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12 Tips to Get Your Car Ready for Winter

Winterize Your Car

Like it or not, winter will be here before we know it. To make sure your car is ready for the worst that Jack Frost has to offer, check out these 12 practical tips and make a plan now to get them taken care of before the snow flies!

Kaitlyn writes…………

I grew up in Southern California but have lived in Utah for close to 10 years and I still dread winter. Fall is practically lost on me because I know winter is looming right around the corner. I try to avoid driving in the snow as much as possible but sometimes it’s just a necessary evil. Recently, I got to thinking, is there a way I can be more prepared for winter driving? After a little digging on the world wide web I found some great tips that I will definitely be implementing this year to help me feel safer behind the wheel.

This post may seem a little premature but I figure it’s never too early to be prepared – especially for cold winters! And a few of the items on this list may be things you need to start saving up for now or tasks you may want to complete a little at a time to avoid a huge bill from your mechanic.

Winterize Your Car

1. Change your oil 

This is something you should be doing when needed, but in the winter months it’s especially important. You may need to change the type of oil you use altogether. Check your owners manual to find out what viscosity you should be using in freezing temperatures. Generally, you’ll need a thinner oil in the winter.

Winterize Your Car

2. Check the ratio on your engine coolant (antifreeze)

In normal weather you typically want a 50/50 ratio of coolant to water but in the winter it should be 60/40.

Winterize Your Car

3. Check your battery

Cold temperatures mean your engine needs more current from the battery in order to start so you want to make sure the battery is functioning properly.  Start by making sure you have enough charge left in your battery. The most simple way to check is by turning on your headlights before you start your engine. Then turn your engine on – if the lights get brighter your battery may be dying. You can test the actual voltage at home with a voltmeter or have your mechanic do a test for you. Some batteries also have a built-in hydrometer that measures the voltage. You’ll also want to check the cables for cracks and brakes. Finally, ask your mechanic to check the battery fluid.

Winterize Your Car

4. Change your washer fluid and windshield wipers

Buy a good washer fluid with an antifreeze solution – regular fluids just won’t cut it in freezing temperatures. You should replace your windshield wipers every 6-12 months depending on wear and tear. If they’re starting to look a little haggard be sure to put new ones on before the first big snow storm of the season hits. For especially harsh climates you may also want to pick up a set of winter wipers that protect the wipers’ mechanism.

Related: Make Your Own Windshield Wiper Fluid for Pennies

Winterize Your Car

5. Get a basic tune-up

You should get a tune-up roughly every 30,000 miles. If that tune-up is likely to happen in the winter you may want to go in a little early just to make sure everything is in good shape. Have him or her check your belts and hoses,ignition, brakes, wiring, fan belts, spark plugs, air, fuel and emission filters and the PCV valve.

Winterize Your Car

6. Check your defroster and heater

These types of repairs can be costly, but you really need your defroster and heater to function properly in order to drive safely in the winter. However, one tip that may save you money on a defroster repair, is to check for air leaks around doors and windows. Leaks can allow in extra moisture that will make it seem like you have a broken defroster.

Winterize Your Car

7. Check your tires

This could mean a couple of different things – you may want to invest in snow tires or just make sure your current tires aren’t too worn out. If you frequently drive in tough conditions in the winter snow tires are a great choice. For particularly perilous conditions you can buy snow tires with studs. If you don’t buy snow tires, you’ll want to check the air pressure on your current tires. Refer to your owners manual to find out what the pressure should be in the winter. Check your tread for wear and tear as well. Also remember that if you do skid on an icy road don’t slam on your brakes! Take your foot off the gas and turn into the skid until you come to a complete stop.

Winterize Your Car

8.  Check your 4-wheel drive and know how to use it

This is pretty self explanatory. You’ll want to know how to use your 4-wheel drive before winter hits.

Winterize Your Car

9. Keep your gas tank filled

I’ve always known that you shouldn’t let your gas tank get all the way to empty in the winter (or any other time for that matter) but never really knew why until today. Apparently the cold weather can cause condensation to form in an empty or near empty gas tank. That water can drip down into the gas and and sinks to the bottom where it can then travel into your fuel lines. In the winter it can freeze in your fuel lines and block the flow of gas to your engine. Not good! So keep your tank at least a 1/4-1/2 way full at all times.

