27 Things You Must Do to Get Your Car Ready for Winter
This list will help you avoid no-starts, frozen doors and windows, engine freeze-up, and accidents. Plus, see our must-have winter car emergency kit.
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Test your car battery
Car batteries have a limited life. Don’t wait for yours to fail and leave you stranded. You can check the condition of the battery, starting, and entire charging system with a computerized battery tester. One choice is the SOLAR BA9. Besides testing voltage, a computerized battery tester checks for internal resistance and conductance, giving you a good idea of the battery’s overall condition. Plus, the tester also checks the condition of your starter and alternator. Make sure you buy a battery tester that works on conventional lead acid batteries, as well as gel and absorbed glass mat (AGM) styles. That way you can use the same tester on your motorcycle and lawn and garden equipment. Don’t want to invest in a tester? Most auto parts stores will test yours for free. If you need a reference, here’s how long car batteries last.
Clean your battery terminals
Corrosion buildup on battery posts and terminals can cause hard starting problems in cold weather and prevent your charging system from fully recharging your battery. Disconnect the negative cable first, then the positive cable. Clean the battery terminal posts using a battery cleaning tool or wire brush. Then clean the cable terminals. Clean off all grease and acid residue from the top of the battery with a paper towel. Then re-install the positive cable terminal, followed by the negative cable. To really go the extra mile, here’s how to double the life of your car battery.
Protect your battery terminals
Reduce future battery terminal corrosion with a battery terminal protectant spray. Once the battery terminals are cleaned and re-installed, spray each terminal with a liberal coating of battery terminal protectant spray.
Lubricate window tracks
Freezing water can seep into the window tracks and create drag when you try to open the window. That drag can damage the window regulator cables, costing you almost $300. You can avoid the problem entirely by lubricating the window tracks with spray silicone or dry teflon spray lubricant. Lower the window and shoot the spray right into the front and back window track. Apply enough lube so it drips all the way down the track. Then operate the window through several open and close cycles to spread the lube along the entire track. Use glass cleaner and a paper towel to remove any spray that lands on the glass. While you’re at it, this genius hack will keep your car windows from fogging up.
Lube weather stripping
If water seeps between your door and weather stripping and freezes, you could be frozen out of your car or truck. To prevent the water from freezing you out, coat both the weather stripping and the mating door surfaces with spray silicone. To avoid spraying silicone into your car’s interior, spray it directly onto a clean rag. Then wipe the silicone lube onto your door and trunk weatherstripping. Repeat the procedure on door mating surfaces and the truck lid.
Lube your door locks
You probably don’t use your door and trunk locks very much if you have remote keyless entry, but that’s no reason to ignore them. In fact, if you don’t keep the lock cylinders lubricated they’ll corrode, making it impossible for you to use your key. If your key fob battery ever dies, you’ll be locked out and have to call a locksmith. Lubricating door and truck lock cylinders is easy. Puffing graphite lock lubricant into the keyway works well, as long as you don’t overdo it. Dry Teflon spray lube is another option. Shake the spray can to distribute the Tefllon and shoot the liquid into the lock cylinder. The solvent will dissolve any sticky parts. Once the solvent evaporates, the internal lock parts will be coated in Teflon particles, allowing the lock to operate smoothly. These 10 clever anti-theft products to protect your car from thieves might be of use, too.
Lube latches and hinges
The last thing you want to deal with when you’ve got a dead battery is a sticking hood latch. Since the latch mechanism sits right behind your grille, it corrodes and seizes from all the salt spray that gets kicked up by the cars in front of you. You can prevent that corrosion by lubricating the latch mechanism before the snow flies. Just pop the hood and soak the latch with spray lithium grease. Open and close the hood a few times to work the lube into the latch and spring mechanism. Then close the hood and forget about it for the rest of the winter. It’ll pop open without any problems when you need to get under the hood.
Check tire tread depth
Worn tires are your worst enemy in winter. They increase your stopping distance and decrease stability on wet roads. Even though most states have a 2/32-in. minimum tread depth standard, independent tests have shown that tire traction decreases dramatically once your tires wear beyond 4/32-in. You can try to slide by through winter on low tread, but that’s exactly what you’ll be doing—sliding. A single skid into the curb at 5 mph can easily cause $1,500 worth of damage to suspension and steering components. Sure, your insurance will cover it, but you’ll have to pay the deductible and it’ll count as an at-fault accident, raising your premiums for years. For about the cost of a single deductible, you can buy new tires or install winter tires and avoid those slip and slide accidents. To check the depth of your tread, use an inexpensive tire tread depth gauge (from any auto parts store). Check the tread depth in the center and outer edges of each tire. If your readings are less than 4/32-in., head right to a tire store. These car maintenance basics everyone should know are always good to keep in your back pocket.
Consider winter tires
Winter tires could save your life. Winter tires provide much more traction on snow, getting you started 33% faster from a stop sign and reducing your stopping distance by almost 30 feet compared to all-season tires. Winter tires even perform better on ice, stopping you 48% faster and reducing side skid in turns. A set of four winter tires costs $600 or more, depending on your wheel size. If you have the tires mounted on your existing wheels, you’ll have to pay a shop to swap them each spring and fall. Sure, winter tires cost a lot. But consider that you’re getting a lot for your money. When you factor in the better stopping distance and handling in turns, it’s easy to see how winter tires could prevent an “at-fault” accident. If your collision deductible is in the $500 to $1,000 range, winter tires could actually pay for themselves in a single season if they keep you out of an accident. This is the day you should switch over to winter tires.
Check your coolant
Engine coolant does more than protect your engine from freezing and cracking. Coolant also contains anti-corrosive additives and water pump lubricants to keep your entire cooling system in tip-top shape. Test the level of your coolant’s freeze protection using an inexpensive tester. Suck in some coolant from the coolant reservoir and read the results on the scale printed on the tester. But don’t stop there. Just because coolant tests OK on the freeze protection doesn’t mean the additives are in good shape. To check that, you’ll need a digital multimeter. Begin with a cold engine. Remove the radiator cap and start the engine. Set your digital multimeter to DC volts at 20 volts or less. When the engine reaches operating temperature, insert the positive probe directly into the coolant. Rev the engine to 2,000 rpm and place the negative probe on the negative battery terminal. If the digital meter reads .4 volts or less, your coolant is in good condition. If it’s greater than .4 volts, the additives are exhausted, and you may be in the market for a new radiator, a water pump, or a heater core in the future. All of those are far more expensive than a simple coolant change. Ever wondered the difference between green and orange antifreeze?