March 3, 2017

8 Tips: How to Get Your Car Ready for Winter

Tips to keep your car safe and in good condition even during the harshest winter weather.

Winter weather conditions can be hard on your vehicle with the freezing temperatures, ice, and snow all causing wear to your car. With the weather causing additional stress on your vehicle, it is important to make some preparations to prevent costly repairs or a break down during inclement weather. Here are some tips to keep your car safe and in good condition even during the harshest winter weather.

Ensure the Battery is in Good Condition

Cold temperatures are especially hard on car batteries. Batteries experience increased usage during cold weather due to heated seats, wipers, and longer headlight usage, while the cold slows down power output and prevents the battery's ability to recharge while the car is running. A car battery should, with proper care, last between five and seven years. However, if there is any leaking you can take it to a mechanic who can use a battery tester to determine the condition of the battery. Keeping the connections free from corrosion can ensure the battery will last and not have difficulty starting. Fortunately, cleaning any corrosion can be a quick and simple task.

Install a Set of Winter Tires

If you live in a warmer climate that doesn't get much snow or ice in the winter, all-season tires do a good job of gripping wet roads, but they aren't adequate for getting traction on snow and ice. You will need a set of tires specifically designed for winter. Winter tires have additional and deeper tread that allows drivers to stop in slick conditions up to 40% faster than drivers using all-season tires.

Winter tires have more of a sticky surface in colder temperature, allowing them to grip the road more easily. Also, once your winter tires are installed on your vehicle, check the pressure in them frequently to ensure they are properly inflated, as cold temperatures may cause a decrease in pressure.

Switch to Winter Wiper Blades and Cold Weather Washer Fluid

After the heat and heavy rains of spring and summer, old windshield wiper blades may be cracked and not performing where they need to. It is recommended to replace your blades every six months, so when you replace them for winter, be sure to get wiper blades designed specifically for winter weather.

Winter blades are designed to prevent snow, slush, and ice from getting caught in them, and they are more capable of removing heavy snow more easily than standard blades. Also, filling your windshield wiper fluid reservoir with a market-approved fluid that is made to stay liquid during freezing temperatures will ensure you can keep your windshield clear at all times. Make sure you keep a good ice scraper in your car, too!

Coolant and Antifreeze

It is especially important to keep a good level of antifreeze in your vehicle during the winter months. A combination of 50 percent water and 50 percent antifreeze (glycol) will keep your engine from overheating and keep fluids from freezing up. While you can buy pre-diluted antifreeze, you can also dilute it yourself with distilled water, just make sure you are using equal parts undiluted antifreeze and distilled water. Be sure to use distilled water to prevent corrosion to vehicle parts. If you haven't gotten your cooling system serviced in a long time (or ever), now is a great time to make sure it's running properly. A seven-point inspection on your system components, including belts, hoses, and caps, can prevent a costly expense later on in the winter. Look at your vehicle's owner manual to see about doing an inspection on your own, or you can take it in to a service center if you are uncomfortable doing a check on your own.

Change Your Oil

In order to keep your engine running smoothly, changing your oil and filters every 3,000-5,000 miles is extremely important. In the colder months, you will want to use an oil with a lighter viscosity than you use in the summer as it flows more smoothly and keeps everything better lubricated in cold weather. For example, a 5W-30 will flow more smoothly than a 20w-50 oil. Be sure to check your vehicle manual to determine the best oil to use for your vehicle for the winter.

Check Your Brakes

It's recommended you have your brakes checked every six months to ensure they are in good working condition, and you definitely want to have that check-up before icy roads become an issue. Being able to stop easily and safely is incredibly important any time, but especially when the roads are wet or slick, you will need dependable brakes. If they are showing wear, go ahead and get them replaced.

Keep Your Gas Tank as Full as Possible

No one wants to run out of gas, no matter what the weather is like, but running out of gas in the winter is especially dangerous. It's a good idea, even for day to day commuting to ensure you won't run out of gas, but if you are heading out on a road trip or plan to be driving country roads, running out of gas in the winter can be deadly. A full gas tank also decreases the chances of water vapor freezing in your fuel lines. 

Keep an Emergency Kit in Your Car 

No matter how well prepared your vehicle is for the winter, sometimes, the unexpected happens and you find yourself broken down on the highway or on an isolated road. Keeping an emergency kit in your car can be a lifesaver if you find yourself in this situation. A well-stocked emergency kit includes: 

  • A gallon of drinking water
  • A blanket
  • Non-perishable food such as granola or energy bars
  • Waterproof matches
  • Flares
  • Jumper cables
  • Small shovel
  • Sand or cat litter (will provide traction if stuck in ice or snow)

About the author

Matthew Young is a freelance automotive journalist and blogger hailing from Boston. He is passionate about everything on 4 wheels and new, emerging tech in the industry. When Matthew is not busy writing about cars or awesome new technology, he usually spends time fiddling with his camera and learning a thing or two about photography. You can reach Matthew @mattbeardyoung.

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