9 Ways to Winterize Your Car

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 16, 2010 · 20 comments

in Cars, Manly Skills

This post is brought to you by Goodyear. Click here to learn more about Winter Reactive Technology from Goodyear. What’s this?

Last week we discussed winterizing your home. This week we’re giving our cars the same treatment. If you owned a car before 1980, winterizing your car was a necessary and often elaborate ritual to keep your car running in tip-top shape during the cold weather months. Fortunately, modern cars don’t require the same extensive winterization routines. Auto technology allows cars to start in the coldest weather without their owners having to do anything special.

With that said, there are still a few things you can do before Jack Frost starts nipping at your windshield to ensure you have a well running vehicle this winter. Many of the things we list you can do on your own-a few you might want to leave to a trained mechanic.

9 Ways to Winterize Your Car

Check your battery. Cold weather is tough on your car’s battery. The chemical reactions required to generate power in a car battery slow down in extremely cold temperatures. At 5 degrees F, a fully charged lead-acid battery has only half its rated amp-hour capacity. On top of that, during cold weather, your engine requires more current from the battery in order to get the engine started. Combine less power output with more power requirements and you get a car that won’t start on a cold winter morning. So have a mechanic run a battery load test to see if you need to replace the battery. Even if you don’t, he’ll check for and clean up any corrosion he finds on your posts and connections. The mechanic might also fill your battery with distilled water if needed.

Change your wiper blades and refill your wiper fluid. You need to see the road to drive safely, but the build-up of winter precipitation and salt on your windshield can greatly reduce visibility. Working windshield wipers and a solid supply of wiper fluid will ensure that you have a clear line of sight even in the nastiest snowstorm. Wiper blades are only good for a year. Replace yours if they look frayed or worn. If your neck of the woods gets hit by hard winters, you might consider buying wiper blades designed for winter weather. Top off your wiper fluid reservoir with a brand that has a lower freezing temperature.

Consider getting snow tires. If you live in an area that’s covered with snow for most of the winter, you should swap your regular all-season tires out for snow tires. Snow tires are made of a softer rubber than all-season tires which allows them to retain flexibility in the bitterest of cold. Snow tires also have tread patterns specially designed to grip into snow and ice. Don’t get the wrong idea about snow tires. They won’t magically remove the chance of you slipping and sliding in your car, but they do provide more traction than the regular variety.

Check your tire pressure. If you don’t replace your regular tires with snow tires, at least keep them properly inflated during the winter. Cold weather causes air pressure in your tires to drop. For every 10 degree drop in temperature, your tire’s air pressure will drop about 1psi. A properly inflated tire ensures the best possible contact between the road and the tires which is essential for safe traction when driving in wintry conditions.

Check your four-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive can provide better traction when driving on snowy and icy roads… that is if it’s working correctly. Have your 4WD checked by a mechanic before winter weather sets in. They’ll ensure the system engages smoothly and that the transmission and gear fluids are at their correct level. Also, if you haven’t used your vehicle’s 4WD in awhile, now’s a good time to review how to operate it.

Check your anti-freeze mixture. The mixture of anti-freeze and water in your radiator should be about 50:50. This will prevent the coolant in your radiator from freezing. If you want to check the composition of your radiator’s fluid, you can pick-up an inexpensive anti-freeze tester at your local auto parts store.

Stock your car with emergency supplies. You never know when you’ll get stranded on the side of the road in a hellacious blizzard. Be prepared by having your car packed with emergency supplies. Read the article we wrote last year on 13 things you should keep in your car. It could save your butt one day.

Change the oil and adjust the viscosity. In order for your engine to run, it needs proper lubrication from oil. Unfortunately, cold weather reduces the oil’s effectiveness. The colder it is outside, the thicker the oil gets, and thick oil doesn’t circulate through your engine as easily as thin oil. Consequently, your engine doesn’t get the lubrication it needs during start-up and you’re left with a car that won’t start.

To prevent this cold weather headache, change your oil to one that is thinner to begin with. To find out the proper viscosity (that’s the thickness or thinness of a liquid) of oil you need in the winter, check the owner’s manual for your car. They usually have information on proper viscosity levels for different climates.

Check your belts and hoses. Cold temps can weaken the belts and hoses that help make your engine run. Check them for any signs of wear and tear and have them replaced if needed. If a belt snaps while you’re driving, you’ll have to wait for a tow truck to come pick your cold butt up.

