Get Ready for Cold Weather with Jon’s “Winterize Your Car” Checklist!

Now that you’ve had a chance to winterize your home, it’s time to winterize your car.

Ooops, you might not have thought of that! Okay, if you live in a really snowy place, you probably did, but even us folks in the Sunny South may need to make a few changes to keep our cars running efficiently during the winter months. 

We just got the Honda SUV serviced by the dealer, and the 14 year old Mercury Mountaineer is ready for an oil change. So we’re currently working to keep our cars safely on the road as cold weather moves in.

Change the Oil

Advance Auto had a sale on the Mobil 1 Extended Range Oil Plus and oil filter for $31.99. I’m going to give it a try. The advertised change interval on the Extended Range oil is 15,000 miles! It might take a few years for me to put that many miles on my car!

I usually change the motor oil to a low temperature appropriate viscosity in the winter. You can find this in your car’s owner’s manual. Oil. like other fluids, reacts differently depending on temperature. In the winter, it can be a bit sluggish. To keep your engine running smoothly, change to the thinnest weight oil recommended for your vehicle and your winter temperature range. 

For instance, our Pilot runs a very thin 0-20 weight oil in winter, where our Mountaineer runs 5-30.

Other Fluids

Not surprisingly, one of the things you need to check before the weather turns freezing is antifreeze. Check both the level and the condition of your antifreeze. You can also get a gauge to check the condition of your antifreeze. You can pick these up for a few dollars at your local auto parts store. If the antifreeze doesn’t look right or it’s been a while, drain and change it (or let you local shop do it). If the antifreeze is shipshape (or carshape) make sure to top it up.

While you’re at it, check that the hoses are intact and not brittle. (and check the belts for cracks and fraying.)

It’s also a good idea to buy a “pint” of fuel line anti-freeze and put it in reserve…even though the bottles are only 12 ounces these days. You can get a bit more water condensation in the fuel tank during the winter, and the fuel-line antifreeze will counteract the extra moisture. You can probably pick up a bottle at Dollar Tree.

You might also use a little W-D 40 on your door locks and hinges, since they have a tendency to stick in cold weather.

Get Ready for Cold Weather with Jon's Winterize your Car Checklist

Maintain Your Visibility

If you’re going to stay safe in your car, you have to be able to see where you’re going.

First, do a good job of cleaning the inside of the windshield with some window cleaner and something disposable like paper towels or plain unbleached coffee filters.

No kidding. You’d think on a money blog I’d tell you to use something washable, but no. Even clean towels leave some residual oil or detergent on the window. Use towels and you just smear dirt around and leave streaks. And every little smear and streak seems to show up more when your windows frost over.  Clean windows defrost better and allow better vision when the sun sits low in the winter sky.

If you get ice and snow, your windshield wipers will have to work harder. Before bad weather hits, check to make sure your wiper blades are in good shape. Replace them if necessary.

While you’re at it, top up your windshield wiper fluid. You’ll probably use more in the winter months than you do in the summer. It can help you clear off grime kicked up by other vehicles, slush, and morning frost. It can also help you deice your windshield.

Also make sure you’re stocking an ice scraper or two outside your car. If you can, carry it with you instead of in your car. it won’t do you much good if it’s locked up in a car you can’t get into.

You’ll also need to keep an eye on your headlights and brake lights to make sure they continue to work well. You’ll be using them a lot more during the shorter days.

Check the Battery

Unfortunately, batteries don’t work as well in cold weather. It’s a good idea to clean battery contacts and check the cables before the weather gets cold to make sure the energy from your battery transfers with max efficiency.

Your battery itself may also need some TLC. Even modern batteries that are supposed to be maintenance free can use a little distilled water after a few years. Check the electrolyte level in your battery. Carefully pry off the battery caps and look into the battery tubes. The electrolyte level should come up even with the bottom of the battery tube, which is about a half inch deep. Add distilled water if necessary and charge. (Do NOT use tap water.)

(Use caution. Batteries are filled with a sulfuric acid solution. You don’t want it on your hands or clothes!)

Get Ready for Cold Weather with Jon's "Winterize Your Car" Checklist!

Check the Tires

If you don’t have a tire gauge, now is the time to buy one.

