How to Winterize Car

How to Winterize Car

How to Winterize Car

The extreme cold of winter brings its own unique set of vehicular challenges. What are they? And what can you do to address them?

Engine Management

When winterizing your vehicle, make sure the engine-management system is up to snuff. This involves checking the spark plugs, wires, fuel filter, air filter, and a basic once-over of the performance system with a computer scan tool (to make sure there are no trouble codes logged in the system’s memory). Codes indicate a problem the computer “sees” within the system. Sensors such as coolant temperature, air temperature, and oxygen can go bad resulting in poor performance and fuel mileage. With today’s fuel prices, who wants to spend money on unnecessary fuel? Maintain your car’s engine management system and reap the rewards: dependable cold starts, great performance, and good fuel mileage.

Protective Rubber Bellows and Boots

Have the vehicle checked from stem to stern for torn protective rubber boots and bellows on critical drivetrain/ steering/suspension parts. Any parts that are exposed to the cold weather elements and dirt, road grime, and salt will succumb to premature failure.

Rubber boots and bellows protect tight tolerance metal joints from weather elements, dirt, and road grime. If they tear or break from a projectile or just plain old age, the aforementioned elements are allowed to attack the joints and metal parts and wear them out in short order. Replace any compromised protective rubber boots immediately to avoid expensive part replacement.

Windshield Wipers

Make sure the windshield wipers on your vehicle are fresh, and clean the windshield properly before traveling. Wipers that skip, smear, or just move the water around are dangerous.

If your wipers are skipping, check the wiper blades to see if they are dried out. If they are, replace them. If the wipers smear the water, they are probably soaked with oil (oil gets kicked up from the road onto the windshield). Try cleaning the windshield with a water and cleanser solution. Dissolve the cleanser completely in warm water before applying it to the glass, and change the wiper blades. If the wipers just move the water from one place to another on the windshield, check the wiper arm tension. The arms springs could be worn out and unable to apply enough downward pressure on the blades to clean the windshield.

Snow and ice often settle at the base of the windshield, binding the wiper blades. Many people think they can clear the windshield of snow and ice by turning on the windshield wipers. Nothing could be further from the truth! The wiper system was designed to clear the weather elements from your windshield while you’re driving. Wipers aren’t snowplows; they can’t remove the glacier formed at the base of your windshield.

What are the consequences of overtaxing the wiper system by using the wipers to move packed ice and snow at the base of your windshield?

Avoid this sort of trouble by clearing the wipers of all ice and snow before turning them on. Remember, they are called “windshield wipers” not “windshield plows.”

Frozen Gas Lines

Ice forms inside the gas lines from condensation buildup. To avoid this problem, keep your gas tank at least half full at all times. In addition, use gas line antifreeze with isopropyl at least twice a week during extremely cold weather. It’s compatible with electronic sensors and fuel injection systems.

Frozen Door Locks, Linkages, Windows, and Frames

The rubber gasket at the base of the window in your car door stops water from going down into the door. Unfortunately, on most cars this gasket is either rotted away or maladjusted, allowing water to get down into the door and freeze the lock linkage and window regulators. The only fix here is to either replace or adjust the gasket. If you have no intention of doing this, then here’s a tip: Leave the car unlocked during the cold weather. With any luck you will be able to get into the car and warm it up enough to defrost the doors.

If you force frozen windows and locks to open, parts will break and you’ll face major repairs. And don’t think lock de-icer is the answer. It’s designed to defrost the keyhole, not the inside of the door. Ever go to open the car door and the latch works, but you just can’t get the door open? Chances are the doorframe gasket is frozen to the car, and it’s either worn out or maladjusted. This gasket is designed to keep water from coming into the car. When it’s not working, water enters, forming ice between the door gasket and the car’s structure.

My advice? If the gasket is not torn, go to a shop and have the door adjusted to fit more tightly into the doorframe, sealing out water. Once this is done, lubricate the gasket with a rubber lubricant such as silicone. The lubricant will keep the gasket soft and pliable and, most important, set up a moisture barrier that will inhibit ice buildup. If the gasket is worn, have it replaced.

Damage to Exterior of Car

Keep the exterior and undercarriage of your car washed clean of road salt weekly during high salting times. Remember, salt plus water plus metal equals rust (the eating away of your dollars). If you haven’t already done it, get a fresh coat of wax on the car to protect the paint.

Rust Protection

In salt belt states, highway departments use liquid sodium, rock salt, calcium chloride, and brine to clear roadways during winter. This plays havoc on the vehicle’s undercarriage and body. Apply an effective rust protector to curtail the effects of rust and oxidation. Waxes, coatings, and paraffin that are sprayed onto the vehicle’s undercarriage simply set up a place for rust to fester away at the metal. They actually can add to the problem. In a previous chapter, I outlined a rust-protection product called Carwell. It attacks existing rust and penetrates it so that the rust actually flakes away from the metal beneath it, then chemically bonds to the good metal, sets up a moisture barrier, and bleeds any existing moisture to the surface, where it evaporates.

