7 Quick Steps to Winterize Your Car

Photo (cc) by Craig Cmehil

I’m fortunate now (after relocating from Missouri) to live in a southern state where even an inch of snow makes the news and draws photographers. Shoveling driveways, waiting for salt trucks to clear my street, and winterizing my car aren’t in my vocabulary, but I haven’t forgotten what driving and car maintenance were like in a real winter season.

If you’re living in a northern state (or planning on visiting one) this winter, winterizing your car can prevent accidents and extend the life of your vehicle. Fortunately, it isn’t that hard. Follow the seven quick tips below, and your car will be braced for winter in as little as a day.

1. Regular maintenance

If you’re due for regular maintenance, now’s the time to do it. Keeping on top of the basics will extend the life of your car and keep you from breaking down in a snow storm. Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Replace your oil with one formulated for cold temperatures
  • Check belts and hoses
  • Test your antifreeze – A mixture of 50 percent antifreeze and 50 percent water will keep your radiator flowing
  • Test your defroster and ensure both front and back (if you have one) work properly
  • Test your high beams
  • Replace worn brake pads

2. Check your tires

Having a good tread on your tires will help your car stay on the road when there is snow on the ground.

To check your tread, stick a penny inside the tread on your tires. Adequate tread should cover most of the penny: If you can still see Lincoln’s head, you’re due for replacements. Look for a tire designed to perform well in rain or snow.

If you live in, or plan on visiting, a hilly area, you may want to consider investing in snow tires, designed to increase traction on ice and snow. Snow tires won’t prevent all accidents, but they’ll help you better manage hills in the snow.

Finally, check your tire pressure. Keeping your tires properly inflated will give you better traction.

3. Replace windshield wipers

If you haven’t replaced your windshield wipers in the last year, now is a good time. You can pick up cheap replacement blades at overstock retailers like Big Lots or on sale at auto stores. They’re pretty easy to replace yourself. (I figured out how to do it in about 10 minutes, and I’m no mechanic.)

After you swap out the blades, fill up your windshield wiper fluid tank with a wiper fluid designed for cold temperatures. While water works fine during the summer months, it could freeze in the winter.

4. Test your battery

Freezing temperatures are tough on batteries. No one wants to be stuck in the snow because their car won’t start. If your battery is more than a year or two old, have it tested. If you bought your battery recently, pop the hood and check for signs of corrosion (a white, chalky substance) around the cables. If you spot corrosion, use a battery post brush to clean it, and make sure your cables are tight.

5. Repair windshield cracks

Tiny cracks in your windshield aren’t really that big of a deal as long as they’re not getting any bigger – until snow and ice storms start. Tiny ice particles can get into the cracks and expand them. Before you know it, that small crack is now halfway across your windshield.

Skip the gamble and have the tiny cracks professionally sealed before the snow starts.

6. Wash and wax

The sand and salt mixture dumped on the road after a winter storm is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the mixture melts ice in cold temperatures, making the road safer to drive on. On the other hand, the mixture is slowly eating away at the body of your car. After a while, the undercarriage and lower body will start to rust.

To counteract the damage, wash and wax your car – before the snow starts falling. Throughout winter, regularly spray your car’s undercarriage.

7. Make an emergency kit

Hopefully you’ll make it through winter without finding yourself stranded, but just in case, toss a few emergency items in your trunk for peace of mind. Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Kittie litter – Sprinkling kitty litter around a stuck tire can give you extra traction
  • Ice scraper
  • Flashlight
  • Jumper cables
  • Tire chains
  • Tire gauge
  • Tool kit
  • Blanket
  • Extra pair of gloves
  • First aid kit

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