It’s winter again, the time for snowmen, hot chocolate—and car care. Although maintaining your vehicle is probably the last thing on your mind this season, having safe, reliable transportation is paramount when the temperatures drop.
So, what can you do to ensure your car runs well throughout the winter? Take a look at our list of essential maintenance tips that will help keep your vehicle on the road all season long.
Essential Winter Maintenance Tips
Just like you, your car reacts differently to each season. The cold winter weather can cause fluids to thicken, parts to freeze, and many other issues. To help prepare your vehicle, consider following these ten essential winter maintenance tips.
1. Check the Fluids Often
It’s always important to check your car’s fluids regularly. Low or dirty fluid is a leading cause of vehicle breakdowns—and you don’t want to be stuck on the side of the road during the winter.
When the temperature begins to drop, inspecting the antifreeze mixture is particularly important. You can easily test the antifreeze concentration with test strips or a hydrometer.
Warning: Never remove the cooling system cap when the engine is hot. Severe injury may result. Only check the antifreeze level and condition when the engine is cool.
Typically, the cooling system should contain a 50/50 mixture of coolant and water. An antifreeze blend with too much water can cause parts of the engine and cooling system to freeze. As a result, major components, such as the engine block, may crack, leading to a costly repair.
You can correct a water-heavy mixture by draining the cooling system and refilling it with the correct amount of water and antifreeze. Check out our antifreeze products from GenuineXL that are made to OEM specification.
Of course, you’ll also want to check the rest of the underhood fluids, including the engine oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid (if your car has a transmission dipstick), and power steering fluid (if your car has hydraulic power steering).
Many vehicles also have fluids (e.g., differential fluid) that must be checked from underneath the car. If you have the know-how, you can safely support the vehicle on jack stands and check these fluids yourself.
Otherwise, the next time your car is in for an oil change, you can ask a professional to do the job for you.
2. Inspect the Tires
You probably don’t need a reminder that tires are especially important when the roads are covered in snow and ice. Before you head home for the holidays, be sure to check the condition and inflation of each of your car’s tires.
First, look for any obvious signs of damage, such as bubbles in the sidewall or chunks of missing rubber, which indicate that the tire requires replacement.
If everything looks okay, you can move on to measuring the tread depth with a dedicated gauge. Most professionals recommend replacing a tire when there’s 4/32” of tread remaining at any point. A tread depth reading of 2/32” or less indicates the tire is a safety hazard and should be replaced immediately.
You’ll also want to check the tire pressure with a dedicated gauge. Inside the driver’s side door jamb, you’ll find a placard that lists the correct tire pressure for your vehicle. Do NOT inflate the tires to the specification written on the tire’s sidewall—that’s the maximum pressure, rather than the recommended pressure.
Tip: High-quality digital tire pressure gauges and dial-type gauges are far more accurate than cheap, pencil-style gauges.
If you need to adjust the tire pressure, you can use an air compressor (or an air pump at the gas station) to add air. On the other hand, if you need to let some air out, you can press down on the tip of the valve stem core with a pocket screwdriver.
You can learn more by reading our article on how to check tire tread and how to check tire pressure.
3. Check the Wipers
If you’ve ever dealt with worn-out wiper blades during a snowstorm, you know how scary the scenario can be. Ensuring your wipers are in good condition is of utmost importance during the winter.
The good news is, it’s easy to check the wipers. All you need to do is turn on both the wipers and windshield washers. A good set of blades should produce a streak-free sweep and leave the windshield clear.
You’ll also want to make sure there’s a winter blend of washer fluid in your washer reservoir. Unlike summer blends, winter blends are designed to resist freezing when the weather turns frigid. While you’re at it, inspect the washer reservoir for cracks and damage. Swap the reservoir out for a top-notch replacement product if you find any defects.
4. Protect Your Car From the Elements
The slushy mixture of snow and salt that covers winter roadways can eventually cause rust that damages your car. To protect your investment, you’ll want to wash both the exterior and the undercarriage often (once a week if possible).
And what about the interior of your car? You’ll want to wash that often, as well. You can also help preserve your car’s interior by investing in a set of floor mats.
Parking in a garage is another way to protect your car from the elements. If you don’t have a covered parking space, a water-proof car cover is the next best thing.
5. Make Sure All of the Lights Work
If you’re still commuting to work, it’s probably dark outside when you go into the office and dark when you leave. That’s why it’s extra important to make sure your car’s lighting—including everything from the headlights to the blinkers—is working properly.
Checking your car’s lighting is a simple affair. All you need to do is have a friend operate the lights while you walk around the vehicle to make sure everything is working. A non-functional light usually indicates a burnt-out bulb.
6. Inspect the Brakes
When you’re driving in hazardous winter conditions, you need all of the stopping power you can get. You (or your mechanic) should check the brakes a least twice a year to ensure they’re in good condition. If you haven’t taken a peek at your car’s brakes in a while, now is the time to do so.
Most professionals recommend replacing a set of brake pads (and machining or replacing the rotors) when there’s 4mm of friction material left. Pads with 3mm of friction material or less are considered unsafe and should be replaced right away.
7. Make Sure Your Car is Up-To-Date On Routine Maintenance
Following the vehicle manufacturer’s routine maintenance schedule is one of the best ways to keep your car running right. The schedule can be found either in your owner’s manual (read this article to learn more about what you can find in your owner’s manual) or the supplemental booklet.
Now is a good time to take a peek to determine whether your car is due (or overdue) for service. You’ll want to address any required maintenance right away to help ensure you have reliable transportation throughout the season.
8. Fix the Heater If It’s Broken
If your car’s heater is broken, we probably don’t need to remind you to fix the problem. Driving a vehicle with an ice-cold cabin is enough of a reminder in itself.
Many people assume a lack of heat is due to a faulty heater core, but that’s not always the case. A variety of problems, ranging from a low coolant level to a worn-out water pump, can lead to a loss of cabin heat.
You can find a variety of heater-related components, including replacement heater cores, by perusing our catalog.
9. Fix Any Known Problems
During the winter, a breakdown can be a safety hazard. Because of this, it’s critical that you fix any known problems right away. If, say, you’re dealing with a glaring check engine light or an abnormal engine noise, you’ll want to address the issue ASAP.
You’ll also want to fix any new problems that might pop up. Driving on the snow and ice can often cause vehicles to slide into curbs and ditches, damaging critical parts of the steering and suspension (e.g., the control arms and tie rods). Fixing these issues and getting an alignment will help ensure your vehicle handles as it should.
Should you encounter any damaged steering and suspension components over the winter, be sure to check out our catalog of TrueDrive products. From control arms to wheel hubs, TrueDrive has a full range of premium-grade products at an excellent value.
10. Remember to Pack Winter Essentials
The final tip isn’t for your car—it’s for you and your loved ones. During the winter, to keep everyone safe and comfortable, it’s a good idea to pack certain essential items before you hit the road.
Naturally, you’ll want to pack the ice scraper or snow brush that you use regularly. But there are other items that you might want to carry, as well. For example, it’s a good idea to pack gloves, a warm coat, a blanket, a flashlight, and a shovel. You might also consider adding other items, such as snacks and water, in case of an emergency.
For more ideas on what you might want to carry, check out our article What to Pack in Your Winter Emergency Car Kit.