Couple sitting on the trunk of car during winter

Winterize your car: a how-to guide to keep it running in the cold.

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A few tips to prep your car for the winter months.

Here comes the chill. Even our cars are beginning to shiver. Nobody wants to be stranded in cold weather. Now is the time to safeguard you and your family from mishaps while driving in wintery weather.

Here are a few things to take care of in advance.

Assess your tire situation

In many regions of the country, all-season tires can provide adequate traction as long as the tread is not worn and the recommended tire pressure is correct. Winter tires are a good investment if you live in a cold climate. In tests, they provided 33% better acceleration from a stop in snow and reduced stopping distance by nearly 30 feet as compared to all-season tires. On ice, they can help you stop up to 48% faster and reduce skids while turning.

Snow chains for tires are still used in rural areas of the country, especially on mountain roads, but in areas where you find adequate snow plowing, they generally aren’t necessary. Many states have specific requirements for using snow tires or chains. Be sure to check these if you are traveling during the winter.

Clear your vision

There’s nothing scarier than not being able to see when driving. Be sure to replace worn windshield wipers, and make sure you have ample wiper fluid before the cold season sets in. Replacing regular blades for winter-weather versions is a smart move. Switch back to the regular ones in the spring.

If you need to park outside during a snow or ice storm, cover your wipers with socks so you can easily access them when you need to drive. Also, cover side view mirrors with plastic bags, and always have an ice scraper at the ready.

Check your antifreeze

You can get a tester at your auto-parts store to check your antifreeze. However, at least once a year, preferably before temperatures drop, you should drain your cooling system and add new antifreeze.  Your owner’s manual can tell you the proper coolant level.

A man taking care of his car engine

Check your oil

Even if it isn’t time for an oil change, you may need to switch to a less viscous, winter-weight oil. Heavier oils tend to become thicker at low temps, so they may not lubricate as well.

Don’t get locked out

A frozen door lock can really cause problems. Prevent this by using graphite or dry Teflon spray on your locks.

Did you know that hand sanitizer can unfreeze a lock? Apply some to the tip of your key, and work it into the lock. The alcohol in the sanitizer will melt the ice.

Even if you use a keyless entry system, be sure you have an extra fob battery on hand (not inside the car) in case technology leaves you stranded in the cold.

Battery check

Batteries don’t last forever, and very cold temperatures can reduce a vehicle’s battery power by up to 50 percent. Many auto parts stores will check your battery for free.

Be sure your battery terminals are clean and free from corrosion. You can keep them protected with a battery terminal protectant spray. Of course, it’s wise to always have battery jumper cables on hand and to know how to use them safely.

Double-check wires, belts, and hoses

Freezing temps can really do a number on these critical flexible parts, making them brittle and susceptible to breakage. Check wires and belts for wear or cracks and hoses for leaks.

Check your heater and defroster

The time to be sure your heater and defroster are working is before you need them. Take a minute or two to run them before temperatures drop.

Be prepared –a simple emergency kit can be a lifesaver

Better to be safe than sorry. Grab a tote bag or a box and fill it with a few things that could help you out of a jam.  

Refresh your snow and ice driving skills

Before you go out in a storm, review the basics of winter driving with these very important tips. How to drive in snow and ice.

Even if your vehicle has 4-wheel drive, it may have been a long time since you have had to use it. Have it checked out by a mechanic to be sure the system engages smoothly and that all fluids are at their proper levels. It could also be a good time to pull out your owner’s manual to refamiliarize yourself with how to use 4-wheel drive.

Fill the gas tank

It’s good to consider the half-full mark on your gas gauge as “empty.” If you’re caught in a snowstorm with traffic backed up on the highway, you want to be sure you can keep the motor running to keep both you and your car warm. It’s also good to keep it full to eliminate condensation in the tank that can freeze.

Person cleaning car during a winter morning.

Keep it clean

If you’re driving in regions where salting the roads is a necessity, you want to be sure to wash your car often to prevent erosion of your paint that can lead to a dull finish and, in extreme cases, to rusting. It’s smart to wax your car early in the season to help keep rain and snow off the surface.

The information and materials provided on this website are intended for informational purposes only and should not be treated as an offer or solicitation of credit or any other product or service of Regional Finance or any other company. This website may contain links to websites controlled or offered by third parties. We have not reviewed all of the third-party sites linked to this website and are not responsible for the content, products, privacy policy, security, or practices of any linked third-party website. The inclusion of any third-party link does not imply any endorsement by Regional Finance of the linked third party, its website, or its product or services. Use of any third-party website is at your own risk.

References accessed on November 24, 2020:

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