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Winterizing Your Car

By Walter Hamill

Winter is right around the corner. Depending on where you live, colder weather and shorter days will bring some driving challenges. Don’t wait to winterize your car if you haven’t done so yet. This is also a good time to prepare yourself for the need to change your driving habits with the change of seasons. A little preparation now can give you added confidence when things get slippery.  For folks that know “winter is coming”, here is some advice on what you need to do right now for safe winter driving.

Winterizing Your Car Starts With This

headlight inspections in winter
Make sure your headlights work, since snow can obscure them. Image by Ban Pei via Flickr cc.

An inspection. It’s a good idea to give your car a thorough inspection once or twice a year. There is no better time to do this than in the fall, before the cold weather sets in. Even if you live in a more moderate climate, the days are shorter in the winter months, so you will likely use your lights more often. That’s why looking over things like headlights and signal lights are a good idea. Many automotive service centers will do a comprehensive check for free. But even if it costs you a small fee, the safety value is priceless.

Check Antifreeze

Check antifreeze
Antifreeze loses its effectiveness over time and must be changed periodically. Image by Bandita via Flickr cc.

Starting with the obvious, you need to make sure that your antifreeze has adequate freeze-protection for the climate. Properly mixed antifreeze also adds an important measure of corrosion protection to the car’s cooling system. The normal 50/50 ratio between water and antifreeze can get watered down if you’ve kept adding water when topping it off. Also, antifreeze should be changed periodically as needed (check your owner’s manual). A mechanic can use a simple antifreeze/coolant testing tool to quickly measure whether the concentration of antifreeze is adequate to protect your engine. If the recommendation is for a “flush and fill”, this is money well spent. It just might save your engine block from cracking due to water freezing inside.

Check Belts and Hoses

Also take a look at the belts and hoses, as a failure there can leave you stranded without warning. Look for any signs of cracking.

Check Tires

The next obvious thing is the tires. If you live in a region that requires it, a snow tire may need to be fitted for the season. If you live in the mountains, you may need to keep a set of tire-chains in your trunk. If not, you should make sure you have sufficient tread of the correct design for your climate.

Less Obvious Things to Check

Now for the not so obvious. When you are checking the cooling system, make sure the engine thermostat is working as designed. A malfunctioning thermostat can make a car overheat, but a lesser known problem in the winter is that it will take the car longer to warm up, making it uncomfortable to drive and causing a reduction in fuel economy.

windshield-frost
Make sure your defroster works. And have an ice scraper handy. Image by jacob haas via flickr cc.

While you are at it, make sure the defroster works. You never know how much you need a defroster until you miss it. Something that is easily overlooked is the windshield washer fluid. Properly mixed, it will not freeze, and it can be a vital aid for clearing the windshield.

With these things out of the way, a cursory check of the brakes, suspension, and lights is always a good idea. If your wipers are no longer up to the task, or you can’t remember the last time you changed them, go ahead and do it now. Better safe than sorry.

Winter Safety Tips: What to Keep in Your Trunk

It’s a good time to get some basic winter-related safety items in the trunk. This is another thing that varies by the driving conditions you may encounter, a basic list of winter safety items could include:

  • Flares
  • Blanket
  • Sand bag(s)
  • Shovel
  • Flashlight
  • Drinking water (leave room for freezing)
  • Non-perishable snacks
  • Ice scraper
  • First Aid Kit
  • Jumper cables

More Car Winterizing Tips

vaseline petroleum jelly pocket size
A little dab of petroleum jelly goes a long way. Image by Hellabella via Flickr cc

Here a few simple tips to make your winter driving easier:

  • A little smear of petroleum jelly on the door weatherstrips will help keep your doors from freezing shut.
  • A small shot of WD40 keeps door locks from freezing.
    If your door lock does freeze, heat the metal key with a cigarette lighter before putting it in the lock to help thaw it out. Never force the key.
  • Pull your visors down to a vertical position when you run your defroster to help trap the warm air against the windshield.
  • Your floor mats can be a traction aid in an emergency. Place them in front of the drive wheels and slowly try and pull out, it works more often than not.

Coming Soon: Our Winter Driving Tips

Remember that it is winter, and foul weather driving rules apply. Leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you!

We’ll provide more winter driving tips in a future post.

In the meantime, why not check out our top pick of Winter Sports Cars?

Featured Image by Dustin Gaffke via Flickr cc.

One thought on “Winterizing Your Car”

  1. Most people under estimate the mother nature. We are just mortal humans. If you plan well and take care of your car ahead of the winter, then you can obviously save it from the freeze. Finally its about how much you love your car. These tips for the winter should be noted down and be made a check list.

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