Houston Auto – Car Maintenance T.V. Interview Channel 11 – Winterizing Your Car – Midtown Auto Service & Repair Houston 2011Thursday, February 10th, 2011
How to prepare a car for winter
Your car has a lot to endure during winter – cold weather, slippery roads, salt and sand on the streets. Any hidden problems your car may have will get worse during cold winter. An old battery, engine oil that hasn’t been changed for awhile, worn out spark plugs, a bad thermostat are the types of things that could cause a problem on cold mornings. Winter driving is very demanding and bad tires or worn out wipers can compromise your safety. Here are few tips how to prepare your car for winter:
• Pre-winter maintenance
• Consider winter tires
• Check tire pressure
• Protecting your car’s body
• Lubricate door locks
• How to prevent door seals from freezing
• Other thing to know
• Winter Road Kit
• Adjust your driving habits
A number of things in your car need to be checked out before winter: the condition of the battery, battery terminals, the engine cooling system, the condition of the engine antifreeze, all the belts, brakes, the tires, the windshield wipers, lights, the spare tire, etc. All the fluids need to be checked and topped up or changed if needed. Check you owner’s manual for more specific information.
Any problems with your car need to be taken care of before the winter because the cold temperatures will make almost any problem worse.
It’s a good idea to change the engine oil before winter – the fresh oil will make the engine to start easier during cold weather. Check your owner’s manual – some cars may require winter grade oil during cold season.
Take your vehicle to your mechanic or a local dealer for an oil change and have the car inspected. Visiting one of the quick lube places will not be enough, since things like brakes, steering and suspension can only be inspected when the car is lifted on the hoist.
Have your mechanic check the freezing point and condition of the engine coolant.
Any problems with the cooling system need to be addressed before winter. You don’t want to be without heat in the winter, and a simple problem such as a bad thermostat or even a small leak will result in a long warm-up time and little heat from the heater on the highway.
Consider installing good-quality winter tires. Winter tires are specifically designed to improve traction on snow-covered or icy roads. Many dealerships will store your off-season tires if you purchase tires with them. There may be a small fee, but it’s worth it for the convenience.
If you have alloy wheels, especially those with wide performance tires, consider purchasing winter tires pre-installed on steel rims instead of changing tires only – it’s easy to damage alloy rims during winter and they are usually not repairable. There is less labour involved in changing tires that are already installed on the rims, so the charge is usually less. Winter tires need to be installed on all four wheels. Don’t skimp on safety.
While winter tires have better traction on winter roads than all-season tires, they are not foolproof; drive carefully in winter conditions. Winter tires wear faster on dry roads in warm weather; don’t forget to remove them when the winter season is over.
Check tire pressure regularly during winter – proper pressure is important to maintain better traction. You can find recommended tire pressure in the owner’s manual or on the tire pressure placard.
Unfortunately, there is no way to tell when the battery will decide to quit – sometimes it happens unexpectedly with no prior signs. However, if you feel that cranking speed is slower than before, the battery is probably close to its end. Have your battery tested by your mechanic, especially if it is more than 2-3 years old. A dead battery is one of the most common causes for a no-start during winter. Make sure the battery terminals are tight and not corroded. Corroded terminals will cause troubles.
Wipers, windshield washer fluid
Windshield wipers are very critical to winter driving; consider installing winter wipers.
Make sure you replace summer washer fluid with special winter windshield washer fluid that won’t freeze.
If the washer jets don’t spray properly, clean and adjust them. Good visibility is important – don’t forget to clean your windshield and other windows from inside as well.
Protecting car body
Winter is harsh on your car’s body: moisture, sand and road salt damage the exterior paint and speed up the corrosion process. If road salt is common on the roads in your area during the winter, consider rust proofing your vehicle.
It’s good idea to wax your car before winter – wax will help to preserve the paint. Check our How to wax a car tips.
Scratches and stone chips will more likely be corroded after winter, so touch up or repair any damages to your car’s paint before winter.
Remove the leaves and other debris accumulated during the fall under the cowl panel below the windshield and in other areas. The leaves block water drains and collect moisture. This will cause corrosion and extra humidity inside the car, as the air intake for the cabin heater is usually located under the cowl panel.
Wash your car more often during winter. Moisture, salt and dirt get accumulated inside the wheel wells, under the doors and other areas, which can cause corrosion. I like washing my car at a self-service coin car wash with the high-pressure gun, as it washes off the dirt and salt from hard to reach areas and from underneath the car.
Check our Car body care page for more tips.
Lubricate door locks
Lubricate the door and trunk locks, as well as the hood locking mechanism so they won’t freeze. It’s also a good idea to lubricate hinges of the hood, doors and the trunk.
Clean and lubricate the door rails if your vehicle has sliding doors.
How to prevent door seals from freezing
To prevent rubber door seals from sticking in freezing weather lubricate them with special lubricant for rubber door seals. Usually it’s called ‘weatherstrip lubricant’. I use the spray from Würth called “Rubber Care”.
Other things to know
- Synthetic oil will help your car to start easier in extreme cold.
- If your “Check engine” light is on, have the problem checked and fixed – it will only get worse in the winter.
- If major a tune up is due soon based on the maintenance schedule, it’s better to do it before winter – worn out spark plugs or bad ignition cables are more likely to cause problems with starting in cold weather.
- Vehicles with a diesel engine need special attention – a simple thing like dirty fuel filter or bad heater plug could cause a lot of troubles on a cold day.
- Consider buying winter floor mats – they will help to keep the water from leaking under the car’s carpet, which could cause corrosion to the wiring and electronic components. Modern cars have a lot of electronics under the carpet.
Winter weather is unpredictable and you need to be prepared for any situation. Here are the recommended items you should keep in your car: basic tool kit, an ice scraper, a shovel, sand or kitty litter, tow cable or chain, traction mats, road flares or warning light, an emergency sign, a flashlight, booster cables, a fire extinguisher, extra windshield washer fluid, fuel line antifreeze, first aid kit, a charged cell phone, an emergency food pack, a bottle of water, warm clothing and footwear for each passenger, a warm blanket for each passenger, matches in a waterproof container, a reflective vest.
I take my winter kit with me whenever I have to travel by car during winter and a couple of times I already had to use some of the items.
Adjust your driving
Winter road conditions are unpredictable and you need to adjust your driving habits. Don’t forget that if you have a 4WD vehicle, it accelerates and handles better in slippery conditions but its braking ability is pretty much the same as of any other vehicle. If you have options like ABS, Traction Control or Stability control and you haven’t used them yet, take some time to study your owner’s manual, as there are some specifics in handling a car equipped with these options.
I’d also recommend to check more winter driving tips that you can find at your Automobile Association or Transport Safety Authority websites.
By Vlad Samarin