Whether you are a permanent resident of the cold-winter portion of the country or are just heading up north for the holiday season, it is important that if you are facing cold winter temperatures you have a basic understanding of how to winterize your car. No matter what type of vehicle you may own preparing an automobile for the winter weather season is absolutely essential.
Even people who have been dealing with winter weather most of their lives can use a few tips and reminders on how to get their car ready for the winter season and be prepared to handle the rigors that cold weather can put on an automobile. Having this information handy is a great way to make sure that your car doesn’t get damaged in extreme cold temperatures and that your automobile is able to operate as it should during the winter months.
Most automobile owners are fairly good at getting an oil change every three months or every 30,000 miles. However, if you are approaching oil change time and are about to put your car through severe winter weather, it is important that you not only get an oil change but that you get the right type of oil change.
If you do not live in a cold weather climate and are heading north for the winter, make certain that you let the professionals doing your oil change know that your car will be dealing with winter weather. The reason for rendering this detail is that the oil you get in your oil change should have the right viscosity, or thickness, to handle cold weather.
During extremely cold winter temperatures the oil in your automobile will actually thicken. If your car’s oil thickens too much in the cold weather, it will not be able to lubricate your car properly, which can cause extremely serious issues with your engine.
If you are someone that prefers to change your oil on your own, you will want to check the driver’s manual beforehand. Your owner’s manual will contain information about which oil you should use in your car when driving in different temperatures and climates.
Preparing Your Windshield
Make sure you will be able to see through your windshield in blizzard conditions. Whenever you are about to operate a vehicle in any area of the country that might have cold and snowy weather, you will want to make sure you can see out the windshield. Therefore, you will need to replace your windshield wiper blades if they are worn out. Typically your windshield wipers will only work the way they are intended to for around twelve months, so if you have not replaced them since last winter, it is probably time to get a new set.
Windshield wiper blades are a very small investment and are an affordable way to make your vehicle much safer in the winter. If there is a dangerous snowstorm, you will be happy that you have brand new wiper blades so you do not have to struggle to see while driving in a blinding winter storm. This isn’t the only way that you will want to prepare your windshield for optimal viewing during a snowstorm.
Make certain you replace your windshield washer reservoir with real windshield washer fluid. If you have been using plain water in the past, be certain you use washer fluid – not water – for your winter driving. In winter weather conditions, water will freeze the moment it hits the ice-cold windshield. On the other hand, windshield washer fluid is specifically formulated to not freeze on cold glass.
Before you encounter any cold or freezing weather conditions, now is the time you will also want to test your heater and defroster to be certain they are both working properly. In this kind of weather it is imperative that you are able to melt away snow and ice so you can have a nice, clear windshield with optimum visibility.
When it comes to driving in snowy or icy conditions, your tires are one of the most important features on your vehicle. Therefore, before you head out to drive in winter weather, you will want to make sure that your tires are in the best condition possible.
Proper inflation – By properly inflating your tires you can make sure that you have the best possible traction while you drive on wet, snowy, or icy roads. This type of driving condition typically tends to severely jeopardize traction.
Therefore, poorly inflated tires that will not provide you with proper traction, will only make the tires even more dangerous if you are attempting to use them on wet, snow covered or icy roads.
Be aware that as the weather gets colder and temperatures drop, the air pressure in your tires will also drop. Generally, when the temperature drops by ten degrees Fahrenheit, tires will lose one pound per square inch.
For this reason, you should check your driver’s manual to know for certain the prescribed pressure for your tires. Keeping in mind that tires are likely to lose pressure when the weather is cold, you will want to check them often.
Possibly your current tires do not have the type of traction you want them to have, or you may have noticed they are starting to wear or rub down and it’s time for new ones. If this is the case and you are heading for winter weather, consider putting snow tires on your car.
These tires will help your vehicle manage snow and ice covered roads with ease, even icy hills. A great advantage to snow tires is that you can put them on your vehicle in the winter time and then change them out when you don’t need them, the snow tires will last longer if you don’t run them all year.
Service the Radiator
Unless you want to take a chance on completely ruining your car, it is extremely important that you prepare your radiator before you start driving in cold weather. If the temperature gets too cold, your radiator can freeze over and cause serious damage to your vehicle.