What other tips do you have for preparing for and keeping your car in good shape during the winter? Share them with us in the comments!

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rob November 16, 2010 at 9:54 am

I thought under-inflated tyres gave the best grip, whilst highly-inflated ones gave the best fuel efficiency.
I know that in deep or really bad snow when you get stuck, you can deflate your tyres and that should help get you out…

2 Sean Grogan November 16, 2010 at 10:18 am

true-ish. In theory, yes, in practice, unless you are a F1 Engineer, playing with tire pressure like that can be dangerous. your car will move more on the tires and will increase wear, damage the hubcaps, and not effectively remove snow from under the tires. under-inflated tires may trap snow under them and increse the chance of slipping. Its best if you trust the experts

3 Jeff November 16, 2010 at 10:26 am

Don’t forget that while 4wd will give you better traction and help you go better, still slow down it will not help you stop any better.

4 Lucas November 16, 2010 at 10:27 am

I would also suggest washing and waxing your car one last time before winter. The salt can do a real number on your car’s body and frame. Also do a routine PMI, such as inspecting the air filter, sparkplugs, etc. and wash/replace as necessary. Don’t want those things failing you on a winter day.

5 John November 16, 2010 at 11:12 am

careful with the changing in oil viscosity. with today’s multi-viscosity oils like 5W30 (instead of plain 30 only), there is no need to change oil with the seasons, unless maybe you live in Miami during the summer and drive to Anchorage during the winter. Even then you might only change from a 5W20 to a 10W30. READ YOUR OWNERS MANUAL. Playing alchemist with oil viscosity can do more harm than good, it’s a holdover from the 50′s when oils were not nearly as advanced as they are today. most engines are actually better off using the recommended multi-grade oil year round.

Additionally, adding distilled water to a battery is very 1950′s also. Today’s batteries can be greatly affected by the dilution rate of the acid. too much water will make them not only underperform, but in cold weather they will freeze and crack if there is too much water. The electrolyte balance is pretty critical and not something to be messed with by amatuers, or poorly trained mechanics for that matter.

Sorry to say AOM kinda missed the boat on this article. it’s more 1950′s automotive folklore and legend, rather than modern day applicable, useful information.

6 Steve November 16, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Speaking from a Canadian standpoint…regular tires lose their grip at around 7 degrees C because the rubber begins to get hard. Snow tires on the other hand have a different rubber composition and wider tread pattern. They stay pliable below that temperature.
Four snow tires are best. Even though your gas mileage will suffer (a bit) and they are a lot noisier on pavement, they are far cheaper than the body work you’ll be paying for if you slide into something during a freak snow storm.

7 Robbo November 17, 2010 at 12:23 am

I’m loving these ‘winteriz(s)e your…’ articles at the moment as we move into summer in my part of the globe. Ho Ho Ho!

8 Ben Cave November 17, 2010 at 9:54 am

I always keep an extra jacket in the car, one that I’m not afraid to get ruined. I was taking my girlfriend (now fiancee) out to a romantic dinner on Valentine’s day a couple of years ago, and it was in the midst of a huge snow storm. I ended up getting a flat tire, and it was nice having the extra jacket in the car so I could wear that while changing my tire and not potentially ruining my suit jacket or wool overcoat.

9 Billy B. November 17, 2010 at 10:22 am

If you anticipate driving through freezing precipitation, It’s useful to REPLACE the normal (usually blue) window washing liquid beforehand with special low-freeze-point (usually yellow) window washing liquid. The normal blue stuff will slush-up and freeze onto your window (making visibility much worse) while you’re driving. The special yellow stuff (probably glycol-based like the liquids they use to de-ice aircraft) not only doesn’t freeze, it also helps melt the stuff thats freshly falling & freezing onto your window. It’s much more expensive than the blue stuff, but cheap in relation to what it’s buying you.

10 dagwud November 17, 2010 at 3:33 pm

I had a Ford Bronco that actually stopped better with 4-wheel drive engaged. That was probably because I only had anti-lock brakes on the rear wheels. Front wheels would lock and slide in the snowy Minnesota winters.

That said, I also saw a lot of SUVs in ditches in the winter. Compact cars, not so much.

11 Thomas November 17, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Some of this seems like overkill to be honest. However I tend to do my yearly service in november. Lubricating everything, changing gear oils. Especially important if you drive an automatic.

