Winter rears its frigid head every year, leaving whiteout conditions, black ice, and your frozen vehicle in its wake. To help you avoid getting iced out of your cold weather travel plans, our Getaround Garage master autotech, Crosby, has some car maintenance tips ranging from easy to expert to keep your ride road-ready all winter long — no matter how blustery it gets.
Easy To Do
Get a snow brush and ice scraper. These items are essential, so keep them handy in your trunk. Don’t get stuck out in the cold using your coat sleeve to knock off snow or an old credit card to scrape ice off the windshield. That’s never a good look and you could catch a cold out there.
Wash off road salt and wax your vehicle. Road salt tends to stow away in car underbodies and other hard-to-reach areas. It’s also harsh on clear coat protectant and corrosive to your vehicle. While European cars tend to have better undercoating protection, it’s still important to rinse off salt whenever you notice build-up. A fresh coat of wax also helps protect against the elements.
Inspect your tire treads and ensure proper air pressure. Use the old penny trick, or look for the tread wear indicators in the tread seam to make sure your tires are safe for wintery conditions. Fill your tires to the recommended air pressure ranges found inside the door well.
Recommended air pressure (left), Tread wear indicator (right)
Replace your windshield wipers every year. Never operate your wipers on a icy windshield — that’s a surefire way to damage the blades, creating conditions for streaky, obscured windshields in wet conditions. You can also mix de-icing fluid with the windshield fluid to prevent ice-over.
A Little Work
Check your oil levels, and change the oil if needed. Cold engines need proper lubricant to perform effectively. Avoid potential engine issues by staying on schedule with your oil change service interval. Synthetic oil is always recommended for an extremely cold climate.
Positive and negative terminal on a car battery.
Make sure your battery is in good working condition. Batteries usually last for around five years — sometimes fewer in colder areas. Check with your local auto shop to see if they offer free battery testing services. If you need to recharge your battery, drive on the highway for at least 20 minutes to activate the alternator.
Get a battery tender to stay fully charged. If you store your vehicle in below-freezing temperatures, consider a plug-in battery tender that will keep your battery fully charged even in sub-zero temperatures. If you don’t plan on driving for an extended time, consider disconnecting the battery.
Install chains on your FWD/RWD vehicle. In some states, chains are required for non-4WD vehicles traveling on snowy mountain roadways. Chains are a game-changer in packed snow. Stash them in your trunk, and practice applying and removing the chains a few times before you’re in the blizzard.
Get An Expert
Check the vitals. This means monitoring antifreeze levels, fuel injectors, thermostat, and charging system. Also check your radiator for signs of leakage, you might see white residue (signs of escaped moisture) near the radiator cap. Caution: never open a radiator cap while the car is on or the line is under pressure. If any of these systems are malfunctioning, get them fixed fast. If fuel injector problems are causing engine issues, consider an over-the-counter fuel injector cleaner.
Antifreeze reservoir (left), Radiator cap (right)
Set it straight. Wheel alignment is recommended every 2-3 years, and tire rotation is recommended every service interval. Over time (and over potholes) your car’s wheels can get increasingly misaligned, which causes premature and uneven tire wear. Protect your inflated investments (we’re talkin’ tires, folks), and stay on top of your regular maintenance intervals.
With a little preparation and some precautionary measures, your vehicle can be as comfortable and capable in the snow as the fabled Yeti. And as always, the Yeti recommends you buckle up and drive safely.