cold winter's night. You can purchase a preassembled roadside emergency kit or throw one together yourself. Depending on how elaborate you want your kit, here's several items to consider including:

  • A small tool kit
  • Tire chains
  • Jumper cables
  • First-aid kit, flares and a flashlight (Change the batteries every year).
  • Ice scraper, snow brush and small snow shovel.
  • Gloves, hat, warm clothes and a couple blankets.
  • Small bag of abrasive material such as kitty litter, salt or sand (use for tire traction if needed).
  • Hand, feet and body pocket warmers (replace each year with new ones).
  • Food and water (check expiration dates every year).
  • Portable air pump that plugs into your vehicles.

11) Keep Car Doors and Locks from Freezing - It can be very frustrating to go out to your vehicle and your door or locks are frozen. You can keep doors from freezing shut by applying a light coat of cooking spray (Pam) on the door jamb where the weather-stripping meets the body of the vehicle. This keeps the moisture from freezing the door to the jamb. Depending on the severity of the climate, you may need to reapply every week or so.

If your door is already frozen be careful not to force open the door, you may break the internal mechanisms of the handle or damage the weather-stripping on the door. Check all the doors, including the hatch, to see which door is less frozen. Using your hand break the ice around the seal and edges of the opening. If that doesn't work you may need to resort to using a hair dryer or de-icer.

You have a couple options to keep your door locks from freezing. You can dip your key into Vaseline and insert it into the lock cylinder and turn it a few times to make sure the Vaseline lubricates the entire lock. You can also use WD-40 to do the same. The only downfall to this technique is your keys may have some residue on them after being used.

If the door lock is already frozen use a hold the key with a gloved hand and use a lighter to heat up the key. Slowly work it into the lock cylinder and be careful not to force it. The heated key will melt the ice allowing you to unlock your vehicle.

Competition Between Dealers Always Gets You the Best Price

When negotiating a new car's price, it's important to know the dealer invoice price and what other people are paying for the same vehicle in your local area. Otherwise, you won't know what's a good price to pay for the vehicle. I highly recommend using an online referral service such as Edmunds or TrueCar, their quotes will automatically include any discounts or cash-back incentives currently available.

In addition, the above sites will tell you which dealerships in your local area are currently the most flexible with their new car pricing. These sites provide valuable information for anyone thinking about buying or leasing a new car or truck.