How to Winterize Your Car

October 16th, 2014 by

A person is cleaning snow off the windshield.

The fall is the perfect time to shop at McCluskey Chevrolet, one of the top used car lots in Cincinnati. We tend to get a lot of new inventory in the fall, and our prices are phenomenal.

After you purchase a new car in the fall, winter is just around the corner, and you’ll have to start thinking of how to protect your new investment right away. A car doesn’t handle the same in the cool, fall weather as it does in the icy, freezing winter weather. You need to prepare your car to ensure safe handling to protect yourself and other drivers on the road.

Here are a few things you’ll need to do to winterize your car:

Get an Oil Change

Oil becomes thicker in cooler temperatures, so the same oil that protects your car during the summer will not work as well during the winter. If the oil is too thick, it won’t perform adequately and won’t lubricate your engine well.

Before the season starts, you should get an oil change and switch to a lower viscosity oil. A 5W-30 oil should be sufficient, but you should check with your owner’s manual to be sure.

Check the Battery

Colder weather also reduces your battery’s capacity, so it is essential that you check the health of your battery before the season begins. You don’t want to have to find out there’s a problem by getting stranded on the side of the road.

Check the battery for signs of wear or leaks. Check the cables, terminals and the casing on the battery for any signs of problems. If you know your battery is nearing the end of its life expectancy, just go ahead and replace it.

Change Your Tires

If you live somewhere like Florida or Arizona, then all-season tires will work fine for you all year-round, and you really just need to check your tread before winter like usual. Here in Cincinnati, however, we have harsh cold, snow, and rough winter weather to deal with. That means you’re going to want to not just check your tires but swap them out for winter tires before the cold weather hits.

The rubber in tires is designed to be soft and pliable on the road, giving you the best traction and control possible. In cold weather, that rubber hardens, and you can slip more easily; winter tires are engineered with rubber that remains soft even in serious cold. So winter tires will let you maintain better traction when the temperature drops, and they have deep grooves that are perfect for snow and slush. We suggest swapping them out well before Thanksgiving to ensure you are ready for the frost ahead.

A car tire covered in snow is shown in close up after leaving a used car lots in Cincinnati

Wash Your Car

Before winter hits, it’s a good idea to give your car a good scrub – either with a bucket and hose or go to a car wash – to get it clean. This will help remove dirt that could otherwise get stuck to your vehicle when it starts to snow. Be sure to get routine car washes throughout the winter, too, to remove any slush and ice as well as salt from the road, all of which can damage your exterior and cause your vehicle to rust sooner.

Check Your Antifreeze

You want to check the level of antifreeze in your vehicle and top it off if it’s getting low. You should also use this as an opportunity to look at the antifreeze and make sure it’s still fresh – if it’s dirty or off-color, then drain what’s in there and replace it with fresh antifreeze. Be sure to use a formula that is designed for the low temperatures we get here – you need something that works harder than your friends in Arizona need to have.

Test Your Brakes

You should always have a good sense of how your brakes are feeling and sounding – if you detect that they’ve become soft or you hear squealing from them when they’re dry, then have them checked. It’s also a good idea to check how they feel: go to an empty parking lot or another safe spot away from other drivers, get up to a safe speed, and then apply sudden pressure to the brakes. Don’t hurt yourself or lose control, but feel for how responsive they are. When you come in for an oil change or to have your tires changed, you can also ask us to take a look at your brakes and make sure they’re not too worn before roads get slick in the winter.

Test Your Heater and Defrosters

During the warm summer months, the last thing you’re going to worry about is whether your heater is working properly. Before the serious cold hits, however, take a moment to turn on your heater and make sure it’s working. You should also check any defrosters you have in your vehicle to ensure they are functioning. Trust us; it’s better to figure this out before you need them, rather than early in the morning when you’re late for work.

