Tips on How To Winterize Your Car or Truck BEFORE Cold Weather Arrives:
Check the battery terminals and cables. If the terminals are corroded, or the cables are loose, clean or replace them to assure good electrical contact. Many no-starts are caused by poor terminal connections or a weak battery.
Check the battery state-of-charge. Testing the battery is done by connecting a voltmeter to the battery terminals with the ignition and all accessories OFF. A fully charged battery should show 12.6 volts. If the battery reads less than 12.4 volts, it is less than 75% charged and should be recharged.
Check the age of your battery. Most car batteries only last 4 or 5 years. If you battery is 5 or more years old, therefore, you may need to replace it soon. Replacing it before cold weather hits is a winterizing tip that can save you a no-start and service call. The age of your battery can be determined by reading the date code on the label.
The date code number indicates the year, and the date code letter corresponds to the month (A = January, B = February, C = March, etc.)
Check the charging system. With the engine OFF, inspect the belt that drives the alternator. Make sure it is tight and in good condition. Start the engine and connect a voltmeter to the battery terminals with the engine running. The charging voltage should be about 14 to 14.5 volts. Less than this means your vehicle may have a charging problem. Further diagnosis will be necessary to determine if the low charging problem is due to the alternator or something else. If you do not fix it now, the charging system will not be able to keep the battery charged and eventually the engine won't start because of a dead battery.
Check the strength of the coolant. Winterize your cooling system by checking the strength and condition of the coolant. Antifreeze mixed 50/50 with water will provide freezing protection down to minus 34 degrees F. The freezing protection of the coolant depends on how much water has been mixed with the antifreeze. Coolant normally contains half water and half antifreeze (50/50). If someone has added straight water to the cooling system, it can raise the freezing temperature. You do not want the coolant to freeze because ice expands and can crack the radiator or engine block. The strength of the coolant can be checked with a hydrometer or refractometer. If the strength of the coolant reads low, add additional antifreeze to bring the coolant up to normal strength. This may require siphoning or draining some old coolant from the coolant reservoir or radiator to make room for the additional antifreeze.
Change the oil. Winterize your engine by replacing old dirty oil with fresh oil can reduce the drag on the starter when a cold engine is cranked. Lighter oils such as 0W-20, 5W-20 and 5W-30 crank much easier in cold weather than heavier oils such as 10W-30 or 20W-30. Synthetic motor oils are best for easy cold weather starting.
Replace the spark plugs. Refer to your vehicle owners manual for the recommend replacement interval for the spark plugs. Conventional spark plugs typically have a service life of about 45,000 miles. Long life platinum and iridium spark plugs typically have a service life of up to 100,000 miles. Even so, short trip stop and go driving, especially during cold weather, may allow fouling deposits to build up on the plugs, causing misfire and hard starting problems. If your engine has long life plugs that have more than 80,000 miles on them, consider changing the plugs before cold weather arrives. This can make the engine much easier to start during cold weather.
Clean your fuel injectors. Fuel varnish can build up in injectors over time, causing a leaning-effect on the fuel mixture. The engine control system will compensate for this up to a point, but eventually it may cause lean misfire, poor performance and hard starting. Add a can of concentrated fuel injection cleaner to your fuel tank to clean your fuel injectors. This winterizing tip can help assure easy starting and smooth running all winter long.
If you have a diesel engine, change the fuel filter/water separator, and add a can of fuel conditioner to the fuel tank. This winterizing tip will help prevent fuel waxing and the formation of ice in the filter when the temperature drops.
Check the heater and defrosters. Does the heater blow hot air? Do the defrosters reroute warm air to the windshield to clear the glass? Does the rear electric defogger work? Better to fix any problems now while the weather is still warm than to discover the heater or defrosters are weak or inoperative on a cold winter worming.
Check or replace the windshield wipers. Natural rubber wiper blades have a limited life of a year or less. Sun exposure, extreme heat and cold all age the rubber and cause it to become hard and brittle. If the wipers streak, chatter or smear, it is time to replace them. Winter blades with rubber-encased frames, or the new beam or frameless style blades are a good choice for winter driving.
Lubricate door locks and doors. Winterize your car by squirting some silicone spray or lock lubricant into external key holes to prevent ice from freezing the locks. Spray the weatherstripping around the doors, truck and hatchback with silicone spray to keep them from freezing shut.
Wax the body. The body should be waxed or sprayed with some type of protectant before winter arrives to help protect the paint against road salt. If you do not want to hand wax the body, pay for a "super deluxe" drive-thru car wash to get the spray-on wax. It is better than no wax at all.
Protect yourself. Toss some winter survival gear into the trunk or luggage compartment. This should include a flashlight (with new alkaline batteries), a blanket, boots, gloves, hat, small shovel, maybe a bag of sand, and something to eat such as protein bars, pretzels or chocolate (dark chocolate is healthiest). If you carry a cell phone, make sure you have a cell phone charger along, too, and a credit card or cash to pay for a tow or jump-start if needed ($75 is usually the minimum charge).
Head South. The easiest alternative to all of the above is to fill you gas tank and head south for the winter. Goodbye snow, hello Florida, Arizona or Southern California.