How to Winterize Your Car

How to Winterize your car for cold weather driving.

The winter months can be very damaging to a vehicle. Cold air can freeze water lines and make it hard for an engine to work correctly. Snow and ice can produce potholes and make driving surfaces slick and hazardous. Before winter sets in is when you should winterize your car.

With these suggestions, you can winterize your automobile and prepare it for the next freeze. Let’s start at the beginning so you can drive safely in the snow.

Take Care of Your Car in the Winter Months

The time to prepare your vehicle for the winter months is before inclement weather begins. You can take several steps to winterize your car in preparation for the upcoming winter.

The majority of these stages may be accomplished by yourself for very little money out of pocket.

Completing just a few tips will help keep you and your family safe during the upcoming winter driving season.

Simple Steps to Winterize Your Car

1) Check Water/Antifreeze Mixture – This is the most important item to inspect BEFORE it gets too cold outside. If the fluid inside your radiator is not mixed correctly, it could freeze and damage your engine and 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 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 need more. If the combination is off, add more antifreeze.

2) Inspect the Vehicle’s Battery – Cold weather will kill a car’s battery quickly and without warning. Remember, this happens typically 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 frigid days a fully charged battery will only have about half its usable power to turn over the engine.

Inspect the vehicle’s battery; 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. Remember, if you throw a belt during the winter, you’ll have to wait in the 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, making it unable to lubricate the engine as well as a thinner oil can.

This can affect a vehicle when starting it up after being parked in the cold for an extended period. You should never rev up a vehicle’s engine during start-up. This can adversely affect 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 your driving climate.

5) Windshield Wiper Fluid and Blades – Most drivers will use their windshield wipers more during the winter than at any other time of the year. It would be best if you inspected 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. Many fluids are available with a deicer 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 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 a four-wheel-drive (4WD), you will want to ensure it engages and disengages without any problems.

Check that the gear and transmission oil levels are correct and no strange noises are coming from the system while it’s being used.

Suppose it has been a long time since you’ve activated the 4WD. Review the owner’s manual to ensure all the driver’s know-how and at what speeds to start 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 them to ensure 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 heating system while also checking the defroster.

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 unique 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 are several items to consider, including:

  • A small tool kit
  • Tire chains
  • Jumper cables
  • First-aid kit, flares, and a flashlight (Change the batteries annually).
  • Ice scraper, snow brush, and a small snow shovel.
  • Gloves, a hat, warm clothes, and a couple of 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).
  • A 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 vehicle’s body. 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.

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 entry 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 hairdryer or deicer.

You have a couple of options to keep your door locks from freezing. You can dip your key into Vaseline, insert it into the lock cylinder, and turn it a few times to ensure 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, hold the key with a gloved hand and use a lighter to heat 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.

Be a Smart Car Shopper

Before visiting a dealership to buy a new car, it’s essential to know the dealer invoice price and what other people are paying for the vehicle in your local area. Otherwise, you won’t know a reasonable price to pay for any car you’re looking to buy.

Learn how to have dealers compete with each other online before ever stepping foot inside a dealership to guarantee you pay the best new car price and avoid any modern-day car dealer scams.

I highly recommend using an online referral service such as Ryde Shopper or Motor Trend. Their quotes will automatically include any discounts or cash-back incentives currently available in the marketplace.

Suppose you’re not sure where to begin the car buying process. Please look at my new car buying cheat sheet for a step-by-step guide on how to buy a new car and get a great deal.

About the author
Carlton Wolf is the author and founder of Auto Cheat Sheet.My name is Carlton Wolf, and I’ve been in the car business since 1994, both retail and wholesale. I created the Auto Cheat Sheet to better educate buyers about the deceptive sales practices used by many dealerships throughout the country. Please understand that not all car dealers are dishonest. However, you never know who you’ll be dealing with, though. I’m willing to share my knowledge and experience with anyone who listens. Keep in mind that I’m a car guy, not a writer.