Your tire pressure drops as the weather gets colder. You’ll need to check it more often so that you aren’t running on underinflated tires, particularly after big temperature drops.

You’ll also want to make sure you are getting appropriate traction. If you live in a snowy area, you need to start thinking about switching to your snow tires. Even us Southerners, however, need to make sure that our tires treads aren’t worn down and slick.

Back in the late 70’s, when I was taking Freshman Chemistry (for two years!), my professor explained why the roads were so slick during NC winters. In our barely freezing temperatures, the pressure of the tires on the ice causes the ice to start to melt, This in turn creates a thin layer of liquid between the tire and the ice.

Slick tires + slick ice is a sure recipe for a wreck or two.

A Clean Car is a Healthy Car

Before it gets too cold, give your car a really good wash and wax job to protect the body against the elements. You’ll want to keep it washed regularly, especially if you’re getting a lot of salt on your roads. After the slush is gone, your car needs a good wash.

While most of the time I wash our cars by hand, I like to use automatic car washes after ice storms, since it washes the bottom of the car as well.

We also picked up some inexpensive all-weather floor mats at BJs. While we keep them in the cars year-round, they are especially useful for keeping winter ice and muck off your carpets to keep your interior nice.

You’ll probably be letting less fresh air into the car than in more moderate temperatures. Make sure the air quality in the car is good by checking the cabin air filter and replacing if necessary.  Give the surfaces a good wipedown too so you aren’t blowing a bunch of dust around.

Stock an Emergency Kit

If you do get stranded, you want to be prepared to do a quick fix or wait safely for someone who can. So you’ll want the following things packed in your car:

  • Jumper cables, In case your battery dies, or someone else’s does.
  • A small bag of cat litter to pour out to get additional traction in the ice. (I’ve had to use “not new” kitty litter a time or two, but it’s a lot smellier! I found the perfect size of bag to carry around at Dollar Tree.)
  • Extra fluids: anti-freeze, windshield wiper fluid, and oil.
  • A can of fix-a-flat for a quick temporary tire fix.
  • A blanket or two in case you end up waiting.
  • Flares in case you need other cars to see you
  • A flashlight in case you need to see. Remember, days are shorter!
  • Emergency snacks and drinking water-I generally stock a couple of granola bars in the glove compartment, just in case.

Best Advice Ever (in the South)

When the road conditions are icy and snowy, stay at home and don’t drive.

There are areas of the country where people can handle driving in the snow and do it on a near-daily basis in winter.

That is not true of most of the people driving in the snow in central NC. Here, snow days get Ca-razy, due to that extra slippery ice I talked about earlier.

(Just check all the 2014 Raleigh Snowpocalypse Memes from WRAL. Or this 2005 storm when an inch of snow trapped kids in school overnight and caused over 1000 accidents.)

You might say that some NC folks have cars that can really go in the snow. Others have plenty of experience driving in the snow. That’s true. The problem is that even the best winter drivers need to watch out for those who aren’t as skilled.

When we get bad weather, I see a bunch of folks in big heavy SUVs driving way too fast for conditions. Folks who don’t adjust their driving style at all. People whose cars are frankly a hazard.

And so even if you’re careful, you can’t depend on people around you to be careful. Better to stay home and drink hot toddies chocolate than risk driving in conditions that may become impassible.

My Winterize Your Car Checklist

So feel free to download my “Winterize Your Car” checklist so you can get your own rides ready for cold weather.

Download (Winterize-Your-Car-Checklist.pdf, 249KB)

If you want to save a bit of money as you stock up, check your local dollar store for supplies. As I mentioned earlier, I was able to find most of our supplies at Dollar Tree, including a generic version of W-D 40 (Man, the brand name stuff’s gotten EXPENSIVE!)

As a final precaution, it’s never a bad idea to join Triple A or another roadside assistance service. We did.

Stay warm, stay safe, and keep your cars moving!

What other things do you do to winterize your car? Do you winterize anything other than your car or home?

17 Responses to “Get Ready for Cold Weather with Jon’s “Winterize Your Car” Checklist!”
  1. Michael 11/07/2016
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  2. Mustard Seed Money 11/07/2016
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  3. Julie 11/07/2016
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