How to Winterize Your Car in 8 Steps

A man in a coat checking under the hood of a car in a winter setting.

Whether your car is old or new, wintertime is filled with automobile challenges. Because of freezing temperatures, snow, ice, and rain, winterizing your car can help you stay one step ahead of whatever winter throws your way. The following is a simple guide that will better prepare your vehicle for the harsh realities of winter.

1. Fluid Levels

A mechanic pouring fluid under the hood.

There are three fluid levels you should check during winter: coolant, oil, and wiper fluid. Having the correct amount of anti-freeze in the radiator will prevent the coolant from freezing in low temperatures. It’s a good idea to get a fresh oil change before winter hits and switch to a thinner mixture in areas where the temperature gets below freezing. Finally, make sure your wiper fluid is able to withstand the cold. Purchase a freeze-resistant variety to ensure your windshield is kept clean in wintry conditions.

2. Belts

While you are in the engine bay, it never hurts to look over belts and hoses. Low temperatures can loosen belts and hoses, making your engine work harder. When inspecting belts, look for cracks and loose fits. Ensure that all your hoses are connected tightly and not missing any clamps. Remember, a broken belt during the winter can strand you on the roadside, so it’s always a good idea to replace them before they fail.

3. Wiper Blades

A rainy windshield.

Being able to see the road clearly is important while driving in wintry conditions. Unfortunately, ice, snow, rain, and even salt on the roads can drastically reduce visibility. To combat bad visibility, ensure your wiper blades are in working condition. If your blades are over a year old, they likely need replacing. When replacing wiper blades, choose ones that are specially manufactured for winter weather.

4. Tire Tread

Worn tires and low air pressure present a number of different challenges on icy or wet roads because they dangerously reduce traction. Double-check your vehicle’s manual for the correct PSI. You’ll need a reliable tire gauge to check the pressure, and after doing so, inflate to the recommended amount. Consider investing in snow tires in locations with heavy snow accumulation. Even if your area doesn’t get a lot of snow, you should replace tires whenever the tread gets overly worn.

5. Battery Inspection

A car battery.

The engine isn’t the only part of your car that has difficulty starting in cold conditions. The capacity of your battery is also negatively affected by low temperatures. To remedy this, inspect your battery and make sure the cables and terminals are clean and free of grime. Inspect the cables for breaks and make sure they are connected securely to the positive and negative terminals. Check the fluid level in the battery and refill with distilled water if the fluid is low. As a safety measure, you should always shut off the engine while working around the battery.

6. Four-Wheel Drive

Having four-wheel drive in the winter is great, but only if it works correctly. Four-wheel drive won’t make your vehicle invincible in ice and snow, but it will give your vehicle better traction. If you haven’t used your four-wheel drive in a while, take it down to your local mechanic for a thorough inspection. The inspection won’t cost you a lot of money, but it will give you peace of mind knowing that you have a working four-wheel drive in case the weather turns ugly.

7. Heating and Cooling

The dashboard of a car with the heater / ac dial.

Staying warm during the winter can be challenging, especially if your car’s heater isn’t working properly. Apart from keeping you nice and toasty, your car’s heater helps defrost windows. If your heater isn’t in working condition, you’ll likely need to have the heating coils replaced. This is unfortunately an expensive repair, but definitely worth the benefits in the long run.

8. Emergency Kit

Sometimes even the best preparations are derailed by a bad winter storm. If you ever find yourself trapped on the roads during a storm, having an emergency kit on hand can save your life.

A good emergency kit should include: a flashlight, emergency signals, a heavy blanket (preferably wool), gloves, winter cap, bag of sand or kitty litter (for traction), a de-icer or ice scraper, small shovel, food, and water. If you already have an emergency kit, ensure that each item is still in working order and replace food and water whenever necessary.