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Winterize Your Car: Essential Tips for Cold-Weather Preparedness

While most can appreciate the beauty of freshly fallen snow, driving through it can be treacherous. Setting aside time to winterize your car can go a long way to ensure your safety and the safety of others during harsh winter conditions.

Winterize Your Car

Even if you have a garage or don’t plan on driving your car this winter, you should still prep your car for the winter. Just like we pull out the heavy coats, boots and sweaters to combat the cold temperatures, your car requires extra care to run at its best during the winter months. Preparing your car for winter can prevent accidents and save you from unexpected repair expenses. Before you hit the road this winter, here are some tips on how to winterize a car.

Car Maintenance Checklist

1. Fuel management

Keep your gas tank full. A full tank will prevent condensation in your tank and gas lines. It will also help if you’re stranded in an emergency situation.

Tip: If the temperature drops into the negatives or you’re unable to keep your tank full, you may want to consider fuel additives to prevent the gas lines and any moisture in the tank from freezing.

2. Maintenance checks

Schedule an appointment to remedy any outstanding maintenance issues. If you feel comfortable, you can perform simple DIY maintenance or make any necessary repairs on your own. Either way, be sure to check the following:

  • Cooling and exhaust systems: Check for cracks and leaks.
  • Battery: Cold temperatures put additional stress on your battery. Make sure that your battery has enough power to start your car, and check for signs of corrosion.
  • Brakes: While the cold weather doesn’t affect the brakes, it’s important to confirm they’re in good working condition. Having confidence in your brakes will help when navigating icy roads.
  • Belts, hoses and wires: These components can weaken in the cold. Check the wires and belts for fraying and cracks, and check the hoses for leaks and bulges.

Winterizing an electric car is all about battery longevity. Consider the following to prolong the charge on your car’s battery: 

  • Precondition your car by running the heat while it’s still plugged in.
  • Turn on your heated seats and steering instead of the cabin heater, which uses more battery power.
  • Keep your car in the garage to increase the charge on your battery, and use Eco mode to improve battery efficiency.

Your car requires different fluids in order to run efficiently. Check your fluid levels frequently to avoid complications.

  • Coolant: Keeping the proper ratio of coolant and antifreeze in the tank will help your engine run at the correct temperature and prevent engine corrosion. Neglecting the coolant and antifreeze can lead to your engine freezing or cracking.
  • Motor oil: Colder temperatures can cause oil to thicken, leading to unnecessary stress on your engine. Refer to your owner’s manual for the recommended oil to use during the winter months.
  • Transmission fluid: Like motor oil, cold temperatures can thicken transmission fluid. Thick transmission fluid can impede the lubrication of your engine parts.
  • Windshield wiper fluid: Depending on where you live, you probably use more wiper fluid in the winter than any other season. By checking your wiper fluid regularly, you can avoid running out when you need it most. If you live in an area with extreme cold temperatures, consider using a wiper fluid with antifreeze and deicing properties. You may want to keep a gallon in your car to fill up on the go.

Tip: Inspect your windshield wipers. If they appear worn or leave streaks on the windshield, it may be time to replace them. New windshield wipers will improve your visibility in winter conditions.

3. Snow tires installation and tire pressure

If you live in an area with frequent and heavy snowfall, you can winterize car tires. Snow tires are designed to withstand colder temperatures, allowing for better traction in winter conditions.

Make sure your tires are properly inflated and in good condition. If the tread is worn, you’ll want to replace the tires for safety. Pay careful attention to the tire pressure. Cold temperatures can affect the pressure in your tires. It’s best to check often and add more air when needed.

Tip: If local jurisdictions allow it, you can install snow chains on your tires. Snow chains offer enhanced traction in extreme snowy conditions. 

4. Exterior care

Exposure to rain, slush, snow and road salt can damage the exterior of your car. Washing your car regularly can help prevent damage to the paint. For an extra layer of protection, opt for a coat of spray wax. Don’t forget to clean the undercarriage, wheels and tires. These car components are susceptible to damage from road salt.

Winter can produce poor road conditions and reduced visibility. It’s important that other drivers can see you on the road for their safety and yours. Inspect your exterior and interior lights to make sure they’re not dimmed or burned out completely. If the lights are cloudy, try using a headlight restoration kit to repair them. If you notice one of your headlights dimming, it’s best to replace both. If one is dimming, it’s likely the other will follow.

Tip: Parking in the snow can be a hazard. Try not to block sidewalks, driveways, fire hydrants and ramps. Make sure there is no snow within one foot of your muffler to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. If you can, park facing east to help melt the snow and ice from your windshield.

5. Interior care

Protection against wet winter weather is important for the exterior and interior of your car. Follow these tips to prevent damage from wet weather and cold temperatures.

  • Swap out your cloth mats for rubber mats to protect the interior carpet.
  • With leather seats, you may want to consider treating them with a leather conditioner to prevent them from cracking.
  • Convertible or soft-top cars require winterization to prevent water penetration that can damage the canvas. Make sure it’s properly waterproofed before wet winter weather. If possible, keep your convertible in the garage when you’re not driving it.
  • If you live in an area with frequent snow fall, you may want to consider scotch guarding your cloth seats to prevent water and salt stains.

Don’t forget to test that the AC and heat are working properly. An obstructed view through your rear window can create unsafe driving conditions. Make sure that your rear window defroster can properly clear the window of snow and ice.

Tip: Often overlooked is the cabin air filter. Changing the air filter will help heat up your car and defog your windows quicker. 

6. Roadside emergency kit and winter gear

Unfortunately, even if you follow all of the steps on how to prepare your car for winter, you can still end up in an emergency situation. Making a car emergency kit and keeping extra winter gear can protect you and your passengers. Consider the following for your roadside kit:

  • First-aid kit: Pick up a first-aid kit from your local big box store or pharmacy.
  • Auto supplies: Keep jumper cables, road flares or reflective triangles, ice scraper, and a spare tire and jack. Road salt or cat litter can be used for traction if you’re stuck in the snow.
  • Extra winter clothing: Keep a spare coat, hat, gloves and boots to keep you warm in an emergency situation. If you’re unable to keep spare clothing items, consider a heavy safety blanket.
  • Food: Water and nonperishable snacks such as protein bars, granola and crackers will keep you fed in an emergency situation.

Tip: While not essential, you can include a book or deck of cards to keep you entertained. Also, you may want to consider a portable phone charger to keep you connected to emergency services, family and friends.

Ensuring a safe winter drive

Create peace of mind by following these steps on how to prepare your car for winter. Having a vehicle you can rely on during the winter months can reduce your stress and the risk of accidents.

Take your winter preparations a step further and review tips for driving in the snow.

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