13 Ways to Winterize Your Car

Winter can be tough on cars and trucks. Be sure you’re ready for the season’s cold temperatures with this handy checklist of to-dos.

Winterizing Your Car's Exterior | CarMax

November 2016

Winter’s fierce weather conditions can wreak havoc on your car’s interior, exterior, and inner workings. Before the temperatures start dropping, it’s time to start checking off your to-do list of car protection and maintenance items. 

Here’s a foolproof guide on how to winterize your car.


Winterizing your car’s exterior

Wash It

Besides the satisfaction of cruising around in a clean, shiny car, washing your car can also extend the life of the paint job and help keep the mechanical components in good working order. Rain, snow, and salty or dusty road conditions can erode paint, leaving cars looking dull and aged. Failure to clean out gunk can also lead to rust build-up. In the most severe of cases, these issues can lead to engine malfunction or fluid leaks.

Protect the paint

We already mentioned how carwashes can help protect your car’s paint, but they can also damage it. The key is knowing which fabrics and solutions are safe for washing and which are not. Some dirty spots that have sat for a long period of time need handwashing. If this is the case, be sure to use a soft, microfiber cloth. The best option is to opt for a cloth made for car washing.

Waxing your car is another great way to protect your paint during winter months. A layer of wax after a car wash will help liquids roll off the surface.

Replace the wiper blades

Heavy rainfall poses a danger, especially when it’s hard to see out the front window. Replace your wiper blades no less than once a year—preferably every six months. Drivers in more rainy locales, like the Pacific Northwest, should swap them out more frequently. Scratching noises or skid marks left on the window are signs that wiper blades should be replaced immediately. Some hardware stores offer heated windshield wipers that are said to last longer in freezing temperatures.  

Consider snow tires

Drivers who regularly trek through the snow in winter should consider swapping all four tires to snow tires, even in all-wheel drive vehicles like the Jeep Liberty or the Mitsubishi Outlander. These specialized tires provide more traction and offer a more stable driving experience. Switch back to non-snow tires for better fuel efficiency when temperatures heat up.

Check the tire pressure

Tire pressure drops 1 psi for every 10-degree drop in Fahrenheit. Make it a weekly habit to check your tire pressure before heading out for the day, especially if your car is older and does not alert you via dashboard warning. It might be worth it to get a portable tire inflator to take on the go.

Treat windows with this DIY mixture

Never pour hot or boiling water onto your windshield to defrost or melt ice. Heat, which causes expansion, does not travel through glass well. If hot water is poured onto a windshield, the glass expands too rapidly in one area and will most likely crack. Hot water on side windows is also unsafe. If that liquid seeps down past the window, then it could cause the locking system or power window features to malfunction.

Instead, create a mixed solution of one part water to three parts vinegar—any type of vinegar will work. Spray the mixture on all windows before temperatures drop. The acidity of the vinegar will help lessen the buildup of ice and frost. A hand scraper can then be used to easily wipe off snow. The solution can also be applied while the car is defrosting, as the mixture will still help break down the frost.

Winterizing your car’s interior

Prepare an Emergency Supplies Kit

When the unexpected occurs, it’s smart to be prepared with an emergency supplies kit. If your car has great cargo room, like a Volvo XC-90, here are some items to consider packing:

  • Jumper cables
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Tire inflator
  • Tire patch kit
  • Blankets, water, flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Phone charger

Winterizing your car’s mechanics

Check the Cabin Air Filter

To keep warm and toasty in the cold months, make sure your car heater is working at full capacity. If the engine makes a screeching noise when the fan is turned up, or if the air refuses to warm up, the cabin air filter might need to be replaced. The cabin air filter essentially cleans the air from the outside before it enters through the car to you. This helps keep dirt, pollen, and other air particles that lead to lower air quality from entering the cabin.

Check the car thermostat

A malfunctioning thermostat could be another reason your car’s cabin air isn’t heating up. The thermostat allows engine coolant to travel through the vehicle and release warm air. Thermostats in cars in cold weather, or cars that have not been driven in a while, can get stuck in the closed position.                             

Check the battery

Checking your car battery and having a service professional perform any necessary maintenance will help maximize its lifespan.

Have a mechanic check engine fluids and 4WD or AWD

Whether your car is a 4WD champ like the Ford F150, which is great for braving snow and ice, or AWD, which is also great for uneven surfaces, it’s important to maintain proper transmission fluid levels. A car’s transmission fluid has many jobs: lubricating the gears, cooling the engine, cleaning and protecting the interior metal, and more. Consult your owner’s manual for transmission service intervals.

Use antifreeze appropriately

Antifreeze lowers the freezing point of water in your radiator. Have your service professional add antifreeze to your car’s radiator at a ratio of one part antifreeze to one part water.

Check Car Belt and Hoses

Cold temperatures can sometimes cause car belts and hoses to squeak and malfunction. Belts are an integral component to the car’s ability to function, and they should be inspected by a service professional every fall.

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