It happens every winter.
It’s freezing outside and you rush to your car to get warm. You can’t get your door unlocked, or you have trouble starting your car because of the cold weather…
Or maybe you’re running late for work, find your car has been covered in snow and need to use a shovel and scraper to rescue your car. Or maybe you’re on the road and you run low on wiper fluid, which makes it even harder to see because your headlights are dim.
The simple truth is that winter is a terrible season for your car. In some areas AAA has seen a 200% increase in help requests during the winter. If you don't take preventative measures to take care of your car, you may be waiting in the cold for a while.
If you want to protect your car and yourself, it’s a good idea to perform a round of winter car maintenance before the season begins and to exercise care when maintaining your car throughout the colder months.
To get you started, here are 9 winter car care maintenance tips that can not only protect your car from Mother Nature, but can also save you time, frustration and money throughout the colder months.
These are the top winter car care tips:
- Fight for your finish
- Check your car’s battery
- Keep your car covered
- Get new wiper blades
- Evaluate your headlight brightness
- Replenish the fluids
- Don’t tread lightly
- Maintain control
- Be prepared for emergencies
Next, we’ll get into specific details about each of these topics, and offer specific recommendations to help you through the winter.
1. Fight for your finish
During the winter, your car’s finish is at greater risk than any other time of the year. Cold can make your paint brittle, rock salt can stick to your car and corrode your finish. Even the simple act of removing ice and snow in the morning can leave scratches.
Investing in a thorough waxing or paint sealant can make a big difference. Also, while it may seem counter-intuitive, it’s a good idea to get your car cleaned during the winter months in order to remove rock salt and other corrosives. This may be the time to splurge on the occasional trip to the car wash.
Also, be careful when cleaning your car. While a scraper may be necessary to remove ice from windows, your paint can be scratched by nylon snow brushes. Instead, invest in a foam brush. It can quickly remove snow and won’t damage your car’s exterior.
Of course, if your car is covered, you won’t need to scrape at all. Just remove the cover and go.
2. Check your car’s battery
When the temperature drops, your battery is more likely to fail. In fact, a battery that's merely weak during the summer could die in the winter.
This is because the chemical processes that make your battery work are weakened by the cold. In the winter, a car battery can lose between 35% to 60% of its strength. If your battery is reaching the end of its life (3-5 years) it’s more likely that your battery will fail.
To prevent getting stuck with a dead battery, it’s a good idea to perform a volt test to ensure your battery is in good working order. You can do this yourself or have it tested at a service station, auto parts store or repair shop.
If the charge on your car battery is weak, buy a new battery as soon as possible. That way, you won’t have to worry about being stuck at home, in a cold parking lot or worse with a car that won't start.
3. Keep your car covered
There’s another way to keep your car protected year-round. Use high-quality car covers or truck covers. The right cover can keep ice and snow from accumulating on your vehicle, protect your finish and make it easier to get your car started in the morning.
For all-weather protection, look for a cover with:
- Hydrophobic coating that repels water including ice and snow
- Straps, buckles or elastic hems to secure your cover in place and ensures that your cover won’t get blown away by the wind
- Durable construction and sealed seams to keep moisture from coming through
- UV resistant coating to protect your car from fading in bright winter sunlight
4. Get new wiper blades
In snowy conditions, you need your windshield wipers to keep your vision clear. Having the right wiper blades can make all the difference.
Testing by Consumer Reports has demonstrated that even the best-performing wiper blades can lose their effectiveness in as little as six months. Streaks or missed sections of glass are sure signs that the blades are ready for retirement.
We recommend replacing wiper blades as often as twice per year. Most wiper blades are easy to install, and some stores will perform the replacement work free of charge.
Also, don't try to use the wipers to remove ice from the windshield. Instead, use an ice scraper and/or a de-icing solution on frosty mornings. If you park your car outside, place the wipers in the raised position. That will keep them from freezing to the windshield.
5. Evaluate your headlight brightness
As the temperatures get colder, the days also get shorter. You need to make sure your headlight bulbs aren’t dimming with age.
Headlights should be changed every 2000 miles, and you might want to consider upgrading to brighter, more eco-friendly bulbs. You’ll see better and these bulbs can last even longer.
6. Replenish the fluids
During the winter, it’s always a good idea to make sure that all of your car's fluid levels are full.
This may include:
Gasoline: You should try to keep your gas tank full for several reasons, like the fact that a full tank may prevent accumulated water from freezing inside your fuel pump. This can help you stay warm in other ways, like by keeping the engine running when you get stuck in a snowstorm.
Washer Fluid: Need to keep your windshields free of ice, dirt, mud and debris? A full windshield-washer reservoir is tremendously important, as messy road debris from a snowstorm can necessitate constant window washing to see where you're going.
Antifreeze: This keeps the engine from freezing in cold temperatures, so make sure your car isn't low on coolant and that there aren't any leaks that could cause coolant to drain out. Want to get the most from your antifreeze? Mechanics recommend drivers use a 50/50-mix of coolant and water in their radiators, which usually results in a lower engine freezing point than just coolant.
Before the season starts, check your fluid levels. Many garages or oil change locations will do it as an added service.
7. Don’t Tread Lightly
Investing in winter tires or snow tires is a good idea if you live in an area where the temperature regularly drops below 45 degrees. These tires are better at staying flexible in low temperature. This provides improved traction and control.
It's incredibly important to keep track of your tire pressure as temperatures get colder. Driving around with low tire pressure could mean premature tire wear or potential tread separation, which could lead to a major accident. Also, your car handles less predictably with underinflated tires.
It's also good to make sure your spare tire is in good condition and that you have your change kit available.
8. Maintain Control
It’s already hard to keep your car warm in the winter, if you can’t control the temperature inside your car it’s even harder. Another good winter car care maintenance tip is to check your car's window defroster, your climate control system and if applicable, your car’s built-in window defrosters.
Make sure these items are still in operational condition and that your dashboard controls are working properly.
If your dashboard warning lights are blinking, it’s also a good idea to get them checked before a simple warning becomes a big problem.
9. Be prepared for emergencies
When Murphy’s Law rears its ugly head, it never hurts to plan for the worst. Have an emergency kit in your car. This may include:
- Lock de-icer
- Hand warmers
- Extra blanket and/or extra clothes
- Rock salt, kitty litter or gravel for traction
- Jumper cables or a battery charger
- Cell phone charger
Hopefully, you won’t need to use any of these items, but it’s still always better to be safe than sorry.
Protect Your Car with These Winter Maintenance Tips
The winter can be tough on any vehicle, but by taking the appropriate preventative measures, you can ensure you and your car are safe even through the worst conditions. Follow these tips, be safe and enjoy the ride all the way through the spring.