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Do These 6 Things to Prepare Your Car for Winter

Cars stuck in traffic during a snow storm
Frederic Legrand/Shutterstock

When it starts to get cold outside, it’s time to think about how that colder weather will affect your automobile. Before freezing temperatures are in full effect, be sure to prep your car for those winter months.

Change Your Wiper Blades

When was the last time you changed the wiper blades on your vehicle? If it has been a while or you can’t remember precisely when you invested in new blades, it’s time to change them. Changing them once a year, during winter prep, is ideal.

Inspect your wiper blades frequently throughout the winter because winter weather is particularly rough on them. The worst time to have your wiper blades doing a lackluster job is in the middle of a blizzard.

Switch to Winter Wiper Fluid

The right windshield wiper fluid will help your wipers and help you see better in the winter. Buy wiper fluid meant for winter use. The regular stuff you use throughout the rest of the year—often called “bug wash”—will freeze up quickly when it’s cold out and make it hard for you to see. Look for wiper fluid with a freezing point at least -20F or lower (the range on winter washer fluids is usually -20F to as low as -50F).

Winter wiper fluid also helps loosen ice and snow on your windshield. This will make it easier to keep your windshield clean while you’re on the road in a snowstorm.

Check Coolant/Antifreeze

There are a few things you’ll want to do under the hood of your car before freezing temperatures arrive. Start by checking the levels on your coolant and antifreeze.

Engine coolant is required to keep your vehicle’s engine running properly. The manual for your car will tell you what type your engine needs. If you’re not DIYing it, you can let your mechanic know you’re prepping your car for winter. If you’re checking your coolant, make sure your vehicle is off, and the engine is cooled before you remove the reservoir cap.

Get an Oil Change

The other important thing to do under your hood is to get an oil change. The right viscosity, or thickness, of oil matters during the winter. You want a thicker oil to keep your engine protected in sub-freezing temperatures.

Viscosity is seen by the first number in the type of oil. A 5W-30 grade oil is thicker than 10W-30. Again, if you’re taking your vehicle to a mechanic for winter prep, they’ll take care of this for you as long as they know you’re preparing your car for cold weather.

Check Your Tires or Switch to Winter Tires

closeup of a car tire in winter
LeManna/Shutterstock

Your tire condition could cause an accident or save you from one. Both the tread on your tires and tire pressure help your vehicle grip the road when it’s snowy. Use the penny trick to check your tread. Do this by inserting Lincoln’s head into the tread of your tires. If his entire head is visible, you need new tires.

Grab a tire gauge to make sure your tires have enough air in them. You can find the proper tire pressure in your vehicle’s owner manual. The tire pressure listed on your tires is the maximum and not necessarily the ideal. Check tire pressure when your car has been sitting, and the tires are “cold.”

Some people change out to winter tires, especially in colder climates with lots of snow. Snow tires offer deeper tread, so they grip the snowy road better.

Pack a Safety Kit

Finally, be sure to equip your vehicle with a winter safety kit. The right supplies will help keep you safe and comfortable if you’re in an accident or get stranded on the road during a blizzard. If your car stops running because of the extreme cold, you want to be able to stay warm.

Here are some items that should be in your winter car safety kit:

  • Your usual safety kit (with road flares, jumper cables, flat fixing solution, and the rest)
  • A first-aid kit
  • A flashlight and some matches
  • An extra pair of warm clothing (have a pair for anyone who might be out in the snow to dig out the car or push)
  • A couple of warm blankets
  • Extra gloves, winter hats, and scarves
  • A spare ice scraper
  • A small shovel
  • A couple of pieces of cardboard, a bag of sand, or a bag of kitty litter (to help with traction when you get stuck)
  • Snack with a protein punch for energy (trail mix, jerky, nuts)

Store everything in a plastic storage container and keep it in the trunk all winter. You can store your safety kit in the garage from spring to autumn, and swap out expiring snacks and restock what’s been used the previous winter.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »

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