Many use the term “Winterize”, when it comes to their homes, lawnmowers, boats and swimming pools. But for something used everyday such as our cars and trucks, many people don’t think about winterizing. It may seem like a crazy question, but do you know how to winterize a car and prepare for winter driving?
Winter is on its way, and you know that means the unknown is coming. Driving conditions can be horrendous. Your vehicle not liking the cold and snow or performing the way you need it to. Getting your frozen doors open and seeing where you are going. All of these and more can make the winter just suck to get out in.
Many take their cars and trucks for granted. For most, it is transportation to get from point “A” to “B”. All is wonderful until something goes wrong and then your walking. Well I don’t know about you but any time out of the year I wouldn’t want to be walking would be in the middle of winter. So let’s dive right in and learn how to winterize a car.
How To Winterize A Car – Tires
Let’s start with something really crucial, the tires. Depending on where you live, most people are not going to go out and buy a set of tires strictly for winter. For northern states of the U.S., that may be a more common practice. But for more moderate climates, the majority buy an all season tire.
Now if you live in Mount Washington, New Hampshire where it has snow for at least 118 days out of the year, then buying an actual snow tire for the winter would be your best call. However if you live in areas like Tennessee or Georgia where you get snow and ice during the winter but not to the levels like up north. Going with an All Season Tire could be your better option.
If you are unsure about the kind of tire you should have in your area, especially if you are new to the area, ask around. Tire stores are going to always try and sell you tires more than really help you with your question. I have found it best to go to auto parts stores and ask those guys. You will get more of a straight and honest answer.
How To Know If Your Tires Need Replacing
How much tread does your tires have on them? I recommend for tires that are a year old or older, have the tread depth checked. For rain and wet roads, if your tread is around 4/32 or less, you could be in danger. For snow, if your tread depth is 6/32 or less, you should replace them.
The measurements mentioned are in inches. They consider a tire legally worn out when the tread depth measures 2/32. A new tire usually measures between 10/32 and 11/32. You can buy a tire tread depth gauge at parts stores, or click HERE. A tire store will measure them for you but remember, they are going to put that pressure on for a new set of tires, struts and an alignment.
Ways Of Measuring
I personally love using my tread depth gauge but you can use the penny method. A tread depth gauge can help you monitor tire wear all year round. The penny method is more of a ballpark measurement, but it works. Take a penny, turn it upside down, and place Lincoln’s head down into the groove of the tread.
With the penny fully inserted into the tire groove, note how much of Lincoln’s head is visible. If all of Lincoln’s head is exposed, your tires are worn out. A half exposed head means you should be good. However the tread depth gauge is far more accurate.
Condition Of The Tire
Just be aware the condition of your tires before winter hits. Word of advice; don’t wait for the first big snow to run down and try to buy some tires. The probability of a sell out will be greater. However, you can order them online and have them shipped to your desired tire store for installation. You often get great deals doing it that way. Check Online Tire Pricing Here..
Sometimes tread depth can be deceiving. Just because a tire has plenty of tread, doesn’t mean it is a good tire. Some tires hardly wear, but over time, the rubber becomes more rigid and gets less traction. So if you have noticed that your car can spin the tires easier, (you know a burn out), or slides during hard braking, especially in wet weather, change your tires before winter.
Other Reasons To Replace A Tire
Another thing you should take notice of. If you have been going strictly by the depth of the tread but ignoring the age of the tire, start looking for wear or dry-rot cracks around the sidewalls. Your tire could be decaying in this fashion, and with freezing temperatures can make the tire come apart.
Many tires have a high wear factor. This can be awesome if you are wanting to get 50000 miles from your tires. However, the down-side to this is a harder rubber. You will find as the tire ages, the rubber gets harder and gets less traction, so imagine how that will do in ice and snow.
I personally, have never been a big fan of high mileage tires. Tires that get less mileage but stick to the road, would be my preference. However, my race-car driving habits tend to sway my opinion.
