The first freeze has put a layer of ice on the ground and the leaves have left their lofty heights. It’s officially time to winterize your car and prepare it for the salty, snowy, icy, months ahead.
Winterizing your car means simply prepping it to do battle with harsh elements on the roads and protect it from damage caused by the salt and sand used to keep ice off of the roads. It will make you safer and it will keep your car in good shape for years to come. It’s simple enough and relatively affordable to do and can be completed in an afternoon. We’ve broken it down into 4 easy steps for you below.
First, check your wipers and fill up your windshield washer reservoir with a quality, good-at-low-temperature washer fluid. Beware of the cheap blue stuff you can buy at any gas station and never use just water. It can freeze in the lines and ruin your system completely. Look for the kind of fluids that advertise that they are good down to negative 25 or below, especially if you are planning a trip to the northern reaches of the country.
Your wipers should be in good shape, too. Make sure they aren’t leaving streaks when running and that they don’t show any signs of cracking or wear. It will make clearing your windshield in light snow (or that muck that kicks up off the road when it’s been salted or sanded) that much easier.
Check your antifreeze levels, too. This will help keep your car’s system from having problems in cold climates and prevent you from having to shell out a bundle for a pricey fix.
Next, check your tires and consider a winter set. Yes, even on SUVs and all-wheel drive vehicles. Really.
Winter tires differ from all-seasons or summer tires in that they are made of different compounds and have different tread patterns that give your vehicle more grip in icy or slick conditions. It is true that winter tires tend to have shorter life because their tread can wear out quickly but they are well worth the investment to keep you safely on the road to grandmother’s house.
Also—if you swap out to winter tires, you’ll likely notice that your car becomes a bit louder. Fear not. It’s normal. Because of the tread and the more aggressive rubber the reverberations from the road will translate more into the cabin of your car.
For easy on-and-off and storage, consider having your winter tires put on affordable steel wheels. They resist damage from large potholes (better than some of the fancy summer wheels that most sports cars come with) and they will last better in the snow, salt and sand.
Nothing sucks more than having a dead battery in the middle of a giant winter storm. That coughing sputtering sound that says that your poor car is just not going to turn over can strand you in situations that can be dangerous. Prevent it by checking that your battery is in good shape and as close to fully charged as possible. Have an auto shop test it to be sure and remember that batteries are a lot less efficient (and often struggle) in temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
A good wax before the winter weather hits can really help protect your car’s exterior from the damage that salt, sand and ice on the roads can cause. Wash your car regularly in the winter months to keep the damage to even more of a minimum and invest in some good rubber mats for the interior. They’ll help keep the salt and sand from getting into the carpets of your car.
Whether you’re heading to see family for the holidays or off to take a few passes on a ski slope, if you follow these simple steps you can ensure that your car is in great shape to take on that long winter’s drive.
Digital media content producer/consultant & former CNN senior producer, now running CN'TRL : Cars, Tech, Real Estate & Luxury.