You will want to have a mix of half coolant or antifreeze and half water inside your radiator. If you have too much coolant, it can damage your system; if you have too much water, the radiator fluid will freeze over. This is an easy and simple process that any mechanic or even an amateur can do in a few minutes, and it will prevent a great deal of potential future damage.
If you do plan to prepare your radiator yourself, you can easily check the status of the mixture with an antifreeze tester, which is an inexpensive device you can purchase at any auto parts store. If you discover that the mixture is not right, you should drain your cooling system and refill or flush it. If you do decide to take care of this job yourself, be aware that you will need a place to properly dispose of the old antifreeze, because regulations do not allow you to just pour it down the drain.
Check the Electrical System and Battery
Cold weather puts higher than normal demands on the entire electrical system in order to keep your vehicle running the way it should during really cold conditions. The electrical system will be put under a great deal of stress. For instance, car batteries must be strong enough to start a cold — or even frozen — engine, not to mention be able to run your heater.
Cold and harsh winter weather also put a lot of extra burden on the electrical systems inside your vehicle. In addition to running your heater, if you encounter a nasty winter snow or ice storm, you will also need to run your defroster and wipers all at the same time. Running all these features simultaneously places a tremendous load on your vehicle’s electrical system.
This system includes the battery and charging system. Freezing or cold weather will especially compromise the charging system, and when a battery isn’t properly charging, it might stop working altogether in really cold weather.
Even if you have a high-quality battery, cold weather can degrade it, and such weather will actually render a low-quality battery completely worthless. Furthermore, the fluid in your battery might even freeze in really cold temperatures. If this happens, your engine will turn over repeatedly but won’t start. Maybe a Good Samaritan in the middle of the blizzard will help you jumpstart your battery, which will then start your engine and unfreeze the battery so it can start charging again.
For this reason, it is imperative that before you head out into the cold winter weather that you test the battery and electrical system in your car. More than likely you are able to make sure your battery has all the water it needs, and you can check the posts and connections to make sure they are corrosion-free. However, if your battery is over three years old, you should definitely have a certified repair shop test its ability to hold a charge.
Because a weak electrical system during extremely cold weather could cause a life threatening situation for you and your family, it would be wise to have a professional make certain that your electrical system, including your battery, can handle the stresses which winter weather will put on them.
The electrical system is also important where your taillights, signal lights, and backup lights are concerned. You will want to make sure these lights all work properly should you find yourself in a difficult winter storm where your lights will need to shine as bright as possible.
Finally, when you have your battery and electrical system thoroughly checked, you will have peace of mind knowing that you won’t have to worry about your battery dying and leaving you stranded in your car in cold winter conditions.
Belt and Hose Inspections
If freezing cold temperatures are on the horizon for your vehicle, it is important that you have a licensed mechanic take a look at the belts and hoses under the hood. Belts and hoses are very important when it comes to your car’s ability to function.
However, they are also quite delicate, and if there is even the slightest tear in one of these belts or hoses, cold weather will cause these items to freeze and break. You will want to make sure that you have a professional mechanic check for cracks or worn and frayed rubber in these hoses and belts so that they are ready to handle the pressures of cold weather.
Vehicle Accessories and Winter-Friendly Emergency Kits
You will also want to make sure that you have some type of emergency kit in place in your car. Moreover, when the winter months roll around, it is smart to also have a special emergency kit containing items specifically gathered up for use during harsh winter weather conditions.
In the back or trunk of your car make sure you pack the following items along with a bag of sand, gravel, or kitty litter which can help melt ice and provide traction underneath your tires should you get stuck in the snow or an ice patch.
- extra gloves
- extra warm clothing
- extra windshield wipers and windshield washer fluid
- first aid kit
These items should be added to your traditional emergency kits and be included along with things like flares, first aid kits, jumper cables, flashlights and more.
There are also a few cold-weather accessories you will always want to load into your vehicle whenever you are about to be driving in winter weather conditions. These things include a small shovel that will help you get out of a dense snow situation or snow bank and an ice scraper for your windows and windshield.
By implementing these suggestions you can make certain that you and your car are ready to handle the stresses of winter weather. Should you ever find yourself actually facing these harsh weather conditions, you can rest assured that you are prepared to handle even the most difficult winter storms.