In regions like ours, you wouldn’t dream of heading outside without a heavy jacket if the temperature and wind chill are below freezing. Your car needs some attention to function properly in their winter needs too.
Engine Oil Your engine’s oil changes depending on how hot or cold the engine is running. Because the outside temperatures will influence the internal temperature of your engine, you need to make sure you’re using the proper oil for the conditions.
During the winter months where temperatures get below freezing, you’ll want to switch over to thinner―less viscous―oil. If you run a 10W-30 in the summer, for example, try moving to a 5W-30 when changing your oil in the fall or winter. If you are in doubt, refer to your manual or the manufacturer.
Engine Coolant You car’s coolant system is not intended only to keep your engine from overheating. It is also responsible for protecting your valuable engine against corrosion. Before the weather gets too cold, make sure you are using coolant with ethylene glycol to help protect your engine.
Every vehicle requires a certain ratio of coolant to water, and your owner’s manual or repair technician can explain what your engine needs. For most vehicles, a winter ratio is 60% coolant to 40% water. Adjusting this ratio is an important step in winterizing your car, so if you need help, ask someone who is experienced and knowledgeable.
Battery Your battery’s starting capacity is reduced by cold weather. A thorough inspection of your battery, cables, and terminals will help you make sure your car is ready for the winter.
Check over the battery cables for cracks and breaks. The terminals should fit snugly with no loose connections. You may be able to check your battery fluid by unsnapping the cover over the refill holes. If the level is below the bottom of the cap, refill with distilled water. A lot of corrosion on a terminal could indicate a problem such as a tiny crack around the terminal that could shorten battery life or leave you stranded in cold weather when the battery is pushed to its limit.
To read the level of charge in your battery, you will need to turn the engine off. Some batteries have a built-in hydrometer eye that tells you the amount of voltage remaining in the battery. If you prefer, a handheld hydrometer can be used to collect the same information.
While you’re inspecting your battery, look around for the manufacture date. Knowing how old your battery is can clue you in to when it will begin to lose charge. Shopping for a new battery? Never buy one with a six-month-old manufacture date.
Windshield Treatment If you have ever driven behind another vehicle kicking up wet, dirty road snow, you already have a true appreciation for windshield washer fluid.
Select a washer fluid with an antifreeze solution when cold weather is near. Beware―some washer fluids can be harsh and damage your car’s paint.
Snow Tires Driving in snow can be very difficult and sometimes dangerous; still, the reality is you need to get to work in difficult conditions.
If you live off the beaten path, consider snow tires with studs to help you get where you’re going all winter long. When spring comes, though, you’ll be glad to get out of the heavy winter tires because your fuel efficiency and handling will improve with a less aggressive tire.
Another option is all-season tires that you drive year-round. Their advantage is that you don’t change the tires before winter or need to keep two sets of rims. Of course, the disadvantage is that you don’t get all the great features of a specialized seasonal tire, and there may be increased road noise.
Frozen Out Door locks can freeze in cold weather and break your key if you try to force them open. Many stores sell glycerine you can use for de-icing. Think about where you keep it, as storing it in the glove box of your frozen-shut car, then it won’t help you any!
Emergency Kit If you don’t already have an emergency kit in your car, consider putting one together and stowing in the trunk. Naturally, you’ll want to be sure your spare tire is in good shape with all the tools to change it out. But you might also want a few other emergency items in case you slide off the road and get stuck in a snow bank:
• Flares • Blankets • Boots • Radio • Engine oil • Washer fluid • Coolant • Flashlight • Work Gloves • Tarp
When you take the time to winterize your car, you become more comfortable driving in cold, snowy climates. A short commute quickly becomes difficult when your vehicle isn’t equipped to handle snow and ice. By planning ahead, you can make winterizing your vehicle an annual ritual in the name of safety and vehicle reliability.