Are you ready for winter? Is your car? In this article, I present to you a handy checklist to read through in order to prepare your car for winter.
The two main areas where you absolutely must have your car ready are going to be your battery and your tires.
Your battery because if your car doesn’t even start, what’s the point, and your tires because you need to be able to keep your car on the road! We’ll start with those two, then progress to cover all of the best practices for keeping you and your car prepared!
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The battery is a crucial component of your car, and it can be especially vulnerable to the cold temperatures of winter. Make sure the battery is in good condition and fully charged.
Note: do you feel like your battery always struggles to start your car in the winter? Upgrade to a larger battery and start confidently all winter long!
A good way to know if your battery is up to snuff, is to use a digital battery tester to verify the battery can handle those cold starts with enough Cold Cranking Amps (CCA). Consider replacing the battery if it is more than three years old or if it has a low charge.
As it gets colder, I also recommend tightening or verifying the tightness of the positive and negative battery terminals.
Why? As the temperature drops, components tend to contract, which can leave connectors loose. A loose battery cable can make it so that instead of starting when you turn the key, you just hear a ‘click,’ or nothing at all. A good strong connection will give your battery the best chance of providing enough current to start the car.
Another recommendation is to clean the battery terminals, especially if they are corroded. Use an inexpensive battery terminal cleaner to scrub the corrosion off of the battery terminals.
To prevent corrosion in the future, spray the battery terminals and connectors with a battery corrosion inhibitor.
Properly inflated tires with sufficient tread remaining are important for maintaining traction and stability on the road during the winter months. Check the tire pressure and tread depth and consider replacing the tires if they are worn or damaged.
Do you know what the proper tire pressure is for your car? If not, check the decal on the door jamb of the driver’s side door. Most vehicles have a sticker showing the recommended tire pressures for the front, rear, and spare tires.
Don’t have a decal? Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual (it is usually found near the back in the “Specifications” section).
Use a tire inflator to fill the tires to the proper pressure. Don’t have one? Check out the air compressor and tire inflator that I recommend.
Find the tire pressure on the sticker inside your driver’s side door or user’s manual.
One often overlooked piece of kit is the spare tire! It can pay to double check that your spare tire is properly inflated as well. It’s also a good idea to refamiliarize yourself with how to change a flat tire, in case of emergencies!
Bear in mind, that depending on your vehicle type, the spare tire may be located under the car. If you have a Toyota Sienna, make sure you have the 5-sided nut necessary to remove the spare tire!
Snow tires, also known as winter tires, are specifically designed to provide improved traction, handling, and braking performance on snow and ice-covered roads. Both the material they are made out of, as well as the tread pattern are optimized for use in cold weather and slippery surfaces and are made to grip the road better while operating under these conditions.
All-season tires, on the other hand, are designed to provide good performance in a variety of weather conditions, including both dry and wet roads, as well as moderate amounts of snow. However, they are not as specialized as snow tires and may not provide the same level of traction, handling, and braking performance on snow and ice as snow tires do.
It’s worth noting that both snow tires and all-season tires can be used on the same vehicle, and many people choose to use snow tires only during the winter months and switch back to all-season tires when the weather warms up.
Brakes are a critical safety feature of your car, so it’s important to make sure they are in good working order before winter weather arrives. Inspect your brake pads and replace them if they are worn.
There are several signs that your brakes may need attention, including a soft or spongy brake pedal, a brake pedal that goes all the way to the floor, a brake warning light on the dashboard, or a grinding or squealing noise when you apply the brakes. If you notice any of these issues, it’s important to have your brakes checked as soon as possible.
In addition to checking for problems, it’s also important to have your brakes regularly inspected and serviced to ensure that they are in good working order. This may involve replacing the brake pads or rotors, or making other repairs as needed.
Fluid Levels: Cold temperatures can cause fluid levels to drop, so it is important to check the levels of oil, coolant, and other fluids before the winter weather arrives. Make sure the levels are at the appropriate level and consider replacing any fluids that are dirty or low.
If the freezing point of your antifreeze is too high, it may not be able to protect your car’s engine and other components from freezing in extremely cold weather. This can lead to serious damage to the engine and other parts of the car.
