Girl looking out driver car window in winter.

Is Your Car Prepared for the Winter Months?

4-Minute Read

The leaves have started to fall and temperatures have begun cooling off in many parts of the country. That means that if harsh weather conditions are in your winter forecast, it’s time to start getting yourself and your car prepared.

Before that first big snowfall hits, it’s important to learn how to winterize your car so it’s running in peak condition when it matters the most.

How Do I Get My Car Ready for Winter?

Learning how to get your car ready for winter is an important step for every car owner. Not only is it going to help extend the life of your car, but it’s also going to help keep you safe when the unfortunate weather hits. Here are seven things you should always do when you’re preparing your car for the winter.

1. Check Your Tire Tread and Pressure

One of the most important things you will do is making sure your tires are in proper working condition. Start by checking the tread depth, which is the measurement from the top-most edge of the tire’s tread to the bottom of the deepest groove, is measured in 32nds of an inch. This will ensure they respond well in snow and icy weather.

To check your tread all you need is a penny. Place it in the first few grooves of your tire, head first. If the grooves cover part Lincoln’s head, your tires have a good amount of tread. But if you can see all of Lincoln’s head, it’s probably time to go tire shopping.

You’ll also want to make sure your tires are properly inflated. If you’re unsure of the optimal pressure, it’s usually found on a sticker inside the driver’s-side door. Otherwise, you can check inside your owner’s manual.

2. Consider Snow Tires

If your tire tread test found that it’s time to replace your tires, you might want to consider replacing with snow tires. There are a lot of benefits to having snow tires on your car. They use rubber designed for colder weather. With typical all-season or summer tires, the rubber will start to harden around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This reduces their ability to grip surfaces. Snow tires are going to give your car more traction and better braking because of their designed ability to grip snow and ice.

The downside to snow tires is they can be expensive. When you start shopping around, make sure you ask about the all-in pricing and not just the cost of the tires themselves. There will also be fees for mounting and balancing the tires. If you decide snow tires are the right investment but don’t have the funds available, consider alternative paying options like a personal loan.

3. Do a Battery Check

The last thing you want is to get stuck in a snowstorm and have your car not start. As the temperatures get colder, your car’s battery will have a lower capacity, sometimes by as much as 50%. If it’s been several years since your battery has been replaced, you should have it tested. Most repair shops and even places like AutoZone or Batteries Plus will perform a free battery test for you. If it’s showing a capacity below the recommended level, then it’s probably time for a replacement.

4. Change Your Oil

Changing the oil on your car is something that should be done every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, depending on the age of your car (for example, newer cars use synthetic oil and don't need to be changed until the 7,000 miles mark). It’s also important to change right before colder temperatures arrive. You’ll want to make sure your car is using a motor oil with the right viscosity.

As it gets colder outside, the oil in your car will start to thicken if it’s not designed for cold temperatures. That means it won’t run through the engine as well as it should. Instead, make sure you change the oil using something that is designed for colder weather. This will help ensure peak performance all winter long and drastically lengthen the life of your engine.

5. Check Your Antifreeze

Your car’s engine runs extremely hot and requires coolant running through it to make sure it runs at an optimal temperature. Unfortunately, when it gets cold outside that coolant is susceptible to freezing (which is why we use antifreeze). The antifreeze helps keep the coolant in liquid form no matter how cold it gets outside during the winter.

In warmer climates cars typically run on a mixture of 70% antifreeze and 30% water. However, in colder climates, this adjusts to a 50% antifreeze and 50% water ratio.

6. Put Together an Emergency Preparedness Kit

It’s important to have an emergency kit in your car no matter what the season, but the winter is the most important time. If your car were to break down or you got stuck in a bad winter storm, you need the necessary items to make it through and get home safe. When putting together your emergency kit, make sure you include the following items and store them in your trunk:

  • Blanket
  • Extra warm clothes
  • Extra hat and gloves
  • Ice scraper
  • Flashlight
  • Small shovel
  • Multitool
  • Jumper cables
  • Windshield washer fluid
  • First aid kit
  • Flares
  • Extra water and snacks
  • Portable phone charger/cord

7. Check Your Wiper Blades

Have you ever driven in a blizzard without properly working windshield wipers? It’s dangerous, and not very fun. Wiper blades typically need changing once a year. However, if you notice that they’re leaving streaks or squeaking, it might be time for a new pair today. Even if they seem to be working properly, it’s still important to inspect them a little closer to make sure they won’t put you in a sudden, dangerous situation down the road.

Check for any type of metal corrosion, especially at the joints. Also, look for any signs of cracking in the rubber edge. These are warning signs that trouble lies ahead.

When Should I Winterize My Car?

You now know how to effectively winterize a car. But you might be wondering your timeline and when you should have it completed. Honestly, there is no wrong time to check, and regular car inspections should take place throughout the year. But, you should aim to have it done as soon as the weather starts changing and before the first snowfall. If you live in mountainous regions like Montana, Wyoming, Colorado or Idaho, aim for September. Other parts of the country can get away with waiting a little longer. 

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