Preparing Your Car for Winter

Getting your car ready for winter can be a big hassle, but it can certainly keep your car running well until spring. And making sure you're prepared for winter can give you peace of mind as you drive to and fro on the ice.

Check the Anti-Freeze

Anti-freeze keeps your radiator and engine hoses from (surprise!) freezing. Over time, anti-freeze can become contaminated and can lose some of its power. You should completely change your anti-freeze every two years, so if you didn't change it last year, do it this year.

If you don't think you need to change the anti-freeze, the next time you get your oil changed (every three months or 3,000 miles, right?), ask the technician to check the mixture in the radiator. It ought to be approximately half water, half anti-freeze.

Check the Battery

It takes more power to start a cold engine than a warm one, so having a good battery is very important in the winter months. If your battery is more than 3 years old, have a technician check it out — or buy an inexpensivebattery hydrometer and test it yourself — to make sure it's in good shape.

Car batteries last between four and five years; if you're driving on an old battery, replace it before cold weather arrives. This preventative maintenance might seem costly, but towing and and then paying for a new battery will cost even more!

Get Some Spare Windshield Wipers

As snow and ice turns to dirty slush, you don't want to get caught with wipers that clean only a quarter of the windshield. Snow and ice wear down and crack your blades over time, so you'll likely need a new set by spring anyway. Buy that extra set now and keep it in the trunk; then change your wipers when they start to break down.

Try to keep the windshield wiper fluid tank filled, too. And fill it with wiper fluid, not water; water will freeze up and damage the hoses.

Prepare a Winter Car Kit

You should toss these "just in case" items into your car before the hard weather hits:

  • Ice scraper: If you still have your scraper from last year, check the blade. If the blade is chipped, buy yourself a new scraper. You won't damage anything with your old scraper, but a solid blade can make the scraping quicker.

  • Flashlight: You should keep one of these in your car year-round. Extra batteries are also a good idea.

  • Jumper cables: Even if you have a super-powerful, never-fails battery, you could quickly come to someone else's rescue.

  • Shovel: So you can dig out if you get stuck.

  • Cat litter or sand: If you get stuck in the snow, putting litter or sand under the tires can give you the traction you need to get yourself out.

  • A blanket and gloves: You need to be able to keep warm if you get stranded beside the road or get stuck for a long time in a traffic jam.

  • Some food that won't spoil before spring: Granola bars are a decent choice.

Should I Cover My Radiator?

You see them every winter: buses, big rigs, and trucks with their radiators covered. You might wonder why people do that and if you should do it, too.

Consider covering your radiator if you drive a diesel vehicle. Diesel engines produce less heat than regular engines, and the incoming cold air against the radiator can make it even cooler, making it difficult to keep the cabin warm. Some diesel engine owners therefore cover the grill to limit the cold airflow.