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Winterizing Your Car Checklist

windshield wipers during a snowstorm

The winter months can be harsh on your car. Freezing temperatures and tough road conditions from snow, ice, salt, sand and potholes can take their toll if your vehicle isn’t properly winterized. But with some simple checks and maintenance steps, it’s easy to keep your car riding smoothly throughout the season.

Take care of your tires. With low temperatures (which cause tire pressure to decrease) and rough road conditions, your tires bear the brunt of winter, so regularly check the tread depth and pressure to ensure they’re safe to drive on. For a simple and quick way to measure the tires’ tread, try the penny test.

If you live in an area with regular snowfall, you might consider replacing your all-season or summer tires with snow tires. Snow tires remain flexible and soft in cold temperatures, making them easier to handle on slippery surfaces, like an ice-covered road.

Maximize your visibility. Since wintry conditions impede visibility on the road, it’s imperative that your windshield wipers are working properly. If they’re leaving streaks across the glass, it might be time to replace them with a fresh set of blades.

Be sure to top off the washer fluid with one that contains antifreeze – just using water is dangerous as it’ll likely freeze when the temperature drops.

Check your engine. Cold temperatures cause engine oil to thicken, so make sure you’re using the right oil grade – refer to your owner’s manual if you are unsure of which viscosity you should be using.

Once you’ve determined the right oil for your engine, it’s important to make sure your antifreeze (coolant) to water ratio is appropriate for the cold temperatures. Typically a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water is sufficient, but you should check your owner’s manual to see if there is a specific ratio recommendation based on your car model.

How’s your battery? Since cold temperatures adversely affect battery life, take the time to check yours. Refer to your owner’s manual as there could be specific instructions on how to check your type of battery. If it’s in in questionable condition, you may want to consider replacing it – the last thing you want is to be stranded in the middle of a storm on account of a dead battery.

Have the proper tools. We’ve all been there – using your sleeve to brush snow off your windows because you don’t have a proper scraper on hand. This winter, don’t get caught off guard. Instead, preemptively pack your car with necessary snow-related tools and other important safety items. Be sure to include items like a windshield scraper, a shovel, rock salt, jumper cables and flares.

Additionally, consider packing other safety essentials, like blankets, nonperishable food, water and a first aid kit.

Wax and wash. Give your car’s exterior a fresh coat of wax since dirt, salt and other elements could be damaging to its paint finish. And while you may be in the it’s-going-to-get-dirty-again-anyway-so-why-bother-washing-it camp, it’s helpful to wash your car’s exterior a couple times throughout the winter, even if it DOES get dirty shortly thereafter.

The interior matters. Your car’s floors will need extra protection with all the ice, sand and salt that may get tracked in. If you don’t already have them, you might want to consider investing in some floor mats to help protect against the elements.

Last but not least, mind your brakes. The brake system is one of the most vital safety features of your car. And since slowing down and stopping on wet, icy or snow-covered roads can be challenging, it’s important to have your brakes checked by a professional to ensure they’re working properly.

Don’t wait until after the first snowstorm hits – now’s the time to prepare your car for the winter months ahead.

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