As if this year couldn’t pass any faster, winter is fast-approaching – in fact, it’s right around the corner for those living in the Midwest or on the East Coast. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that couldn’t be more true with regard to winter car maintenance. So, as cold (and, depending on your disposition, hopefully or despairingly snowy) weather approaches, let’s look at how to winterize a car so you’re prepared!

Run Your Heater & Make Sure It Works

First things first – getting stuck in cold weather without functional heating is no fun at all. Take a minute to turn on your heater and ensure it supplies hot air. If your heater doesn’t work, it could be one of several issues – not enough coolant, problems with the heater core, broken controls, a dysfunctional thermostat, etc. 

First, check your coolant. If you have enough coolant, you probably want to take your car to a mechanic and let them diagnose the issue. 

Tip: If fierce winters are the norm where you live, it’s worth taking your car in for a general check-up. Ask your mechanic to check your fluid levels (especially the antifreeze and coolant!), test your battery, check your tire pressure, and make sure your vehicle’s in good shape!

Man pouring antifreeze into car for winter car maintenance.
You’ll want to re-up on antifreeze every 12 months!

Make Sure Your Winter Car Maintenance Is on Point: Battery Care

Unbeknownst to many car owners, cold weather can put a lot of stress on a vehicle’s battery. Freezing temperatures slow down the chemical reactions that allow car batteries to function. At freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit), car batteries lose 35% of their strength – that jumps to 60% at 0 degrees or colder. 

Winter also makes fluids move more slowly – couple those effects together, and you’ve got a recipe for a sluggish car (or worse, a dead battery). Some steps you can take include:

  • Installing a battery blanket. Most only cost around $20-30, so they’re relatively budget-friendly. Wrapping a blanket around your battery may feel silly, but it can help your car start (and warm up) faster. 
  • Charging your battery. A fully-charged battery loses a lot less energy to cold weather than a half-charged (or discharged) one. Charging your battery before winter hits is usually a good idea!
  • Shielding your car from cold weather and wind. A garage or car cover can help shield your car from the worst of the elements, making them great for winter car maintenance. If you have neither, consider parking your car downwind to prevent excess cold air from getting into the engine bay. 

Consider Winter Tires and Wipers

If ice and/or snow are the default where you live, you may want to consider getting snow tires and winter or hydrophobic wiper blades as you perform your winter car maintenance checklist. 

Snow tires use a different rubber compensation that doesn’t harden as much in cold weather, helping them grip the road easier. They also have deeper tread depth and edges designed to bite into the road surface, helping you maintain traction. 

If you have a heavy car that struggles to stop once it starts sliding, winter tires can be a lifesaver (sometimes, literally) – but if you live in an area with a lot of snowfall, consider them regardless of your car make/model.  

How much does it cost? A good set of winter tires can run up to $600-1,000 for a full set, depending on your car type. 

A truck with winter tires finding traction on a snowy road.
Good winter tires can provide some much-needed grip!

Similarly, you may want a set of winter-ready or hydrophobic wiper blades. Winter wiper blades have sturdier frames and rubber blades, helping them move snow off your windshield more effectively. You can also get blades that apply a hydrophobic coating to your windshield after a few passes, making water bead up and fall off more easily – great if you live in a climate where rain tends to become ice overnight. 

How much does it cost? Winter wiper blades tend to cost between $10-30. 

Tip: Your tires may lose pressure as the weather gets colder – check them regularly and keep ’em at the appropriate pressure level to make driving on snow and ice easier (and safer)!

A comparison shot of winter and all-weather wiper blades.
Winter wiper blades (top) are heavier-duty than summer or all-weather blades (bottom).

How to Winterize Your Car Exterior – De-Icing Car Paint, Glass & Headlights

Whether you’re driving in ice, snow, or sleet, one thing’s sure – it’ll turn to mud soon enough. As a result, driving in cold climates often makes for dirty cars. Road grime and buildup isn’t just aesthetically displeasing – it can also lead to rust, especially when mixed in with the road salt often used to de-ice snowy streets. 

Some car washes will handle your paint and undercarriage, so you may want to take your ride in for a bath – but you can always do it yourself. Make sure you use car wash soap and put grit guards in your buckets (one with soap and water, one with just water) so you don’t end up washing more grime into your paint. Wash the car with the soap and water mixture. Whenever your cloth or mitt (use microfiber!) gets dirty, dip it into the water for a quick clean. With a bit of elbow grease, you can have your car looking like new! 

How much does it cost? Car wash and cleaning kits can run around $50-100, while a car wash can cost anywhere from $20-70. It’s worth noting that most car wash and cleaning kits are good for several washes!

If your headlights have a haze, you’ll also want to clean them. Having clean headlights is crucial if you want to see the road (and help other drivers see you). Consider using a ready-made headlight cleaning solution for the task!

How much does it cost? Most headlight restoration kits are around $10-20.

For glass, you can use a one-part water to three-parts vinegar mixture – the vinegar makes it harder for ice to build up and can help you get any ice already there off quickly. 

Once you’re done washing your car, you can apply a coat of spray wax to protect the paint from future damage. To avoid doors sticking from ice buildup, spray de-icer around the door seal and handles. 

How much does it cost? A simple can of de-icer usually costs around $5-15.

A woman clearing away ice with an ice scraper.
A good ice scraper is just one of many winter car maintenance must-haves!

How to Winterize Your Car Interior – Must-Have Items, Winter Car Seat Covers & More

Understanding how to winterize your car exterior is only half the battle. Having the right tools is equally important. So, let’s cover some essentials:

  • Ice scraper ($5-15).good ice scraper will help you break up ice and brush away snow from windshields, windows, and mirrors – making it a winter must-have. 
  • A bag of sand (or cat litter) and a shovel ($30-60 [combined]). We know, we know – it sounds weird, but hear us out. Getting traction can be tricky if you’re starting your car on ice or in muddy, melted snow. Putting sand or kitty litter around your wheels can give you some much-needed grip, and a shovel can dig you out of sketchy situations. 
  • Jumper cables and a car tool kit ($50-150). A basic set of jumper cables and a car tool kit will help you make basic repairs or take care of a dead battery. If you want to splurge, you can invest in more expensive items. For example, a portable jump starter can kick your battery into gear without requiring another vehicle. 
  • Non-perishable food and water ($5-20). Having non-perishable food on-hand, such as protein bars, is always a good idea. Staying hydrated is just as important, so always keep some water handy!
  • First aid kit ($30-150). Having a first aid kit in the car is always a good idea. 
  • Flashlight and extra batteries ($15-40). A flashlight and batteries can help you get to and from your car safely at night. If you break down or have car trouble, it can also help you see into your engine bay (or signal to other drivers that you need help).
  • An extra set of winter clothes ($100-300). Having an extra set of winter clothes – especially a jacket – in the car is usually a good idea. It’s not just for you – warm clothes can go a long way toward helping someone in need. 
  • Flares ($30-120). Flares aren’t exactly a must-have for most. But, if you live in a remote area, it may be worth buying a pack. If you break down or get stranded, a high-visibility flare will help people find you more easily than a flashlight. 

Last but certainly not least, for the moms and dads out there, investing in a winter car seat cover can be wise. If you have a baby or toddler who still needs their child seat, a winter car seat cover can help them stay comfortable and warm during cold weather. 

There you have it! How to winterize your car – inside and out. Looking for more tips and tricks on car care? Stay tuned! 

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