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Is There Such a Thing as “Winterizing” a Car?

Car Winter Driving

Is it a term created by mechanics to help bring in business during a slow time of the year? At least that was my thought as a little kid when my parents got the car back from the mechanic. I was disappointed when it looked the same as when it went in! Being a young boy I expected (and hoped) the mini-van would come out looking beefed-up with chains on the tires, off-road lights on top, and a plow on the front. In reality, although nothing looked different, needed services were performed.

Winters (at least here up north) can really take a toll on a car. The salt from the roads can do irreversible damage to a car’s frame, the cold puts a lot of strain on the moving parts, and water based fluids can freeze if they haven’t been kept up on. So what all should be inspected before snow starts coming?

Tires. You’re going to have a difficult time just getting out of your driveway if there is a shortage of tread left. Even if you can get moving, you want to make sure you’ll have enough grip to stop in time. Also, as the temperature changes, the density of the air does as well. The colder it gets, the lower your tire pressure becomes, even if you don’t have a leak anywhere. So getting your tire pressures checked and set can keep that fuel economy and tire life where it should be.

Battery. The colder temperatures reduce cranking power as well as thicken motor oil, making the engine harder to turn over. Getting the battery inspected before those lower temperatures hit can save you waiting for a tow truck in the freezing cold on the side of the highway.

Engine Coolant/Fluids. Coolant (aka Antifreeze) travels through the engine and other components to keep the temperatures in the ideal range. Coolant is a mixture of water and ethylene glycol. A proper mixture is required to not only raise the boiling point (to 265°F), but to lower the freezing point (to -34°F). This means that in the winter, the coolant won’t freeze inside the engine, expand, and crack the engine. Over time, this mixture can weaken, become diluted, or get dirty or corroded. If weak coolant is left in the system through the winter, it can potentially cause catastrophic engine damage. Part of “winterizing” a vehicle is to have this fluid checked, and replaced if it is weak or dirty. Having a good, clean cooling system also helps in getting the cabin of your car (and the defroster) hotter, quicker. In general, all fluids should be topped off and checked at this time.

Vision and Safety. It’s crucial to make sure that you can not only see the road, but other drivers can also see your car. With the reduced visibility that snow and sleet bring, getting your vehicle checked before winter should include making sure all exterior lights work properly and windshield wipers and washers are in good shape.

Contrary to popular belief (I like to think I wasn’t the only child that wished for the Military Grade Mini-Van for winter…), winterizing doesn’t make your car indestructible in the snow and ice, but it does ensure that your vehicle is going to be as capable and reliable in this nasty season as it can be.