Winterize Your Car

10. Get your car detailed

This isn’t a completely necessary step but if you’re worried about your car’s paint job it’s a good idea. Don’t forget a car wax that coats the body panels. The wax will help protect the paint from snow and salt damage.

Winterize Your Car

11. Have a de-icer handy at home or in your purse/briefcase

It’s not uncommon for car doors to freeze shut in the winter. You can use warm water if you have access to some or you can buy glycerin to have on hand in an emergency.

Winterize Your Car

12. Beef up your car emergency kit

If you don’t already have an emergency kit in your car now is the time to get one (Check out this list of emergency essentials so you are prepared for anything)! If you do have one you may want to add a few things for the winter. Jillee has a great post on a DIY first aid kit for the road. In the winter you’ll also want a soft-bristled snow brush, plastic scrapper, kitty litter or salt, a shovel, flashlight and extra batteries, flares, gloves, a coat, snow boots, a couple of blankets, and tire chains (if you’ll be driving in the mountains).

Do you have any tips for getting your car ready for winter?


Jill Nystul Photo

Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.
I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Bright Ideas

  • I always carry jumper cables and a flashlight in the trunk of my car. Also in late autumn I place an ice scraper under the driver’s seat. Then I am ready for the first frost or snow. No frantic search in the trunk of my car.

  • This is a tip that is really for year-round but you’d be amazed how few people actually do this: HAVE GOOD JUMPER CABLES IN THE TRUNK!!! You may need them or you may want to help a fellow motorist in need.

    I can’t tell you how many people bailed me out in my younger days and how many people I bail out every year because they need a jump but fail to carry jumper cables. Don’t assume that someone will have them to help you; carry your own! :)

  • i would add a mobile phone charger … The kind for when your phone dies not the other kind. If you are lost or stranded and your phone dies at least you can power up your phone so it will ping a tower and you can be located.

  • Just thought of something else. Jill’s sister has a recipe for Warming Salve that might be useful in relieving/preventing frostbite on fingers & toes. This is the link,

    Maybe the recipe can be updated to a pre-made jar rather than a “as you go” recipe.
    BTW we will be spending the Christmas in Provo, Utah so I have all of this on my mind. We don’t winterize our cars so much because we live in Southern California (winter day time temps rarely dip below 60 degrees, and night rarely below 40).

  • One thing that can be added to number 9 is to buy a bottle of Gas Treatment. For under $3 it will remove water & prevent the gas line from freezing. Automotive stores and most department stores sell it.
    Another item is a Deer Alert gadget. In the winter deer roam all over looking for food and unfrozen water sources. These cost about $7.

  • Good ideas. It’s definitely not too early to be thinking about this. When I was growing up in Colorado it wasn’t at unusual for us to get snow as early as October. Here in the Midwest we get some snow but not as,much.

  • Plastic covered container of ice melting material, pair of gloves hat, and a blanket, in case you get stuck. These items take up little room and may help you out.

  • You need a metal coffee can or other metal can with sand and a candle. If you are stranded, the heat from the candle flame will be enough to keep you from freezing to death.

    • A large mason jar with a candle is better – throws off more heat and lighter to light it with. Also a solar or mylar blanket is better because it will retain your body heat longer – its the shiny blankets you see emergency people using on accident victims. Some emergency high protein easy to carry food, of any kind: nuts, granola, trail mix, etc but replace every few weeks or so.
      Last but not least a flashlight with working batteries – test it every so often.
      Here in Canada, each fall, I make myself and family emergency boxes equipped with all of the above. I also make sure that I always carry a fresh bottle of water with me.
      If you are uncertain of driving in snowy weather, why not take some lessons; many driving schools offer lessons on how to handle cars in the snow and ice.

    • You apply a thin layer to the door’s rubber seals. This will prevent the doors from sticking! You can also carry it around with you for an in-the-moment frozen emergency!

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