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How to prep your car for the winter

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Ready or not, winter is around the corner. If you live in the northern states, that means it's time to winter-proof your car. From checking your tires to replacing your wiper blades, these winter reminders will help you avoid snow and ice catastrophes.

Most cars built since the 1970s don't have trouble starting in the moderately cold weather, in part due to the switch from carburetors to computer-controlled fuel injection systems. Having said that, your car won't start without a good battery or secure, clean terminal connection. If necessary, while wearing gloves and eye protection, use a wire brush to scrape away corrosion from the battery posts and cable connections. Clean all surfaces and re-tighten those connections. If the battery caps can be removed, check the battery fluid. Concerned that your battery might be weak? You can go to any auto supply store for a free battery test. Cold weather inhibits the amps your battery can output, so look for how well the battery performs in "cold cranking amps" (below 32°).

Next, you'll want to check your engine coolant and, if necessary, top it off. The best mixture is a 50/50 ratio of coolant and distilled water. If your coolant is brown then it must be flushed and replaced. While you're under the hood, take a look at your belts and hoses. Look at the clamps and look for cracked, frayed, or worn out rubber, which won't perform in extreme cold. If you need an oil change, you should consider using lighter-weight oil in the winter because in extreme cold weather, oil will thicken up.

Check your tires for tread and pressure. Make sure you have adequate tread; good tires should be able to shed the snow, ice, and road grime quicker for better traction. If you have to replace the tires, consider getting snow tires. Equally important is your car's tire pressure. In cold weather, tires lose pressure and if they get too low, you're asking for a flat.

When driving in the winter, visibility is key, which makes windshield wipers very important. To clean them, in a pinching motion run a cloth down the length of the blade wiping the grime away. Then with the same motion, using very fine sandpaper, you can sharpen the blades. (You can also use the striking pad from a book of matches as sandpaper.) Also, remember to check your windshield wiper fluid. For those of us who live in areas subject to extreme conditions, you'll want to look for fluids made especially for freezing conditions. You'll also want to check the spray nozzles of your windshield wiper system. Sometimes, they can get blocked by wax or debris. If that's the case then you can use a pin to clear the blocked nozzles.

Having done this you might want to consider carrying some items in the car with you:

  • A good ice scraper, antifreeze, fix-a-flat, windshield wiper fluid, and snowbrush.
  • A small bag of sand or kitty litter to create traction under the tires if you get stuck.
  • Jumper cables (we suggest at least a 20-foot length).
  • An emergency bag with flashlight, blanket, gloves, extra socks, flares, matches, bottled water, and non-perishable snacks.

Once cold weather sets in, try to keep your gas tank full. This helps prevent the fuel line from freezing. We like the idea of putting a bottle of fuel de-icer in your tank once a month. And remember, should you get stuck, stay with your car. It's better to stay in one place than to go out looking for help.

Naturally, these tips are for the cold areas of our country. If you live in Florida, all you have to do is make sure your AC is working.

— Ken Sander

For deals on automotive items throughout the year, including several of the items mentioned above, check out the dealnews automotive deals section.

Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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