Winter is Coming: 6 Tips for Prepping Your Vehicle for the Cold

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

If you’re living in the Northeast U.S. right about now, you’re probably either A) incredibly thankful that you decided to get your snow tires on when you did, or B) incredibly irritated with yourself for not having your car’s winter booties installed earlier as your native region gets pummeled with the first major snowstorm of the year.

Snow tires are, arguably, the most important preparation for the winter months. Many might even say that a good pair of snows is more important than all-wheel drive (we’ll let you work that one out amongst yourselves), but there’s also plenty of other things that you can do to make sure your car is winter-ready and comes out in the spring looking and acting as healthy as it was in the fall.

Automotive resource was thoughtful enough to lay out some steps that you can take to ensure that your car will make it through the colder months with minimal to no trouble at all. Read on after the jump.

wet tire tread
Source: Thinkstock

1. Tires and brakes

As noted above, your tires — and brakes, naturally — deserve the utmost attention during this time of the year. Make sure there’s adequate tread depth on your snows, and also take the following recommendations into account:

  • Proper tire inflation. Cold air contracts, and can result in fluctuating tire levels, so keep tabs on your tire pressure — especially if you’re parking in a garage at night.
  • Check your treads. Traction is paramount in wintery conditions, so make sure you have the tread to ensure it. It’ll help you accelerate in slippery conditions, and perhaps more importantly, slow down again and handle turns.
  • Check your brakes. Make sure your brake fluid reservoir is at the recommended level — this should be done throughout the year, but winter especially. Worn brakes can also be problematic in colder weather, so get those swapped out for some fresh rotors and pads ahead of serious winter driving.
  • Check your ABS. ABS — commonly referred to as anti-lock brakes — help prevent the car from entering an uncontrolled skid if the brakes are pressed firmly. If your car is equipped with the system (which it likely is at this point), and your dash light is on, make sure you get this addressed before setting out in snowy, icy, or slushy conditions.
Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

2. Battery and alternator

Cold conditions put extra stress on the battery, which has to crank out power in order to turn the engine over. Perhaps MojoMotors said it best, “Battery troubles have stranded many a winter motorist. It’s better to change it now than on the side of the road.” If the alternator isn’t performing correctly, it won’t charge your battery back up to the level it needs to turn over the engine, so this is also a critical component to at least have inspected if you think you’re having electrical issues.

  • Swap out the battery. If your battery is older, change it out for a fresh one. Getting a tow from the side of the highway or your driveway will probably be more expensive than this piece of preventive care.
  • Clean and check your connections. Corrosion and grime can build up around the battery terminals and cut off the connection between the battery and the rest of the car. If the battery is relatively new, simply make sure these are cleaned up and tightened down and you shouldn’t have issues on the electric delivery front.
Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

3. Change your oil

Again, this is one of those important things that needs to be happening all year round: As big of a pain as it is, it’s an essential part of vehicular ownership and maintenance.

  • Change your oil type. Oil performs many different functions — it helps cool the engine, lubricate its parts, and it can help clean as well. But over time and miles, motor oil loses its ability to accomplish these tasks. Colder weather doesn’t do it any favors; colder oil is harder to move, and can make it more difficult for the engine to turn over initially. “The old wisdom used to be that it’s better to run a thicker oil in the summer and a thinner oil in the winter,” MojoMotors says. “Luckily, today’s motor oils are multi-grade, meaning they’re designed to run in a wide range of temperatures.”
  • Check your transmission fluid. Like motor oil, the fluid in your transmission can get dirty and sluggish. “It doesn’t have to be changed specifically for winter, but it must be changed on schedule,” the site said.
Source: Spencer Platt/ Getty Images
Source: Spencer Platt/ Getty Images

4. Check your coolant and flush if necessary

If you don’t want your entire automotive system to get gummed up, you’d best come prepared with the proper coolant and flush to keep things running. Even during the winter, having the correct amount of coolant to keep things in working order is very important. After all, your engine is generating a ton of heat, and transporting that heat is part of the process that keeps vehicles running.

  • Flush your system. Once every couple years, you’ll need to give your entire system a good flushing. If you’re not sure how to properly do it, have a mechanic walk you through the steps, or even learn how via Youtube.
  • Check your fluid ratios. When adding coolant or antifreeze to your vehicle’s system, you need to ensure that you’re getting the proportions right. Antifreeze does not come in a pre-mixed container; you’ll need to do that yourself. Check what the optimal mix of coolant/water is for your climate, and add the mixture in accordingly.
Source: Trico Wiper Blades/Facebook

5. Replace your windshield wipers and top up your washer fluid

What’s the most important thing to take into consideration while driving? Well, there are a lot of things, but visibility is way up on the list. Few things can be more visually impairing than snow and ice, so make sure your vehicle is ready to handle anything that Mother Nature can throw at it. This involves some relatively simple preventative measures:

  • Replace old wipers. Take a look at the wipers currently installed on your vehicle, and make sure they’re in proper working order and in top shape. Ice and snow can easily damage or fray them, so it may be best to just grab a new pair to start the season off on the best foot. Besides, we all know what it’s like to have some faulty wipers smearing water across the windshield. It’s annoying and dangerous.
  • Use winter wiper fluid. That’s right, there are different types of wiper fluid that you can be using. This may come as a surprise to some people, but it makes a lot of sense when you think about it. There are a ton of brands to choose from, so do some experimenting and see which you prefer.
  • Check your defrosters. In order to quickly and efficiently melt off ice and defog your windshield and windows, it’s imperative that your defrosters are working without issue. Before you run into any problems, take the time now to make sure they aren’t clogged up or experiencing any other issues. When the cold weather strikes, these will be your best friend, so take a minute to make sure they’re good to go.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Source: Alex Wong/Getty Images

6. Protect against rust and corrosion. Winter time can be a very rough stretch on your vehicle’s exterior for a variety of reasons. Yes, there is falling snow, ice and water to be wary of, but there’s also the threat of chemicals and salt from road crews getting into your car’s undercarriage, or even eating away at the paint. There’s also the likelihood that rust could form if proper precautions are not taken.

  • Wax your car. Some people love the process of waxing, others hate it. Regardless of you how you feel about it, there are some real benefits to doing it. Get out there before the cold weather sets in and give your vehicle a good, hearty coat to help protect from all the nastiness that winter brings.
  • Wash it frequently. Yes, this can be a bit tricky in the winter, but if you want to ward off rust, it’s very important. Depending on where you live, and what treatments road crews use to melt snow and ice, you may be able to get away with a few washes. But getting salt and chemicals off shouldn’t wait very long, so give your car a scrub down here and there, even if it’s cold out.
  • Seal the under carriage. You can actually purchase a sealant to help coat your car’s undercarriage in preparation for all the salt and chemicals you’ll face during the winter. This helps protect those areas that are often ignored during regular washes, and will help keep your vehicle’s integrity intact from an angle that you don’t often get to see.