New tires or not, ensure that the tire pressure is correct for the area and terrain you drive in. An over inflated tire will definitely cause less traction in snow. But an underinflated tire can cause loss of steering control and also less traction. Some vehicles have recommended air pressure levels for different types of weather. Refer to your owner’s manual or contact your dealership if you are not sure.
Keep in mind, an underinflated tire will tend to steer you. As you drive over uneven terrain, such as lumpy snow, the terrain will steer you. This can cause an “over-steer” on your part, which in turn can cause a wreck.
A tire that is correctly inflated will allow you to cut through snow more efficiently. Properly inflated will also allow a more connected surface between your tire and the ice.
Don’t forget to check your spare tire inflation.
Is Your Battery Winter Ready?
Many are unaware that it’s summer that causes the battery to fail in the winter. An age of a battery can be a real key factor but I have seen the newest batteries give out in winter. Batteries are probably the biggest unknown factor when it comes to knowing how to winterize a car.
Extreme temperatures can increase a battery’s rate of discharge, making winter a real threat. A battery’s exposure to heat during the summer, will evaporate the water in the electrolyte. This causes “sulfation“, which reduces your battery’s ability to hold a full charge.
Many batteries today are sealed, which means you cannot add water to them. So summer weakens the battery due to evaporation. When winter comes, you deal with cold temperatures. Cold temperatures mean the oil being thicker which makes cranking the engine harder. This causes a greater demand on a battery that has been weakened. The colder temperatures also reduce the chemical reaction inside the battery. This lessens the cranking amperage of the battery.
If your battery is 3 to 5 years old, consider replacing it before winter. A battery that is less than 3 years of age, have it checked at an auto-parts store. Parts stores check batteries and charging systems for Free. Also if the battery has filler caps, check the water level.
Look at your cable connections. If there is a build up of corrosion, have it cleaned. Keep in mind that this is a sign of evaporation of electrolytes. Always have a charging test performed on any battery in question. Ensure that your cable connections are tight.
Checklist You Should Monitor For A Failing Battery
- Battery warning light on dashboard – (See – Those dashboard warning lights explained on your car)
- Engine seems to crank slower than normal
- Headlamps seem dimmer, maybe more yellow than white
- Interior lighting seems more dim than usual
- The smell of sulfur or rotten eggs
- Battery case seems swollen
- Battery leaking acid
- Corrosion around and on battery cable connections
Checking Your Wiper Blades
Most wiper blade manufacturers recommend replacements every six months. To me, this isn’t really accurate. You can read MORE on, “How often should you change your windshield wiper blades“.
Depending on your environment, you could be changing wiper blades as often as every two months. Wiper blades should be replaced once they no longer make proper contact with the windshield.
- Stick to the windshield after sitting
- Blade warped or torn
Any time your wipers are not keeping your visibility clear, replace them. I strongly recommend getting winter wiper blades for the season.
Winterize Your Windshield Wiper Fluid
Most Windshield Wiper Fluids are alcohol based, so they will resist freezing to a point. However many of the cheaper brands are mixed with water, so the water will freeze. Buy and fill your reservoir with a fluid made for winter.
Winter fluids are designed not to freeze. Avoid fluids that provide water repellents, of course this depends on the area in which you drive. Prestone makes a “3 in 1” Wiper Fluid that won’t freeze down to 0°F. It also eliminates bugs and dirt. They also added a water repellent, sounds great, but is it?
This repellent is similar to “Rain-X”. It applies a layer to the windshield that causes rain to bead up and roll off. This is great as long as you live in a nice dry area. If you live in heavy moisture areas or close to the ocean, enjoy the streaks and smears.
Remember, they salt the roads during winter. That salt combined with wet slush, snow and water repellent, will not end well. Preston makes a better washer fluid called “De-Icer“. It will hold up to temperatures down to -27°F and resist streaking. I highly recommend “De-Icer”, in any brand. Ensure that your fluid level is topped off during the winter.
Check Your Antifreeze For Strength
Checking your antifreeze means more than just looking in the radiator to see how full it is. Yes, you need to ensure that your fluid level is topped off and full. With some vehicles, you cannot access the radiator directly. The reservoir bottle itself has to be checked. Never open radiator caps when the engine is hot.
