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Myriad things can go wrong with your car in the winter. Fluids can thicken while parts corrode. Fuel lines and wipers can freeze. Tire pressure drops, and car batteries die. Most car owners have dealt with one or more of these conditions as the temperature dips. But with regular maintenance, you can avoid potentially serious repair issues and minimize the risk of accidents.

Proper maintenance begins with understanding how to give your car the proper care during the colder months. To that end, you might wonder whether you should change your oil more frequently in the wintertime.

Preparing your car for winter

A vehicle gets an oil change in a service garage
Oil change | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Before considering how often you should change your oil during the winter, you’ll first want to change your oil and filter before freezing weather arrives. If you change your oil yourself, do it before the temperature drops, for your own sake. The Napa Know How Blog notes that if you plan to keep your car in a garage, failing to change it will up the chances that the increasing amounts of water and acid in your old oil will damage your engine.

Once you’ve changed the oil, run your engine for five minutes to ensure the new oil circulates throughout your car. Doing so will help minimize the risk of engine damage. You can periodically idle the car, but doing so might increase the chances that your oil will break down, leaving deposits of water and acid on your engine and its components.

Be sure to check your car’s owner’s manual before determining what oil to use. Recommended oils vary by car, and you want to avoid choosing the wrong one. If you do, your vehicle could leak, or you might notice a burning smell while operating your vehicle. If your oil is not properly lubricating your engine, the resulting friction will burn the oil, causing the smell.

Changing your oil and filters during the winter

Now, if you’re operating your vehicle during the winter, it is a good idea to change your oil and filters more regularly than you did during warmer months. Why? Cooler temperatures can thicken oil, making it harder to flow when you start your car. As the car warms up and heats the oil, your engine will work without the benefit of lubrication for several minutes. That can result in motor engine problems.

When you get your oil changed, you’ll want to consider oil viscosity. Viscosity refers to oil thickness. The higher the viscosity, the thicker it is. And even low-viscosity oils change with temperature drops. However, some oils are designed to operate well even at low temperatures.

You’ll see a grade on an oil bottle that appears as two numbers separated by a “W.” The number before the W indicates the oil’s viscosity at low temperatures, while the number after the “W” is its viscosity at normal temperatures. If you have found oil with a low viscosity number, it will likely help improve your car’s performance during the winter. But you shouldn’t choose a new oil before consulting your owner’s manual.

You’ll also want to change your filters regularly. Thick oil is pushed into your filter when you start your car, creating considerable pressure. According to Machinery Lubrication, this pressure can damage your car’s canister can, sealing rings, and split clamp. Ensure you have a high-quality filter that can withstand high pressure, and change it regularly.

Choosing the right oil

According to Firestone Complete Autocare, oils with a 5W30 grade are typically recommended for winter use. Most 5W30 oils fall under the category of conventional motor oil. But there are also synthetic blends and synthetic oils that contain additives to lower viscosity even further, allowing for smoother winter vehicle operation. Synthetic oils offer some of the best protection for vehicles operating at low temperatures. However, check your owner’s manual to see if their use is recommended.

Though 5W30 oils provide appropriate protection for most winter temperatures, they might not be the best for states where temperatures routinely drop below freezing. You might wish to opt for a lower-viscosity oil in those cases. But it might be necessary to speak with an expert to determine which oil is best for your car.

The bottom line: To keep your car performing at optimal levels and avoid potentially expensive engine problems, change your oil and filters regularly when the temperature drops. If you don’t, you could prematurely shorten your engine’s life.


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