How to winterize your car

Make sure you know how to give your car the proper maintenance before winter arrives.

Winter is the harshest season on many cars. If your car isn't prepared for the colder weather, you could be risking a breakdown at a later date or further weakening car components that need attention. Here's a list of things you can do to make sure your car is ready for the winter months.

Make sure you have the right kind of engine oil.
The internal temperature of your car engine is influenced by whether it's hot or cold outside, and you want to make sure you're using the proper oil for the current season. In the summer months, typically, you'd use an oil like 10W-30. For fall and winter, consider using a thinner oil like 5W-30.

Check your engine coolant.
Every car requires a ratio of coolant to water-typically, a winter ratio is 60% coolant and 40% water. Antifreeze ensures that the water needed to cool down the engine won't freeze in the cold weather. If the water freezes, your engine won't cool down, possibly blowing the engine and causing your radiator to crack. Your car's coolant system also protects the engine against corrosion. Antifreeze with ethylene glycol is a good recommendation for your car's coolant system and engine.

Test and inspect your car battery.
Make sure your battery cables aren't torn or corroded. The terminals should fit snugly with no loose connections. Use a handheld hydrometer to check the freshness of your battery. If the voltage is in the 12.6V to 12.8V range, you've got a full charge. Anything under 12.4V is a red flag that your battery might not be ready for the harsher temperatures (remember, it takes more power to crank a vehicle in winter). Replace car batteries that are more than 4 1/2 years old.

Keep your windshields clear.
Consider a washer fluid with an antifreeze solution. It works great for clearing off cold, heavy grime, and it won't freeze and cause damage to the windshield wiper system. Also, purchase winter wiper blades to help cut through snow and ice when conditions get really bad.

Inspect all hoses and belts.
Look for cracks in the car engine belts and bulges in the car engine hoses. If any of them look like candidates for replacement, change them as soon as possible.

Examine your tires.
Check your tire tread for uneven wear, and make sure they have adequate tread. If the treads are worn, replace the tires as soon as you can. Use a tire gauge to check the air pressure in all the tires, including the spare tire. Tires tend to lose air pressure when the temperature drops, so make sure your tires are inflated to the car manufacturer's recommendations.

Prepare for an emergency.
In the unfortunate event that your car does break down in winter or you get stuck somewhere, make sure you have an emergency winter kit stored somewhere in your vehicle to keep you safe until you can get back on the road. Some helpful items might include:

  • Ice scraper
  • Small snow shovel
  • Cat litter (use for traction when stuck in the snow)
  • Spare tire tools
  • Blankets
  • Extra coolant
  • Extra windshield washer fluid
  • Bottled water
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlights with batteries
  • Non-perishable snacks
  • Cell phone charger for the car
  • Car battery charger (purchased at an auto parts store)

To find excellent auto mechanic professionals in your area who can help winterize your car, search Kudzu.com

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