Check Your Wipers

You should also take a moment to turn on your wipers and make sure they are working properly. You can even toss some water onto your windshield while you do this to see how well they clear it off – look for gaps or streaking. It’s a good idea to lift up your wipers and visually inspect them to ensure they’re not broken or cracked. If your wipers are in bad shape, change them now, so you don’t have to worry about them when you need them.

Change Your Wiper Fluid

While you’re checking your wipers, it’s also a good idea to check your wiper fluid. You want to make sure you have plenty of fluid in there of the right type for winter. This means wiper fluid that includes an antifreeze agent to help clear ice and frost off your windshield or to help you if your wipers get stuck in the winter. You can do all of this a lot easier now, rather than when you’re ankle-deep in snow.

A person is adding coolant to a car in the wintertime.

Check Your 4WD or AWD

This won’t apply to everyone, but if your vehicle has a 4WD or AWD system that you can manually activate, then test it out before the rough weather hits. Unless you like to go off-roading, you probably haven’t needed this system since last winter, so it’s a good idea to check it now. You can also bring your vehicle in to us, and we’ll make sure it’s functioning properly or answer any questions you have about your AWD system.

Get a Snowbrush

While you’re checking and testing all of these things, you should also make sure you’re fully stocked with everything you need to get through the winter. First and foremost, get a snowbrush to keep in your car, so you can easily clear snow and ice from your windshield and rear window. If you already have one, double-check to make sure it’s in your vehicle – these things tend to disappear for some reason. Trust us: it’s a lot easier to get one of these right now, rather than just before or right after a snowstorm.

Check Your Floormats

While you’re at it, this is also a great time to check the floormats in your vehicle and make sure they’re in great shape. You can pull them out and rinse them off while you’re washing the rest of your car. We strongly recommend winter or all-season floormats that will actually protect your interior against snow and slush that you’re going to track in on your shoes. Wimpy little floormats won’t provide much real protection, and you can end up damaging your interior.

Check Your Emergency Supplies

This is incredibly important – you should have emergency supplies in your vehicle to help you survive if you find yourself stranded somewhere or breakdown along the side of the road. Getting stuck somewhere is a hassle at the best of times, but extreme cold – especially if you’re stranded overnight – can make this a dangerous situation. Proper emergency supplies can honestly be the difference between life and death, so take the time to be ready. The emergency supplies in your vehicle should include:

  • Extra jacket and sweater
  • Change of clothes, including socks, in case you get wet
  • Gloves and a winter hat
  • Warm boots, preferably waterproof, or other change of shoes
  • Blankets
  • Small shovel
  • Sand or kitty litter to help with traction if you get stuck
  • Flashlight
  • Emergency flares
  • Hand-crank or battery-powered radio
  • Extra batteries for flashlight and radio
  • Tire chains
  • Jumper cables (you should have these year-round)
  • Rock salt or ice melt
  • Bottles of water
  • Non-perishable foods: nuts, granola bars, and similar snacks are great
  • First-Aid Kit (more below)

This might seem like overkill, but most of these items are small and easy to keep in your trunk. These are especially vital if you’re going on a long road trip, particularly if you’re driving interstate or in rural areas.

Check Your First-Aid Kit

You should always have a small first-aid kit in your vehicle in case of emergencies. Some of the items in these kits can expire, or you might use them up without realizing it. Autumn is the perfect time to check your kit and make sure you have everything you need. Your first-aid kit should always include:

  • A dozen adhesive bandages
  • Two absorbent compress dressings
  • One adhesive cloth tape
  • Five antibiotic ointment packets
  • Five antiseptic wipe packets
  • Two aspirin packets
  • One instant cold compress
  • One roll of gauze
  • Two hydrocortisone ointment packets
  • Five 3×3-inch sterile gauze pads
  • Any medication you require

Again, this might seem like a lot, but once you have this kind of kit together, it’s easy to check it and make sure everything is in place. The difference that these supplies can make in an emergency is well-worth a little bit of time and energy to have them on hand.