Before winter’s cold temperatures arrive, check your antifreeze strength. This means using a gauge that will tell you at what point your antifreeze will begin to freeze. I try to get my antifreeze to a strength that will hold up against temperatures at least -35°F.
The way you control the strength of your antifreeze, is by how much water you mix in with it. You can buy antifreeze pre-mixed, it comes 50/50. I do not use this mix for my vehicles as this mix is only good for moderate temperatures and regular driving. As I mentioned, I tend to drive like a race-car driver.
If the area you live in has excessive temperatures, no matter high heat or below freezing temps, mix it at least 70/30. This means mix 70% coolant to 30% water. Pure antifreeze, (Ethylene Glycol), has a boiling point of 387.7°F. However in its pure form, it will freeze around 8°F. If mixed at a 70/30, you change the boiling point to 235°F and reduce the freezing point to -67°F.
A 50/50 mixture only gives you 3°F above the boiling point of water. So at 50/50, you get a boiling point of 223°F and a freezing point of -35°F. The important thing to consider, is how many times has just plain water been added to the coolant reservoir? Every time water is added, the protection levels drop.
It is recommended to change your antifreeze every 30000 miles or about every 5 years. If you are unsure the age of your coolant, it may be a good idea to get what is called a “Flush and Refill”. At least drain what you can of your coolant and refill it with a 70/30 mix. Also check your owners manual for the correct type of coolant to use.
Is Your Engine Oil Ready For Winter?
Engine oil would be more of a concern for older vehicles than newer ones. Today’s vehicles use lighter weight oils, most commonly 5W-20 and 5W-30. In older engines, from around 15 years and older, 10W-30 and 10W-40 were more common. What does all that mean?
The older oils are thicker, and when exposed to colder temperatures, would become even heavier. This meant the starter and battery on your vehicle had to work harder to turn the engine. So imaging if you already had a weakened battery trying to crank a car in the midst of winter.
In that time period, the solution was to change your oil to a lighter weight to help engine cranking in cold temperatures. Quite a few cars today run oils that are as thin as 0W-5 so decreasing the weight viscosity of your oil before winter isn’t really a valid option. However if you have an older vehicle, changing to a lighter weight oil will help.
I recommend changing your oil before winter for a different reason. All engines gain a certain amount of moisture in them from day to day operation. During excessive cold temperatures, this moisture can freeze causing the engine to become harder to turn on initial start up. This can strain the battery and keep the car from starting.
Keeping your fuel tank between full and no less than a half a tank is advised, here’s why.
- The weight of fuel helps keep traction
- The more full the tank, the less moisture
- If you get stuck, you can maintain running the heater
Fuel For Weight
When your fuel tank is full, that increases the weight of the vehicle. The extra weight helps keep traction in snow. Most fuel tanks are in the rear of the vehicle. The majority of cars are front wheel drive so the added weight isn’t always going to help in every situation. Don’t worry, if you are driving with caution in a snowy situation, the added weight is your best bet.
Moisture In Your Tank
Many people do not realize that fuel tanks sweat moisture inside them. That is why many gas tanks rust out if the fuel level is constantly kept too low. The higher the fuel level, the less area the tank has to accumulate moisture. For those that live in areas that the low temperatures exceed and maintain below 0°F to -15°F, you may want to add and additive like “Heet”. These type additives help keep the moisture down inside the tank.
Just to understand the harm of moisture in the tank during the winter, it can freeze. Hence the phrase, “My fuel line is frozen”. Moisture in the tank and or fuel line can freeze and block or restrict the flow of fuel to the engine. Gasoline and Diesel Fuels do not freeze under normal circumstances. However they can freeze solid if held to temperatures between -40°F and -200°F for a long duration.
Fuel For The Heater
If you get stranded or stuck in a long line of traffic, you want as much fuel in your tank to run the engine. The heater in a car doesn’t work without a running engine. The heater works off the engine coolant flowing through what is called a heater core. So no hot water, no heater.
How Clear Are Your Headlamps
You may have noticed that many cars today, have hazed and yellow headlamp lenses. When this condition occurs, light illumination lessens. Headlamp assemblies today are made of plastic. These plastics oxidize and deteriorate over time.
