Tips for Winter Car Maintenance

Kerry Sherin

A frigid winter can take a toll not only on humans, but our vehicles as well. Although modern vehicles are built to perform in a variety of temperatures and conditions, a frigid winter can wreak havoc on the mechanical and electrical components. If you happen to drive a classic car, those would be even more susceptible to extreme weather conditions.

You should prepare your car for winter much as you would your home. From a fresh set of windshield wipers to maintaining your tire pressure, driving in the winter will be easier and safer if you keep these nine simple tips in mind.

#1 - Maintain your battery

Of all the components in your vehicle, the battery is most affected by the frigid winter months. Due to the chemical reactions that take place inside of a battery, lower temperatures reduce the battery's ability to provide cold cranking amps. Without sufficient power, your engine will not start.

If the battery in your vehicle has a fluid level indicator, check the level and then fill the battery with distilled water if it's low. For those that have a maintenance-free battery, you'll have to get the battery tested at a service station or auto parts store. Many will test the battery for free.

Preemptively replace any battery more than 5 years old.

#2 - Flush and refill all coolant

Some vehicle owners may think that coolant and antifreeze are two different fluids, but in reality they are the same thing. The difference comes down to the fact that not all people in the country need to worry about the anti-freezing properties of vehicle coolant, so this green, orange or red fluid can often vary in name depending on where you live.

The coolant/antifreeze in your engine is designed to do two things: keep the engine at an optimal temperature (no matter the temperature outside) and provide lubrication and protection to critical cooling system components. These components include the water pump, cooling hoses, and radiator.

To keep your cooling system running smoothly, you'll want to flush all of your old coolant/antifreeze from your engine and refill it every winter. This ensures that this critical component of your vehicle's engine will operate at peak efficiency across all seasons.

#3 - Mount winter tires or check tire wear

No matter where you live, winter weather can worsen road conditions.

For those that live in climates that receive snow, consider putting a set of snow tires onto your ride. While many modern tires do an admirable job handling light or occasional snow, if the white stuff is a regular occurrence, you should have a set of winter tires on your vehicle at the start of the season.

For other parts of the country, winter is the perfect time to swap out any bald

tires for a new set that will perform well in both wet and dry conditions.

#4 - Keep your gas tank and your washer reservoir full

Keeping your gas tank full will minimize the chance of water vapor forming in your gas tank, which in chilly winter months can freeze and cause major issues in your fuel delivery system. In addition, a full gas tank can ensure that you have a source of heat in case you get stuck in a snowstorm.

The washer reservoir for your windshield is also an often overlooked piece of safety equipment. Many modern windshield wiper fluids have de-icers that can make quick work of a frosted windshield. In addition, winter driving kicks up quite a bit of dirt and debris onto a windshield that must be cleaned regularly in order to drive safely. If your reservoir is empty, you may not be able to adequately clear the windshield.

#5 - Verify your lights are in working order

Winter days are short and it gets dark early. To combat these early to dark conditions, it's important to have headlights and taillights that are in proper working order.

Turn on your vehicle's headlights and make sure that every bulb works and shines brightly. Have a friend or family member engage the brakes to ensure that the brake lights are also in working order.

Swapping lights out is an easy and cheap job for almost any DIYer.

#6 - Regularly check your tire pressure

Extreme cold can have a drastic effect on tire pressure. As the temperature cools, the air in your tires becomes denser, reducing pressure inside the tire. To combat this, you'll want to check your tire pressures every time you fill up or at least once every two weeks during colder months.

#7 - Replace wiper blades

Being able to safely see out of your windshield is a crucial component of vehicle safety. Anyone who lives in inclement weather-prone areas knows that the snow and rain can make it difficult to see out of a vehicle that's moving at speed. Your best tool for seeing clearly is a set of fresh, high-quality windshield wiper blades. Make it a habit to swap out your old, summer-worn wiper blades before the weather turns nasty.

#8- Pack an emergency kit

Emergencies strike when we least expect them. Prior to the cold weather setting in, you’ll want to pack an emergency kit that includes everything you need in a potential cold-weather emergency:

  • Extra warm clothing such as gloves, blankets, and even a set of foot warmers.
  • A supplemental phone charger, as well as a battery charging block, can provide a charge even if the vehicle's engine has died.
  • Pack at least a gallon of water and several nutrient-dense snacks such as nuts, dried fruits or beef jerky.
  • First aid kit with all essentials and any medications that you must take on a regular basis.
  • Flashlight with extra batteries, along with the a pack of road flares, jumper cables, and a manual vehicle tire pump.

#9 - Check Your Spare & Jack

Make sure that your spare tire and the equipment needed to change it are present and in good condition. Make sure to check the spare tire for cracks, tread quality, and ensure that the tire pressure is set to the manufacturer's guidelines.

Also, check your jack, tire iron and crank handle to ensure all parts are accounted for and in working order. Don't forget to keep your vehicle's wheel lock handy (if equipped) just in case.

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Kerry is a digital marketing professional that focuses on data driven stories. She loves sharing tips, tricks and ideas about marketing and saving money.

Austin, TX
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