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Everything You Need to Know About Winterizing Your Car

Cars manufactured before 1980 required intense preparation to get them ready for winter. Luckily, modern vehicles don’t need the same elaborate winterization, but low temperatures, snow, rain, and road salt can still cause problems with newer cars. Completing a few simple tasks before the worst of winter sets in will help protect your vehicle and make navigating winter storms safer for both you and your vehicle. Many of these things you’ll be able to do yourself, but some you might choose to have a mechanic complete for you.

Start With Your Windshield

Being able to see out of your windshield is key to driving safety. Are your wipers leaving streaks on your windshield? When you examine them, are they stiff or cracking? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it’s time to replace your windshield wiper blades. This is an inexpensive and easy DIY task. FYI, you should replace your windshield wiper blades annually. If you live in a place with a lot of snow or ice, consider buying special blades designed for winter weather. Don’t forget to top up your windshield wiper fluid while you’re at it. Choose a wiper fluid with antifreeze in it to avoid the liquid freezing in your car’s reservoir.

Do you know how to defrost your windshield? Turn on your car’s heater and make sure the heat is directed at the windshield while using your car’s defrost feature. If your car’s system allows it, also turn on the A/C while leaving the temperature set to hot. Using this setting dehumidifies the car’s air, which speeds up defogging the windshield (some cars do this automatically). Turn off the recirculate mode while you are defogging your windshield.

Consider Your Tires

If you live in an area with lots of snow, consider swapping out your all-season tires for snow tires. Snow tires have particular tread patterns and are made of softer rubber. Together, these features allow them to grip surfaces covered in snow and ice better than average, all-use tires. Snow tires typically create more road noise and have a shorter road life than all-season tires, but the safety trade-off for people dealing with severe winter weather conditions makes using the tires worthwhile. Most people have their winter tires mounted on inexpensive steel wheels, which saves wear and tear on more expensive alloy wheels and makes switching tires out much more manageable. People living in areas with severe winter weather might also opt for snow chains or studded snow tires. Chains and studded tires can damage the roads, so make sure they are legal in your area before purchasing them.

If you live in an area with less severe winter weather, you’ll still want to complete some essential tire maintenance to ready your vehicle for colder weather. Start by checking your tire pressure. Keeping them properly inflated is critical because only a properly inflated tire maintains optimal contact with the road surface. Tire pressure drops in cold weather. For every 10 degrees it gets colder, expect your tires’ air pressure to drop by about 1 psi.

Check Your Battery

Almost everyone has experienced going out to start their car only to have the battery be dead. The chances of this happening are much higher in the winter. Batteries don’t do well in cold weather. Car batteries operate because of a chain of chemical reactions, and freezing temperatures slow these reactions down. Once the weather gets down to about 5 degrees Fahrenheit, a fully charged battery is only operating at 50% of its capacity. Unfortunately, your engine needs more current from the battery in cold weather to turn on the engine, so your battery needs to be in tip-top shape to ensure that your car starts every morning during the winter. Have a mechanic run a battery load test to make sure your battery is performing optimally. The mechanic can also perform some essential maintenance, like cleaning any corrosion found on the battery’s posts and connections.

What Oil Are You Using?

Engines require proper lubrication to run. Oil provides this lubrication, but cold weather lowers the effectiveness of the oil. As the temperature drops, the oil in your engine thickens and no longer circulates around the engine as effortlessly as thinner oil does. This means that in cold weather, your car’s engine may not be getting the lubrication it needs, and this can result in a vehicle that won’t start. Prevent this from happening by switching to thinner oil. Cars use different types of oil depending on the season, so consult your owner’s manual and follow the recommended viscosity for your car in winter.

Protect Your Car’s Exterior and Interior

Road salt helps keep roads safer during winter storms but can mess with your car’s paint job. Protect the exterior of your car by waxing it before the first snowfall. During the winter months, you’ll want to wash it regularly to remove salt and dirt. Also, make sure the wheel wells and the car’s undercarriage are washed regularly. Although modern cars aren’t as prone to rusting as older cars were, they still can rust and corrode, and removing road salt is an important way to prevent corrosion. If you use alloy wheels during the winter, make sure they’re waxed to protect them from corrosion and pitting.

Floor mats are vital for protecting the interior of your car. Any floor mat is better than no floor mat (although make sure the mat doesn’t interfere with the pedals on the driver’s side), but rubber all-weather floor mats provide the best protection. They keep salt-crusted snow from seeping into the floorboards of the car.

Prevent Being Locked Out

Ever been faced with a frozen car lock? Car locks can freeze when water gets inside and then the air temperature drops below freezing. Prevent this from happening by lubricating your car’s locks with a door-lock lubricant. If it does happen to you, you’ll need to use a lock antifreeze solution to thaw the locks. Keep a few cans of this solution in your emergency kit.

Warm Up Your Engine

Older cars required a long warm-up period in cold weather or they were prone to stalling. Newer cars can drive away as soon as you start them. However, it’s still a good idea to give newer engines a few minutes to warm up in colder weather. A short amount of idling time helps the oil heat up, thin out, and flow smoothly through the engine before the engine takes on the serious work of moving the car. While the car idles, remove snow from the radiator grille: A clogged radiator grille can cause your engine to overheat. If the car is idling at a higher than average RPM when you start the car, wait until it drops back down before putting the car into gear. This protects your transmission. Once you start driving, keep it slow and steady until the car warms up entirely.

Prepare for Emergencies

It’s never fun to be stranded on the side of the road, but in freezing temperatures, being stranded can turn deadly. Prepare by having emergency gear in your car. And just because you live in a moderate zone with little winter weather doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare: Even in Atlanta, people have been stranded in freezing temperatures due to an ice storm. Having a few supplies with you ups your chances of surviving the situation.

  • Phone Cable and Portable Charger: Make sure you can charge your phone in your car, and keep a charged portable power supply with you in case you need to charge your phone and your car won’t start.
  • Jumper Cables/
    Portable Jump-Starter
    : Keep both of these in your trunk. Jumper cables are great for when you have someone nearby to help you, but a portable jump-starter lets you jump your own battery if you need to.
  • Extra Coats/Blankets: If you have to sleep in your car, you’ll want to make sure you don’t freeze overnight. Toss your least favorite coats and blankets into your trunk for emergencies.
  • Water/Food: Keep bottled water and shelf-stable food in your car.
  • Flashlight: A flashlight helps you see and makes sure other traffic can see you if you need to wave them down.
  • First Aid Kit: Having necessary first aid supplies and any medications you can’t live without on hand is vital.

Being prepared for emergencies can also encompass being financially prepared. It is important to have rainy-day funds available to cover unexpected financial burdens, but saving enough may be difficult. When the funds are not readily available in your savings account, a title secured loan or personal loan may be an option when making ends meet.

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