How To Winterize Your Car
Prepare for the worst or be forever cursed.
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When the seasons change, your entire life changes. Different clothes, different food, different schedules, and different weather, all of which requires preparation. More than any other time of the year, winter demands that you give into its tantrums and plan for the worst. That means busting out the giant puffy coat and prepping your car.
Considering the popularity and hype of cross-brand collaborations, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a GORE-TEX Edition Subaru Outback or Toyota 4Runner in the near future, but for now, you’ll have to do it on your own. Below, The Drive’s editors have laid out all the necessary steps in this quick-and-easy guide with everything you’ll need to winterize your car. Trust us, Tony and Jonathon grew up in Chicago, and Chris in Maine!
Your tires are the only thing between the car and the road. Tread carefully.
Check the tread depth of your tires and replace them accordingly. Use a tread depth tool, check the built-in tread bars, or use the quarter test.
Check and fill your tires to the correct PSI, as stated in your owner’s manual.
If you live in an area that experiences a real winter climate, we highly recommend getting winter tires. Before you complain about the cost, it’s not an extra cost! Your regular tires just last twice as long.
Your battery is one of the most likely causes of stranded drivers. It is extremely important to make sure it’s in perfect working order before the 10-degree days start.
Make sure the cables are tightly attached.
Remove any and all corrosion. We explain the methods to use in our guide, How To Clean Battery Terminals.
If you don’t want to drive to a local auto parts store for a free battery test, you can use the quick at-home headlight test method.
- Turn the headlights on, but do not start your car.
- Leave the lights on for about 10 minutes.
- While watching the brightness of your headlights, turn the car on.
- If you notice that your headlights are significantly dimmer, your battery might not be performing at its peak. Replace, if necessary.
All fluids should be checked, topped off, and/or changed before beginning the winter season, including:
- Winter-grade windshield wiper fluid
- Brake fluid
- Power steering fluid
If you only change your windshield wipers once a year, do it before winter. Also note that not all wipers are designed to perform in extremely cold weather. Make sure you have rubber that won’t turn into rocks.
For replacement instructions, visit our guide, “How To Change Windshield Wipers.”
Visibility can become a major issue in the winter months due to snow and mixed precipitation, so you need to make sure your headlights are providing optimum light. If your headlight housing is faded, dirty, or yellowed, the light might be hindered. Clean those things up with a headlight restoration kit, if you need to.
Belts and Hoses
Inspect all belts and hoses within the engine bay for dry-rotting, cracking, gouges, misaligned clamps, or anything else that could result in breakage or movement.
Always do a quick check to make sure your heater works BEFORE it starts to get too cold, as you might have issues with the heater core, the blower motor, and/or the blower motor resistor. You’ll also want to check your cabin air filter to make sure it’s clean. Smelly heater air is the worst.
Any brush is better than no brush, but try to get one with these features:
- Snow brush
- Ice scraper
- Extendable arm
Rubber Floor Mats
Every time you step into your car, you’re bringing fragments of the outside world with you, and they’re falling into every crack and crevice of your interior. Rubber floor mats are great for protecting against salad, mud, dirt, grime, and water during the winter. And don’t forget to empty the mats every once in a while.
Winter road slush infused with Himalayan blue rock salt is a cocktail that is determined to attack your car and its paint. Make sure you give it a good wash and wax before the season starts.
Treat Any Rust Spots
Your car might still be reeling from the rust that popped up during the previous winter. If you let it lie, it’s going to spread like wildfire, so it’s important to treat and/or repair rust as soon as possible.
You can buy an emergency kit for your car, or you could build your own. At the very least, you should have these key items:
- A first aid kit
- Tool kit
- Jumper cables
- Gloves and socks
- Water and snacks
- Something for traction
For more information on packaging your own kit, read our guide “13 Essential Tools and Gear for Your Winter Car Kit.”
Protect Your Paint for Winter and Beyond with CeramicPro
There’s probably half a dozen things you could be doing with the last seasonable days of the year instead of winterizing your car's surfaces. CeramicPro meticulously educates and certifies every nanoceramic coating specialist and paint protection film installer in their national network of professionals. With CeramicPro, you’ll get world-class service, expertise, and exclusive products that take your car’s appearance and protection to the next level.
FAQs About Winterizing Your Car
You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!
Q. How Much Does It Cost To Winterize a Car?
A. That will mostly depend on how many of the above-mentioned items you already own. The biggest expense would be winter tires, which will cost hundreds of dollars. Bridgestone Blizzaks would set me back about $500 for my 2003 Acura RSX.
Beyond tires, you’ll need to buy all of your fluids, filters, wiper blades, floor mats, wax, and anything else outlined in our guide.
Q. Is Winterizing a Car Necessary?
A. “Necessary? Is it necessary for me to drink my own ur...” Wait, let’s keep this PG. If you want to protect yourself, others around you, as well as your car, then yes, it is necessary to winterize your car.
Q. Does My Car Need Antifreeze In the Winter?
A. Yes, your coolant should be a 50-50 mixture of antifreeze and water.
Q. How Do I Know If My Car Needs Antifreeze?
A. There are several symptoms your car might show if it is low on coolant. For more information, read our complete guide, “How To Check Coolant Level.”
Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors!
We’re here to be expert guides in everything How-To related. Use us, compliment us, yell at us. Comment below and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram, here are our profiles.
Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)
Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)
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