How to prepare your car for winter weather
Last updated: January 1
As the temperatures drop, you know winter is on its way — or maybe it has already arrived. While cold temperatures, ice, snow and slush often come along with this chilly season, it doesn’t mean your car has to be in the deep freeze until the spring thaw. Consider these tips for helping prepare your vehicle for the cold and handling the inclement weather once it hits.
1. Get your car tuned up
No matter the weather, regular vehicle maintenance is always a good idea. But extreme temperature changes can affect your car, so it's especially important to make sure your car is in working order before winter arrives. From basic tasks to those that you may want a mechanic to handle, these are a few maintenance items to address before winter.
Start by popping the hood to check the wiper fluid level. Car Talk recommends keeping the level on on your windshield washer reservoir full during the cold months. A full reservoir means you can keep your windshield clear, even on the snowiest day. If you live in an area where temperatures get extremely low, you may need deicer or concentrate for your windshield wiper fluid, Car Talk says.
You may also need to switch to a winter-grade oil, according to Popular Mechanics. That's because oil's viscosity is affected by cold temperatures. Your engine's oil becomes thinner as the temperature rises, so in warmer climates, a thicker, higher-viscosity oil will help keep your engine properly lubricated. For the same reason, heavier oils aren't as effective in cold, blustery conditions. Check the owner's manual to be sure you're choosing the right kind. If you have questions or are not comfortable tackling this yourself, talk to your mechanic.
While you're checking your fluids, it doesn't hurt to inspect some other odds and ends under the hood that may fail in extreme conditions. For example, seasonal changes are a good time for you or a mechanic to make sure your cooling system is in working order, ensure your battery is charged and to look at your vehicle's hoses to make sure that the rubber is in good shape, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
2. Check your tires
As the temperature falls, so does the air pressure in your tires. Tires can lose pressure at a rate of about one pound per 10 degrees Fahrenheit of temperature, according to Car Talk. Low tire pressure can dangerously affect your car's handling, so it's important to keep your tires properly inflated.
If you're in an area with particularly severe winter weather, Car Talk recommends considering a set of snow tires, which are made specifically for snowy and icy surfaces.
3. Check your car's exterior
Check the outside of your car to ensure headlights are in working order: Car Talk recommends cleaning the lenses of your exterior lights and replacing any burnt-out bulbs.
You'll also want to make sure the windshield wipers are in working condition, says the NHTSA. Windshield wipers are constantly subjected to the elements, so it's important to replace worn or dried-out wiper blades regularly to maintain visibility, especially if a snowstorm is headed your way.
If there's a chance the car doors may freeze in your climate, you can help prevent that from happening that with some cooking spray. This can be helpful if you need to keep your car outdoors for an extended time, a storm is coming or if temperatures frequently go below freezing in your area.
4. Create a winter emergency kit
In addition to the emergency road kit you should already have in your car, consider having a special winter emergency kit or adding items that can be helpful in cold or snowy weather. Some of the winter items you may want to consider having in your kit include a shovel, gloves, boots, an ice scraper and sand or kitty litter (for traction on slippery roads).
Winter weather may present some different driving hazards, and the cold can also affect your vehicle. With some preparation and preventive maintenance, though, you and your vehicle can be ready to handle the colder months.