Once this product bonds to the good metal, it creeps five inches or more in all directions, protecting every crack and crevice in the metal. In my opinion this is the definition of an effective rust-protection product. Use this description as a guide to find an effective rust-protection product for your vehicle.

Diesel Engines and Cold Starting

For diesel-powered vehicles, make sure the battery is fully charged and has full cold-cranking amperage capacity. One of the keys to effectively starting diesels in the wintertime is a fast enough cold cranking speed. Diesel engines rely on a high-compression ratio to compress the fuel tight enough to induce combustion. If the engine doesn’t crank fast enough on a cold morning, it won’t start. In addition, use an anti-gel solution in diesel fuel, which keeps the fuel liquefied and flowing. If diesel fuel gets cold enough it can gel up, affecting the flow of fuel through the fuel delivery system. No fuel, no start. It’s that simple.

Keep a diesel engine warm when not in use. Most diesel engines come with a block heater that plugs into a standard 110-volt outlet. A block heater is a heating element that keeps the engine coolant warm which, in turn, keeps the oil in the crankcase warm. When warm, the engine cranks over easily and attains the proper cold-start cranking speed for effective cold weather startup. If your diesel engine does not have a winter heater, get one. Diesel engine heaters come in two forms: engine block to keep coolant warm or an oil dipstick heater to keep the oil in the crankcase warm. Finally, another solution to the problem of a cold diesel engine startup is to install a battery blanket on the batteries. This will keep the batteries from freezing up, resulting in low cranking power.

Fresh, Clean Fluids

Make sure all engine fluids are fresh and clean. Fresh engine oil allows the engine to crank easily in cold weather. Clean power steering fluid makes for smooth easy steering. Brakes work more effectively with fresh clean brake fluid, and fresh clean engine coolant at a 50-50 mix prevents the engine block from freezing when temperatures drop.

A note about oil: One of the great properties of good synthetic oil is that it flows easily in cold weather. AMSOIL and Mobil 1 are the two best synthetic oils in winter flow tests. An engine with synthetic oil in the crankcase cranks easily when it’s cold, resulting in a crisp startup.


Good traction is essential if you want to get around in winter conditions. Make sure there’s at least 70 percent tread on your tires. All-weather tires will get you around on most snow-laden highways adequately. Ideally, experts have found that (on front-wheel-drive vehicles) four snow tires are the ticket to sure-footed winter travel. A vehicle with four snow tires will track much better around corners. With two snow tires on the traction wheels and non-snows on the trailing wheels, the end of the vehicle without snow tires has a tendency to spin out.

Engine and Transmission Oil Filters

Engine and transmission oils get heavy when outside temperatures drop, causing them to flow more slowly. Add to the equation a dirty clogged filter and you’ve got substantial loss of oil flow. A decrease in oil flow causes an increase in friction, which produces more heat. Over time, the ultimate result is the premature failure of transmissions and engines. So make sure engine and transmission maintenance work is current before winter starts. Pay close attention to the transmission and oil filters. Have them changed at the manufacturer’s suggested intervals.

Belts and Hoses

Bad belts and hoses break down under the stress of cold temperatures. Make sure that all belts and hoses are in good condition. Soft or brittle hoses and belts that display cracks, glazing, or missing ribs (on serpentine belts) need to be replaced.

Cooling System

In addition to cooling the engine, the cooling system also protects it from freezing up. The coolant should be a 50-50 mix of coolant and water. This ratio gives a cold weather protection of -30 to -35° F. Have the coolant protection checked every year just before the start of winter. If the coolant tests out above the protection level, have the system flushed and refilled with a fresh 50-50 mix.

Don’t Rock the Boat

Trying to “rock” the car out of deep snow is not good medicine. Let’s say your car is stuck in deep snow. In an effort to get it out, you start rocking the car back and forth, accelerating first in drive then in reverse, in order to gain momentum. Do you have any idea what you are doing to the drivetrain of your car? The transmission and drivetrain are being stressed to the nth degree. Internal parts break under this pressure. CV joints, universal joints, and splined parts such as axles are also put under extreme stress and could break. Save yourself some money: dig out or get towed.

Steering and Suspension Damage

Another problem that occurs frequently during the winter season is suspension breakage caused when a driver overshoots a corner and slams into the curb. Ball joints, control arms, tie rods, and strut assemblies fall victim to curb damage. In addition, it’s important to remember that, with front-wheel drive cars, you also have drivetrain components that get damaged (half shafts, CV joints, front hub assemblies, transmission tail shafts, and front differentials). Slow down when negotiating those turns during winter months.

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