Winter Is Coming: How to Get Your Car Ready for the Snow

Winter is coming, and no, this has nothing to do with Game of Thrones. Some people may associate the season with ski bunnies, white Christmases, and pastoral country landscapes. But if you live in an area with snow you know the reality: clogged, dangerous roads, ice everywhere, and salt caking everything. If your car doesn’t have rust going into the season, chances are it will when it’s all over.

Unsurprisingly, winter is the most brutal month for vehicles. Bringing an engine and interior up to temperature, then leaving it to drop below freezing, again and again, adds an incredible amount of wear and tear to your vehicle. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to protect your car. Better yet, most of these steps are ridiculously easy. Before the snow really starts flying, here are 10 things you can do to get your vehicle ready for winter. 

1. Time for a fluid flush

Checking a car’s oil | iStock

Whether you’re a shade tree mechanic or a regular at your local Jiffy Lube, the winter is the time to make sure your car has fresh fluids. When you change your oil, go for something with a lower viscosity rating. Here’s a quick primer: 5W30? the “W” stands for winter, which means that the oil will start to thicken below 5 degrees Celsius. Going with a low viscosity oil means that your engine will be properly lubricated even on the coldest days.

While you’re at it, make sure your coolant is topped off and rated for winter use. The last thing you want is for your antifreeze to, well, freeze.

2. Start thinking about belts and hoses

Mechanics working on car engine

Check to make sure your car’s belts and hoses are ready for winter weather. | iStock/Getty Images

In today’s cars, plastic cladding hides just about every part of your engine bay. But that doesn’t mean that rubber belts and hoses aren’t still in there. Going from very hot (think 175 or so degrees) to sub-freezing air temperature hundreds of times a season wreaks havoc on your car’s rubber components. You or your mechanic should take a look at your engine’s vital pliable components and make sure they’re up to the task. The last thing you want is to be stranded on the side of the road with gallons of antifreeze spilled everywhere.

3. Make sure your battery is up for the extra work

A Braille carbon fiber car battery waits to be swapped into a custom vehicle | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Starting your car on a freezing morning puts a lot of strain on your car’s electrical system. If your battery is over three years old, there’s a real chance it simply won’t be up for it anymore. Thanks to advances in fuel and electrical systems, the days of cars not starting due to freezing weather are largely a thing of the past. But your battery is the weakest link here. If it’s old, consider buying a new one before the temperature really starts to dip.

4. Winter tires are a must

Yes, front-wheel drive cars tend to do better in the snow than rear-wheel drive cars. And all-wheel drive cars are better than both. But that doesn’t really matter without a good set of snow tires. In the worst winter weather, a good set of all-seasons just won’t cut it. But even something like a Corvette can be turned into a reliable winter driver with a good set of snow tires — not that we’d recommend it. It isn’t exactly cheap to buy a set of winter tires and extra wheels, but it could be the difference that keeps your car on the road this winter.

5. Stock up on windshield wiper fluid and extra wipers

Time to replace wipers | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

In warmer months, windshield wiper fluid can take up space in your garage or trunk, but in the winter, you’ll be glad you have it. It’s amazing how quickly people in colder climates run through the stuff. And while it’s cheap, running out of it when you really need it is at best annoying, and at worst, dangerous.

While you’re at it, grab an extra set of windshield wipers while you’re stocking up for winter. Caked salt and ice to a number on the rubber, and if you’re too lazy to replace them once that soft barrier wears away, you could be doing irreparable damage to your windshield.

6. Become a regular at your local car wash

Heading to the car wash in the winter can add years to your car’s life. | Source: Mr. Clean Car Wash via Facebook

This may seem like a futile exercise or even a waste of money, but regularly washing your car during the winter months could add years to its life. Salt corrodes metal, and the longer it’s on your car, the faster it’s going to rust. A good, thorough wash gets the salt off the body and underside of your car quick. Paying a little extra for wax is a must too. The wax creates another barrier between your car’s sheet metal and salt and does wonders at keeping the tin worm at bay.

7. Keep an emergency kit

An emergency triangle kit | Source: The Cortina Companies via Facebook

Let’s say the worst case scenario happens: You’re driving along, hit a patch of ice, and next thing you know, you’re off the road. Even if you’re on a busy highway, if the weather is bad enough, you might be waiting an hour or two for a tow. So make sure you have an emergency kit in your car. Keep a blanket, first aid kit, snacks, jumper cables, a flashlight, flares, and even a shovel in your trunk. You may never need them. But if you ever do, you’ll be glad they’re in there.

8. Invest in roadside assistance

Trailer Control |Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

It’s simple math: A top of the line AAA Premier membership costs $118 and includes 500 miles of towing a year. The cost for an average tow is about $75, plus $3.50 per mile. If you’re not keen on AAA, there are usually roadside assistance options available through your insurer or even your car’s manufacturer. No matter where you get it, it’s always a good idea to have this supplemental insurance for when things get bad out there.

9. Stash de-icer around

2017 Volvo XC90 | James Derek Sapienza/Autos Cheat Sheet

Some cars are notorious for having their locks or door handles freeze when it’s cold and wet out. Don’t let yourself get stranded; buy a few tubes of lock de-icer and keep them at home and work. Because there’s nothing worse at the end of a long workday than not being able to get into your car and go home.

10. Stay in the know

A mechanic looks at a car. | iStock/Getty Images

It may sound corny and make you feel like you’re becoming your dad, but winter is the time to keep an eye on your car’s vitals. Spring for a tire pressure gauge and keep it in your glovebox. When you’re filling up, pop the hood and check oil and coolant levels. If you can reach them, check the hoses and belts under the hood. If you do the bare minimum to make sure your car stays running strong during the coldest months, you can feel confident that it probably won’t let you down.