Restore headlamp lenses to ensure a clearer visibility for night time driving and hazardous road conditions. There are headlamp lens restore kits and even tricks to clear that cloudy look. As the opacity becomes higher, the less light will shine on the road. When the lens becomes mostly cloudy, the light will not shine forward.
Prepare For Winter Driving
Everything mentioned from above should have you prepared for winter driving. However this is one that most cars should have. Stock your car with emergency supplies.
- A quality ice scraper and snow brush
- A collapsible shovel
- Winter wear
- Kitty Litter and Rock Salt
- Rope or chains
- First Aid Kit
- Jumper Cables
- Extra Windshield Washer Fluid
- Drinking Water
- Non-Perishable Snacks
- Cell Phone Charger
- Basic Tool Kit
Some of these listed items may seem extreme, especially if you live in an a area that rarely sees snow, if at all. However carrying a first aid kit, ice scraper and a blanket may not be a bad idea, even for areas with moderate temperatures.
Winter wear would include gloves and a winter jacket. Even if you are not stuck in snow but need to change out a flat tire. Handling a tire and tools in freezing temperatures is much easier wearing gloves.
Kitty Litter and Rock Salt can aid when trying to get out of a spot where your wheels cannot get traction. The shovel can help dig out snow to get you car rolling again.
Reflectors can help ensure that other drivers see you if you are on the side of the road. Flares can do the same thing but also offer a call for help.
Non-Perishable Snacks can be anything like a breakfast or energy bars. Potato chips, Trail Mix, dry cereal, Beef Jerky, peanuts or any similar items can also be used.
A basic tool kit would consist of items like screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench, pocket knife, duct tape,flashlight, tow strap and jumper cables. To view more of these type kits and accessories, Click Here .
Is Your 4WD Vehicle Ready?
Many cars and trucks are 4WD these days. The majority of the new 4WD vehicles are more automated than older vehicles. Older trucks and Jeeps are known for having to physically and manually engage the front wheels by turning a lock on the center front hubs.
In time, this went away and it become more of an electronic engagement of the whole front axle. Now many vehicles know when to engage the front wheels without the driver’s interaction. No matter the the type or year you have, it’s important to make sure it is in working order.
Check all the universal joints or CV shafts that drive the front wheels. Worn out joints tend to come apart during freezing temperatures. Taking the time to ensure that the front wheels are engaging properly would be a good one to put on your check list. With only one wheel engaged driving in snow or ice could result in an accident.
Do You Ride A Motorcycle During The Winter?
Depending on the type of bike you have, will make a difference on maintenance for the winter. The numbers of street bike riders go down in the winter. This is due to colder temperatures and the danger increase due to road conditions.
A large majority of Street bikes are parked during the winter. So it might be a great idea to add a fuel stabilizer in the gasoline while it sits. As mentioned above, accumulating moisture in the gas tank, also applies to motorcycles.
Fuel tanks with low fuel levels can rust out. I highly recommend keeping the tank full and adding a stabilizer to it. This will cut down the chances of moisture build up.
Water Cooled Motorcycles
Water Cooled bikes use antifreeze just like cars. If your bike is stored in an area that is exposed to freezing temperatures, you should prepare it for the colder temperatures. You can either drain the antifreeze or ensure the antifreeze strength will handle the temperatures in your environment.
Riding A Dirt Bike In The Winter
In areas where the snow gets thick, it isn’t uncommon dirt bikes and snowmobiles are used to cut through the icy terrain. To read more on how to winterize a bike, Click Here…
For water cooled dirt bikes, ensure that the coolant strength is adequate. Locate and lubricate all grease fittings and lubricate. Check the drive chain for proper lubrication.
How To Winterize A Car – Conclusion
You should get to know the area and environment you live in. Learn about the seasons and what others do to prepare for it.
You may find that carrying a spare gallon of antifreeze may be beneficial. Also knowing your vehicle and its condition is vital. How to winterize a car? Know your car and environment and prepare accordingly.