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Top 10 Tips to Winterize Your Car

The cold, salt, and slippery roads of winter pose serious challenges for you and your car. But help is here with our top 10 tips to winterize your car.

Your Car Hates Winter Too

Winter can be a challenging season. The dwindling sunlight, the freezing temperatures, the snow, ice, and bitter winds can all test our patience and preparedness. Winter can also be challenging for our cars. That’s why properly winterizing your car is so important. Ensuring your vehicle is ready to take on all winter has in store doesn’t have to be a hassle though. Whether you’re rolling in a Jeep Gladiator ready to bust through some snow drifts or daunted at the prospect of driving in 2-inches of snow in your Honda Accord, we’ve got you covered with our top 10 tips to winterize your car.

Check Tire Pressure

Checking tire pressure and filling with air
Checking tire pressure and filling with air

Between the harsh effects of temperature swings and the fact that a 10° decrease in temperature lowers a tire’s pressure by 1 psi, winter can be hard on your tires. Regularly checking tire pressure can ensure yours don’t run flat in the middle of a wintry roadway.

Consider Winter Tires

Winter tires in the snow
Winter tires in the snow

If you’re reading this list, it’s likely you live somewhere that snows over the winter months. In that case, it makes sense to consider investing in a set of winter tires. For as helpful as four-wheel or all-wheel drive might be, a good set of winter tires will make an even bigger difference when it comes to handling and stopping on snowy roads. You know all those cars you see dinged up in fender benders on snowy days? They didn’t have winter tires.

Check and Replace Wiper Blades

Replacing wiper blades for winter
Replacing wiper blades for winter

In a snowstorm, few pieces of safety equipment become as vital as a good set of wiper blades to keep you on the road and out of the ditch. Rubber wiper blades tend to crack and warp with time. We recommend replacing them no less than once a year and as frequently as every six months, depending on the level of use.

Top Off Washer Fluid and Gas Tank

Filling windshield washer fluid for winter
Filling windshield washer fluid for winter

Another thing that can help maintain visibility is fresh wiper fluid that includes a de-icing agent. A quick squirt can help break up ice or prevent ice from forming as you drive. It’s also a good idea to keep your gas tank topped off too. Not only will this ward off frozen condensation in the fuel lines, it also ensures that, were you to get stuck or stranded, you’ll have enough gas to keep you warm. (Note that it’s recommended that if you’re stuck, to only run your engine enough to heat the cabin and then shut the engine off to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.)

Wash and Keep Washed

Car with ice, snow and salt on it
Car with ice, snow and salt on it

Winter is often the dirtiest season for your car. The dirty snow and mud are bad enough, but road salt is certainly the worst and a real threat to the longevity of your ride. Washing your car regularly over the winter months is a necessity to ward off corrosion. Waxing can literally add another layer of protection.

Oil Change

Checking fluids under the hood for winter
Checking fluids under the hood for winter

Keeping up on your oil changes is always important, but especially so over winter. Lower temperatures increase the viscosity of your engine’s oil, making it less effective at protecting your engine. Consult your owner’s manual so see whether it recommends switching to a thinner oil for the cold months. And remember, let your vehicle warm up and allow the oil to do its job. Never strain a cold engine.

Check Battery Charge and Condition

Charging battery for winter
Charging battery for winter

Another automotive bane of winter is dead batteries. To prevent this, start by checking the charge on your battery. You can either find a load tester at your local auto parts store or have your mechanic test it for you. If it’s low, it’s probably time to replace your battery (if it’s five or more years old, it maybe time anyway). If the charge is still good and the battery isn’t too old, then all you need to do is give it a quick cleaning. Use a wire brush and dry paper towels to scour and clean off any corrosion you find on the terminals.

Basic Maintenance Check

Rear defrosters melting ice
Rear defrosters melting ice

Make sure to do a cursory DIY maintenance check before winter sets in. Check belts and hoses for cracks. Make sure your front and rear defrosters are working properly. Check, and probably replace, your cabin air filter. Double check that your headlights, taillights, and signals are all working and replace any dead bulbs you can.

Mechanical Check

Checking antifreeze
Checking antifreeze

It’s also a good idea to get a general service check to make sure other important systems are in good working order. Have your mechanic check your brakes, 4WD/AWD system, your heater core, and top-off or replace your antifreeze.

Stock a Winter Survival Kit

Clearing car windows with ice scraper/brush
Clearing car windows with ice scraper/brush

Preparing for the worst and hoping for the best is always good advice, but never more so than when it comes to winter driving. Having a properly stocked winter survival kit can make all the difference when the weather turns nasty and the snow starts piling up. We recommend the following items:

  • Blankets and extra winter clothing like hats, gloves, thick socks, jackets and sweaters.
  • Flares, hazard light or hazard triangle.
  • Non-perishable food items like MREs or protein bars and water.
  • A folding or collapsible shovel
  • Bag of sand or cat litter. Not only will the extra weight help with traction, the sand can be used to help provide traction for tires that are slipping.
  • Cell phone and phone charger.
  • Jumper cables.
  • 1st-Aid Kit.
  • Flashlight and spare batteries.
  • Matches, candle, and empty metal can. These can be used to help heat the car if you run out of gas.
  • Ice-scraper.
  • Spare tool kit.
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Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

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