Weather the Storm: How to Winterize Your Vehicle

Winter is in full swing and as we prepare our bodies for the weather and protect ourselves from getting sick, we have to prepare our cars for the cold as well. One of the worst feelings in the world is getting in your car on a 10-degree morning to drive to work, only for it not to start. Winterization of your car is essential for its longevity and your well-being. Here are a few tips to minimize the problems "old man winter" brings along with him.

Tires

The quality and maintenance of your tires can make all the difference in you coasting along in a snow storm or getting stuck for hours in the cold. Tires are probably the most neglected, yet most important, part of a car during the winter months. Ideally a set of snow tires should be purchased and mounted in early November. In an emergency, purchasing them on a credit card or getting personal loanscan be worth any fees or interest you'll ultimately pay. Do a little research and find a tire dealer who will mount and balance the winter tires and switch them back in the spring. If you cannot get snow tires, be certain the tires you have are inflated to the proper pressure. This should be check only after driving for a while, as cold tires can give false air pressure readings.

Oil and Coolant

An oil change should be every 3,000 miles and, ideally, done right before the weather gets very cold. A lighter, thinner oil (like 5W-30) will circulate through the engine faster even when it's nearly frozen. Thicker oils used in warm weather will put unnecessary strain on your engine and could damage some internal parts. Your coolant should also be checked for the proper level and mix ratio. Pouring water by itself into the radiator is fine in the summer, but will freeze and destroy your cooling system in the winter. A radiator flush should be done once every two years or every 50,000 kilometers (about 30,000 miles).

Battery

A strong, clean battery means more reliable starting no matter how cold it gets. A mixture of baking soda and water can be poured on the battery terminals and cables to neutralize and remove corrosion with a toothbrush. Value-regulated-lead-acid batteries (also called AGM batteries) have gel electrolyte inside, thus never need water added, cannot spill and won't corrode. These batteries are built to withstand very hot and cold temperatures. They are only compatible with specific makes and models of vehicles, so be sure to check your owner's manual or ask a mechanic before purchasing one. AGM batteries are a bit more expensive than their lead-acid counterparts, but will last for years.

Belts and Hoses

Physics 101 tells us that as matter gets colder its gets harder and more brittle. All the belts in your car should be checked for cracks and wear when you get an oil change. The serpentine belt, which powers the water pump, alternator and other peripheral devices under the hood, should be replaced every four years, or 50,000 miles.

Posted in Automotive Services