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How To Winterize Your Car


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.)

battery terminals
One of the most important Winterizing Tips is to have a good, fully charged battery
with clean, tight terminals for reliable cold weather starting.

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.

antifreeze tester
You can check the strength of your coolant with an inexpensive
antifreeze tester like this.

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.

diesel fuel/water filter
Changing the water/fuel separator filter on a diesel
is essential for reliable cold weather starting.

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.

bosch icon wiper blade
New wiper blades will improve visibility during wet sloppy weather.
Frameless blades like these resist clogging with ice and snow.

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.

car accident winter driving
Winter driving can be dangerous. Winter tires are better than all-season
tires for braking on ice and snow.

Winter Driving Tips

(Courtesy of

Slow Down Traction loss starts at about 40-degrees Fahrenheit, even without rain or snow on the ground. Lower temperatures reduce a tire's flexibility and grip. At 32 degrees F, the tires found on many high performance cars are so stiff they offer no traction at all.

Leave Room Adding distance behind the vehicle ahead gives you more time to react. In rain and snow follow two seconds behind at 30mph; four seconds at 60mph.

Be Smooth Accelerate, brake and steer as if you had a full cup of hot coffee on the dashboard. Just as abrupt actions would spill the coffee, so too could they cause a loss of control. It is also one of the best ways to save gas, too!

Check Air Pressure For every 10-degree drop in temperature, tires lose 1 psi of air pressure. A tire filled to 32 psi at 70-degrees F. will have only 28 psi at 30-degrees. Underinflated tires offer less traction, can reduce fuel mileage, can wear out prematurely. Check your tires monthly with an accurate tire pressure gauge. Fill them to vehicle manufacturer specifications.

Choose the Right Tires for Winder Driving Tires are shoes for your car, and wearing the right "snow shoes" can make a big difference. Like snow boots, dedicated winter tires offer maximum traction in cold, snow and ice. Winter tires can offer up to 21 percent more traction than All Season tires, and can decrease stopping distances on snow and ice. So the next time you replace your tires consider the advantage of buying a set of winter tires.

Here is a link to a short YouTube video about Winter Tire Safety made by the Tire Industry Association: Tire Safety Starts With Winter tires. This video shows the dramatic differences between all-season tires and winter tires on ice and snow. This is "must see" viewing for any winter driver!

A set of Winter tires costs as little as $400. You will also need an extra set of rims, which you can often find used for less than $50 each. Depending on your driving habits, your winter tires should last you many seasons depending on how many mils you drive. And since you're only using them during winter months, they will allow your regular tires to last much longer, too, saving you money down the road for replacement tire costs.

More Winter Driving Tips

Winter Driving Tips
Click image above for larger view. Courtesy: Alldata

winterize car More Car Care Articles:

How To Open A Frozen Car Door

How to Safely Jump Start a Dead Battery

Battery Testing

Starting & Charging System Troubleshooting

Servicing Your Cooling System

Preventive Maintenance Chart

Preventive Maintenance -- Tips For Taking Better Care Of Your Car

Safe Travel Tips

Replace Your Windshield Wipers

Car Care Tips for Hot Weather Driving

Don't Neglect the Spark Plugs

What Every Motorist Should Know About Motor Oil

How Often Should You Change Your Oil?

To More Technical Info Click Here to See More Carley Automotive Technical Articles

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