Winter Car Preparation and Maintenance

Maintaining a vehicle during the winter months is imperative to the life of the vehicle. Subzero temperatures can crack radiator fluid lines, cause slow starts and even crack engine blocks. Costly repairs can be avoided by being proactive about preventing winter damage to your car, which includes knowing how to properly prepare the vehicle for colder weather. The first thing that should always be done to ensure a vehicle is ready for winter is checking to make sure the proper fluids are used. A quick check of the product label and the owner manual for the vehicle is usually a good way to verify this. Additionally, vehicles should be garaged or at least covered during winter storms, especially ice storms and blizzards.

Preparing the Radiator for Winter Conditions

One of the first things to check when preparing a vehicle for winter is the radiator fluid. To properly handle cold weather, the radiator fluid must have a proper ratio of ethanol glycol to water. During the winter, this fluid can freeze over if the water content is above 50%, which is what leads to cracked lines and even a cracked radiator casing. If in doubt about the ratio of water to ethanol glycol, it’s a good idea to ask an experienced maintenance technician to prepare the radiator fluid instead.

Getting the Oil Pump Ready

If the oil pump is the heart of your vehicle then the oil is the blood! When starting up an engine, it is important to note it doesn’t start out fully lubricated. The oil pump has to first pump oil to be sprayed on the engine components. In cold weather the oil pump is more sluggish with 10w-30 than it would be with 5w-30, which leads to hesitant starts. Before winter rolls in consider an oil change to a less viscous oil of the brand of your choice to make starting the engine easier on your vehicle.

Keeping Your Car Running in Cold Weather

Sometimes a vehicle doesn’t want to start in cold weather and the main culprit is usually the battery. Keeping a battery healthy will ensure that your vehicle will start every time in winter assuming that all other maintenance is done. If your vehicle runs on a liquid battery, then you should check the fluid level to fill it up with distilled water. If you notice white “fluff” on your terminals, mixing some baking soda with water will clean it off. You may have to take the battery terminals off to clean them on the inside. Your local mechanic will be more than happy to help you with an inspection of your battery, terminals and cables if you are uncomfortable doing this part yourself.

Warming up the Engine in Cold Weather

An engine needs heat to function properly and after a winter storm you should allow your vehicle to run for a while before using it. By turning your vehicle on and driving you do not allow enough time for engine components that aren’t around the combustion chamber to heat up. In turn, this can damage or wear down those cold parts faster, potentially leading to costly repairs in the future. As you let your vehicle warm up it gives you time to clean off your windshield. It’s important to remember not to use hot water to do this because hot water freezes at a faster rate. Defrost the windshield by either using the defrost button or turning on the heater, and then scraping the ice off with an ice scraper. Don’t forget to lift the windshield wiper blades to the upright position before scraping! The ice between your windshield and wiper blade can keep you from using them when you need them on the road.

Maintaining the Tires in Cold Weather

It’s also important to remember that regular tire inspections are crucial during winter months, even if no snow is received. The air in a vehicle’s tires gets colder just like the air outside, and cold air takes up less volume than warmer air. In turn, this means that the tire pressure with be out of the normal range even if there is not a leak. Ideally, the tires should be inspected every time the vehicle is driven.

Getting a Vehicle Ready for Snow

If you live in an area that receives snow, then snow tires are a practical investment, especially if you don’t live on a road that is regularly plowed. Snow tires have a snowflake symbol on the sidewall to indicate that they can be used during the winter. The primary reason why snow tires are used is because they reduce the risk of hydroplaning and skidding. However, no tire can provide a 100% guarantee that you will not slide or skid while driving on snow, ice or in wet conditions. An alternative to snow tires are all season tires, which as their name implies, can be used during both the winter and summer. These are useful in urban locations that get a lot of snow, but perform poorly in mountainous regions that end up packed with snow and ice.

Using Tire Chains in Snow

In some locations, tire chains are required by law once a certain percentage of snow has fallen. They provide the tires with excellent traction, but the vehicle cannot be driven fast with them installed, especially if the chains are not fitted properly. It’s imperative to ensure that the chains are intended for your vehicle’s tire size. For some, it helps to remember that tire chains are similar to a shoe; if they are too loose, then the vehicle can’t drive quickly, but if they are too tight, then they are at an increased risk of snapping. The maximum speed that a vehicle can be driven when using chains is 40mph. However, it’s best to drive 30mph or under to preserve the integrity of the chains. Never under any circumstances drive on bare road with chains!

This article is a resource created by Cheap Car Insurance is meant to educate and raise awareness about proper winter preparation and car maintenance. Sharing is permissible. Please contact us if you have any questions. Get a car insurance quote in your area.