Jeff: 4wd will help you stop if you don’t stand on the brakes like a student driver but instead use your gears and some of that driving experience;)

12 Brickheadbs November 17, 2010 at 10:10 pm

I highly recommend using synthetic motor oil. It doesn’t get much thicker (more viscous) as it gets cold, especially below 0°F. You can tell the difference when you start the motor on a -10°F morning. Plus, synthetic has other advantages…I’ll leave it up to you to research that.

13 ZZ November 18, 2010 at 3:58 am

A couple of additional items you may want to consider:

1) Winterizing treatments if you are in an area that “salts” the roads. There are several companies out there (and you should do your research) that do treatments that essentially put a water repelling lubricant in your car body and undercarriage in an effort to keep the salty-water from making contact with the metal and keep moisture out of existing rust thereby slowing down the oxidation process. Each year newer anti-icing chemicals are used on the roads and over the last ten years they have gradually gotten more and more corrosive, so this is probably a real important thing for the life of your car.

2) Consider N2 for your tires. While regular Air does contain 78% Nitrogen Gas, the remaining 22% can cause you problems. Water Vapor, Oxygen, and Oxygen radicals are all reactive (the later most of all) and can cause a number of issues with rims, valves and potentially even seals. Nitrogen is significantly less reactive. Pure Nitrogen also tends to react significantly less with temperature helping the contact patch on your tire remain uniform in varying temperatures. There has also been some talk about the O2 and other trace gases forming structures that more easily pass through the rubber, so you may not need to refill your tires as often. The price is not necessarily that bad either, if you like the piece of mind. For me it’s a single 80 dollar charge when I purchase new tires that allow me to go back and fill with nitrogen for the life of the tires. Of course if I do need an emergency fill I can still use air and go back for a free nitrogen replacement at my convenience. Regardless of what you fill with remember that you should be checking your pressures at least once a month.

14 Native Son November 18, 2010 at 9:27 am

Oddly you apparently forgot one item. If you don’t have snow tires, but get up into snow country (quite common in CA), you need two more things to winterize the ride…the correct tire chains (note: some cars can only use cable type chains) and cash for the “chain apes”…the guys who professionally install & remove tire chains at chain controls.
A couple of friends who ski also recommend a “pee bottle”…very handy when you’re stuck in the line when the state troopers are convoying vehicles through a snowstorm.

15 RobH1981 November 18, 2010 at 11:56 am

You can head off most engine-related starting issues with a block heater. Most dealerships will install one for less than $200. External tank engine heaters will warm up the heater core, so you get warm air from the vents right away.

You have to be able to plug the heater into a wall socket. A lamp timer set to about an hour before you leave works well.

The downside to block heaters is that they may allow you to leave home, only to be stranded at work later on . . . .

16 Dave F November 18, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Consider cleaning and lubricating all the door seals. I clean them with a good window cleaning solution, then spray silicone lubricant on a paper towel and wipe down the seals and mating metal surfaces.

Nothing worse than being frozen out of your car after an overnight freeze.

17 sm4k November 18, 2010 at 9:38 pm

You might double-check with your owners manual about the anti-freeze dilution as well. My car (2000 Toyota Celica) has always had Toyota Pink in it, and that comes premixed, so it does NOT get diluted.

Good list, but make sure you do you homework, readers, and investigate how these items affect your specific vehile.

18 Gallett291 December 10, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Along the same lines as treatments for the undercarriage, treat your alloy rims if you have them. The easiest way is to put a bit of non-stick spray (like PAM) on a rag, then wipe down the rims. Keeps the salt that gets kicked up from doing much, and keeps your wheels looking nice.

19 Jay Wesley December 11, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Dave F November 18, 2010 at 5:36 pm
Consider cleaning and lubricating all the door seals. I clean them with a good window cleaning solution, then spray silicone lubricant on a paper towel and wipe down the seals and mating metal surfaces.

Nothing worse than being frozen out of your car after an overnight freeze.


Read more: http://artofmanliness.com/2010/11/16/how-to-winterize-your-car/#ixzz17qwMNGFW

I like to use alittle “Royal Crown” Hair pomade on my door seals, keeps em’ looking dapper! Lol

Also a squirt of WD-40, or PB blaster in your door locks will keep them working good, and help keep them from freezing.

20 Bob November 16, 2013 at 7:19 am

Do I need winter tires in DC? Just moved up from TX. Thanks!

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