The Drive and eBay Motors Guide to Winterizing Your Car

Prep your car now so it can weather the coldest months with ease.

Winter Driving

This article is sponsored by eBay Motors.

The first step in winterizing your car is identifying the types of conditions you’re likely to see. For some, winter driving prep is as simple as making sure your car’s maintenance is up to date and changing out your mango-coconut air freshener for peppermint coco. Others will need dedicated snow tires, maybe some different fluids, even taking care of some light rust from the previous winter, and yes, a more winter-appropriate cabin scent.

By prepping your car for winter, you can prevent anything from a minor inconvenience to a potentially life-threatening situation. The amount of time, effort, and money required can vary widely depending on the severity of your winter weather and the current condition of your car. If your car is only a year or two old, the dealership is likely taking care of most of your needs. If you own an older car, especially one out of warranty, you may be able to save a considerable amount of time and money doing the winter preparation yourself. You will need the proper equipment to do several of these jobs.

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Before diving into what needs to be changed, repaired, or upgraded on your car for winter, it’s a good time to look at what you should already have in your car to be prepared for any situation. Unplanned events happen regardless of weather or season. Be prepared.

Roadside Emergency Kit

Every car emergency kit should start with a first aid kit. You can assemble your own or buy one off the shelf. Next, a flashlight and extra batteries for the kit. You may also want to keep a small flashlight inside the car. Next to the flashlight is a good spot for an escape tool consisting of a glass breaker and seat belt cutter. Flashlights and escape tools are both heavy and one has a cutting edge. Keep them secured and in a place you would be able to reach in a situation that would require you to cut yourself out of your seatbeltnot in the trunk.

More than 10 percent of highway fatalities are pedestrians on the road’s shoulder. Visibility is key. You want a reflective vest, safety triangles and, as long as you don’t live where your trunk can get over 150F, road flares.

For tools, a jumpstart pack or jumper cables, a couple of screwdrivers, an adjustable wrench, pliers, a pocket knife or multitool, a few plastic wire ties, duct tape and a pair of work gloves are a good start. You can expand your kit based on your own ability to fix the car on the side of the road.

In case your car is beyond repair or physically stuck, an extra mobile phone charger or power cord is good to have in your kit.

Since you never know if, or for how long you may be stuck waiting for help, you will want to have water intended for storage and high-energy, ready-to-eat food like nuts, dried fruit, or meal replacement bars.

For winter weather you might want to add a few more items. Always have weather-appropriate clothing in the car, even if you’re just going a couple of miles to a drive-thru with no intention of getting out of the car. Prepare for what could happen, not what you plan to happen. Throw a warm blanket in the trunk. If you really don’t have room, a space blanket will do the trick. Chemical heat packs can make all the difference in an emergency. A collapsible shovel and even a small bag of sand can help you get out of worst-case scenarios in snow.

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Swapping Winter Tires

If you live where you will be driving in snow on a regular basis, you probably already know the drill of installing dedicated snow tires for the winter. To make this job as quick and painless as possible, you’re going to want a floor jack, jack stands, a breaker bar with appropriate-sized socket and a torque wrench. An impact wrench, either air or electric, is always nice to have.

This should go without saying, but this is an excellent time to check the air pressure in your tires. Factory recommended settings can be found in your owner’s manual and sometimes on a sticker found in the door jamb, inside the fuel filler door or the inside of the glove box door. Having a good air compressor that plugs into your car’s 12-volt socket is great for this and can be kept in your car’s trunk. Also, don’t forget to check the pressure in your spare tire.

Brake Inspection or Service

If you have the tires and wheels off the car already, you might as well inspect your brakes. If you find service is required, and you feel comfortable doing the job yourself, you will want to invest in a couple of tools. First, determine if your vehicle requires any specialized tools; many brands have proprietary caliper spreaders or piston retractors. You may also want a power brake bleeding tool so you can do that job by yourself.

Inspect Battery

The rest of this may be moot if your car won’t start. When the temperature drops, so does your battery’s ability to provide power. Most automotive parts shops will test your battery while it’s still in your car for a small fee. Another option is to buy your own battery tester for home use; it may come in handy more often than you think.

Even if your battery is in good health at the beginning of winter, if you do a lot of trips under 20 minutes, you may not be keeping your car battery fully charged. A battery that is fully charged will last longer and be less likely to freeze. Battery chargers don’t take-up much space and can pay for themselves in cold climates.

Inspect Fluids

It isn’t as common in late model cars, but some manufacturers have recommended different weights of motor oil for summer and winter driving. Look in your owner’s manual to determine if this applies to your car. With most modern cars having oil change intervals anywhere from 5,000 miles to as high as 15,000 miles, it makes more sense to use a year-round oil.

If you are doing your own oil changes, an oil extractor can make the job easier, removing the need to jack-up your car. While lifting the car isn’t hard, it can cut your time spent in the garage by a third. You can decide if that’s a positive or negative.

Just like oil changes, car manufacturers have greatly increased coolant flush intervals. Some brands, like Mercedes, recommend as long as 150,000 miles between coolant services. In older cars, recommended ratios of antifreeze to water could change with the season, but most late-model cars use premixed coolant. Again, your owner’s manual will be the best place to find out what’s best for your car.

A Good Detailing

Is there a bad time to take care of the outside of your car? No. But, there are times that are better, and right before the weather turns cold is one of them. A fresh coat of wax will help protect your car's paint against the road salts used to de-ice roads. Glass coatings can help keep frost and ice from sticking to the outside of windows, while also helping keep the inside from fogging. A little bit of prep goes a long way.

Most people don’t give a lot of thought about washing their car in winter. But, using a power washer makes it easier any time of year. In the winter especially, it will allow you to wash your car without even getting the buckets and sponge out. Simply spray the soap on the car and wash it off. Just be sure and get the car into your garage and get it dried off before it freezes.

A coat of wax will not only protect the paint, it’ll make your car easier to clean. Those of us of a certain age realize that polishing a car is the best way to learn martial arts muscle memory, but an electric orbital polisher is arguably more efficient at just getting the job done. It doesn’t take long and it’ll help prevent the next step.

Rust Prevention and Small Repairs

No matter how careful you are with washing and waxing, the threat of rust is always present. To prevent rust, keeping water drains open is imperative. Trapped moisture, especially mixed with road salt, is the quickest way to ruin your car’s body. Inspect drains and clean them out.

After that, make sure your car’s undercoating is fully intact. If it isn’t, there’s a good chance you also have at least surface rust. Rust repair can be serious business; if you aren’t comfortable with a big job, find a pro. If you do want to tackle it yourself, a few tools will be necessary.

You will need to remove everything down to bare metal. An angle grinder is your best bet. Now you will be able to determine if you need to weld in patches, or if the factory metal is still solid. In the former case, the equipment to do the job isn’t prohibitively expensive, especially if you shop our sponsor, eBay Motors Tools. You can probably get a welder for less than what a body shop would charge for a small repair.

Once you’re satisfied with the state of the sheet metal, the next step is priming and sealing. A self-etching primer can be sprayed on with a can, but you may want to get painting equipment if you are trying to return the car to like-new condition. Next, the body sealer needs to go over any crimps, seams and welds. Now undercoat the car with a rubberized product, then paint. Add a non-drying wax inside the panels and you should be set for another winter.