In general, it is important to use an antifreeze with a freeze temperature that is appropriate for the climate in which you live. If you are not sure what antifreeze to use, consult your car’s owner’s manual or a mechanic for guidance. It is also a good idea to regularly check the level and condition of your antifreeze.
Use an inexpensive Antifreeze/Coolant Tester to quickly and easily test your antifreeze for its freeze temp. Old or insufficeintly mixed antifreeze can form ice in your radiator on cold winter days andnot provide sufficient circulation for your engine.
Power Steering Fluid
Want to avoid squealing when you start up your car? Make sure you have enough power steering fluid. Under the hood ist he power steering fluid reservoir.
Check to make sure your level is between the lines. Note that there are HOT and COLD line markers. These refer to the car itself, whether it has been running recently or not. Make sure the fluid level is between the lines.
If your power steering is still squealing, and the fluid level is correct, you may need to tighten or replace your power steering belt.
Windshield Washer Fluid
Make sure you top off your windshield washer fluid as you head into winter. Road spray tends to increase during the winter months as snow, ice, and salt find their way onto the roads.
Windshield washer fluid typically contains water, as well as cleaning agents and other additives that help to remove dirt and grime more effectively.
For the colder months, be sure to choose a ‘winter blend’ of washer fluid so that it does not freeze in the reservoir or in the spray lines. Winter blend windshield washer fluid contains a type of antifreeze to prevent the fluid from freezing in cold weather.
Not happy with the high price of windshield washer fluid? Me neither! Use this guide to make your own windshield washer fluid! You can make it at a fraction of the cost, and also tune the blend for the temperatures in your area!
Heating and Defrosting Systems
It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to forget about the heater and the defroster during the hot summer months.
Run a quick check and make sure the heating and defrosting systems in your car are in good working order, as these can be essential for maintaining visibility and comfort during winter.
Doors and Windows
For me, a car door or window freezing shuts happens more often that I would like to admit! You can avoid this by properly lubricating the weatherstripping on your car doors. Usually, silicone lubricant is used on rubber that will come into contact with metal surfaes.
Not sure which lubricant to use for which situation? Check out my guide on which lubricant to use for common home and auto needs!
In addition to weatherstripping, be sure to lubricate the door and hood hinges and your sliding door, especially if they are not opening quite as smoothly as they used to. Cold weather has a tendency to exacerbate problems like stiff hinges.
Another one that’s easy to overlook are your door locks. It is not uncommon in the winter for the keyhole to freeze up. Lubricate your door locks with dry graphite lubricant to keep them working well all year long.
Hood and Rear Door Lifts
Colder temperatures can affect the nitrogen gas in the lift gate struts in your car. If you have these for the rear tailgate or the hood, check their functionality as the days get colder. If they seem slow or weak, consider replacing them.
They are surprisingly inexpensive, easy to change yourself, and increase your quality of life considerable (think: “Why didn’t I do this sooner??!?!”).
Windshield wipers are important for maintaining visibility during winter weather, so make sure they are in good condition. Clean them off with a damp rag and replace the wipers if they are worn or damaged.
Consider investing in winter wiper blades. What are those? They are blades that have extra protection around the mechanism so that snow and ice doesn’t get trapped. This makes them less likely to freeze up and stop working in the snow.
Make sure all the lights on your car are in good working order, as they can be essential for visibility during the winter months. Also consider making the upgrade to LED lights for increased brightness.
It is a good idea to keep an emergency kit in your car during the winter months, in case you get stranded on the road. The kit should include items such as a flashlight, warm blankets, snacks, and a first aid kit.
I also recommend jumper cables in case your battery dies, and you need a jump; this always seems to happen in the winter during the worst weather.
Not sure how to jump start a car? Check out this post where you can download a handy printable pdf on how to jump start a car you can keep in your glovebox with all the steps you need!
Another one that sounds weird, but it works, is kitty litter… Why, you ask? Keep a small bag of this in your car. If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t get traction, sprinkle a little in front of and behind the wheels in order to give your tires the traction they need!
I hope you found this vehicle winter preparedness list helpful!
Overall, preparing your car for winter is important for maintaining its performance and your safety during the colder months. Be sure to follow this checklist and consider consulting with a trusted mechanic if you have any concerns.