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8 Simple Winter Car Care Tips

Winter is just around the corner, and for many drivers that means facing the challenges of salted streets, icy roads, freezing temperatures, and heavy snow.

How do you keep your vehicle in top condition during the winter months? Plan ahead and use our car care tips to make sure your vehicle stays in great shape all winter long.

  1. Check your lights
  2. Maintain the car battery
  3. Flush and Fill the Coolant
  4. Top Off Gasoline and Washer Fluid
  5. Invest in Winter Tires
  6. Stay on Top of Tire Pressure
  7. Test Your Defroster and Heater
  8. Pack a Survival Kit

1. Check Your Lights

2022 Veloster N Front Headlights in Blue

One major hazard with winter driving is that the sun sets earlier in the day, which means there’s less daylight, especially on your commute home. As a result, you’ll want to make sure your vehicle’s lights are in excellent shape, providing the brightest possible illumination they can. If a bulb is out, fix it before winter starts, and if there’s snow covering any exterior light, make sure you remove it before setting off to drive anywhere. If your headlights are foggy or yellow, consider replacing them or look into an easy restoration kit.

RELATED STORIES: Xenon and LED Headlights: What is the Difference?

2. Maintain Your Car Battery

Jumping a car battery

It’s often more difficult for a car battery to operate in cold weather than it is for it to operate in warm weather. As a result, a battery that’s merely weak during the summer could turn into a dead battery during the winter. Our advice is to have a volt test performed on your battery before winter starts to make sure it’s still in good working order. If it isn’t, buy a new battery as soon as possible so you’ll never have to worry about being stranded or left in a cold parking lot with a car that won’t start. If that happens, use our tips in this guide: How to Jump-Start a Car Battery.

3. Flush and Fill the Coolant

Coolant, also known as antifreeze, is tremendously important to your car, as it keeps the engine from freezing in cold temperatures. Before you head into winter, make sure your car isn’t low on coolant. Also, check to see that there aren’t any leaks in your vehicle’s engine components that could cause coolant to drain out. Many mechanics recommend drivers use a 50/50-mix of coolant and water in their radiator. This blend usually results in a lower engine freezing point than just coolant.

4. Top Off Gasoline and Washer Fluid

Filling up a Honda CR-V Hybrid 2021

You might be wondering what gasoline and washer fluid could possibly have in common. The answer is that they’re two liquids you should try to keep full during the winter. You should keep your gas tank full for several reasons. First, a full tank may prevent accumulated water from freezing inside your fuel pump. Second, it will allow you to run your engine longer and keep you warm if you get stuck. Meanwhile, a full windshield-washer reservoir is tremendously important, as messy road debris from a snowstorm can sometimes necessitate constant window washing to see where you’re going.

RELATED STORIES: Buying a Car: Do You Need to Use Premium Gas?

5. Invest in Winter Tires

Snow tires in winter driving conditionsAll-wheel drive can be confidence-inspiring when you’re accelerating, but it doesn’t help you when you’re braking and turning, experts say. For drivers who live in areas where the temperature regularly drops below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, winter tires are a must. Winter tires are more capable of staying flexible at low temperatures. This means that they can provide improved traction when you’re trying to stop and turn on cold pavement, even if there’s no snow on the ground. Get all the information you need about winter tires: Snow Tires Guide: All You Need to Know.

6. Stay on Top of Tire Pressure

Checking tire pressure

It’s incredibly important to keep track of your tire pressure as temperatures get colder. This is because tire pressure can drop along with the air temperature, losing up to one pound per square inch with every 10-degree drop in air temperature. Driving around with low tire pressure could mean premature tire wear or potential tread separation, which could lead to a major accident. Also, your car handles less predictably with underinflated tires. If you check your tire pressure and find that one or more of your tires are low on air, fill them at a gas station air pump. Don’t forget to let out a little air as temperatures start to climb again in the spring.

7. Test Your Defroster and Heater

Checking rear defrost button in a 2021 Ford F-150 Lariat

Before winter gets into full swing, be sure to check your car’s window defroster and climate control system to make sure both work properly. Their purpose is obvious: The climate control system will help keep you warm in the winter (and can help keep your windows from fogging up), while the defroster will keep your windows from icing up. Both items are crucial to maintaining comfort and safety throughout the winter. Then again, you could be lucky enough to own a car with a heated windshield.

8. Pack a Survival Kit

Jumper cables and other car emergency essentials

Although this isn’t a car care tip as much as a winter preparedness tip, we suggest considering a survival kit for your vehicle if you want to really be ready for winter. While it might sound ridiculous for some urban drivers, motorists in rural areas might find themselves stuck on a deserted road with heavy snow falling and few vehicles around for miles. In any event, a survival kit is a good idea. Select one that’s stocked with the following:

  • Thermal blanket
  • First-aid kit
  • Multi-tool that includes a knife
  • Flashlight and charger or batteries
  • Jumper cables
  • Cellphone charger and extra battery
  • Shovel
  • Sand or cat litter
  • Ice scraper
  • De-icer
  • Flares

Because snow and ice cause hazardous driving conditions and it can make it difficult for other vehicles to see you or your car, be cautious and remain vigilant if you must pull off to the side of a road or interstate.

Related Car Maintenance Stories:

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for accuracy since it was originally published.

Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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  1. I have a Cadillac and it was expensssiiivveee. I live in wisconsin and those winters are just pure killer to a car’s exterior. I decided to bite the bullet and get it ceramic coated by the company detail doctors and my oh my I am so happy with my decision. I said bye bye to all destruction that the salt and snow and cold had done to my car in the past. The ceramic coat is a game changer

  2. Actually Paul using a mixture of antifreeze and water in your car or trucks cooling system does help keep the engine from overheating in high temps. The mixture has a higher boiling point than just water.

  3. it’s coolant/antifreeze not coolant aka antifreeze. it prevents the water in your radiator from freezing, it does not heat up your engine. Maybe do two minuets of research before writing your next article.

    • So do you walk into a parts store and say “I need some coolant/antifreeze”.  Pretty sure if you say one or the other, anyone with minimal knowledge of the subject will know exactly what you’re talking about… so, I’d say they can be used interchangeably.  

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