Winter is just around the corner (and not just on Game of Thrones). While some folks have the luxury of putting their rides up for the winter, for many of us, this time of year means the challenges of winter car ownership are just around the corner, like salted streets, icy roads, freezing temperatures and heavy snow.
To properly winterize your car takes a bit of work, and some time, however considering the alternative of spending your Spring undoing the damage, it is time and effort well spent.
We've listed tips and strategies to prevent exterior paint & body damage, rim & tire damage, and undercarriage decay that can go a long way toward making sure your car stays in great shape all winter long.
Use this time of year to inspect and prepare your car with a protective layer.
Paint, tires, leather and rubber trim all deserve touching up. This is true even if you have cared for them all summer.
- Be Sure to Seal the Paint
The best protective coating is a paint sealant (synthetic wax). Unlike carnauba wax products, a good paint sealant shields against water and road salts. Polymers in modern paint sealants cross-link. This creates a barrier that’s more difficult for water, road salts and chemicals to penetrate.
A good paint sealant will last 5 to 6 months. That’s enough protection for the Winter season.
- Keep it Clean
Your car is more likely to be scratched during winter; mainly from the debris on the road. Moisture also penetrates deep scratches and chips in your car’s paint then repeatedly freezes and thaws. This weakens and eventually cracks surrounding paint and sure enough oxidation eventually sets in.
Obvious as it seems, reduce paint damaging oxidation (caused by winter road damage) by washing your car as often as possible. Use hot water in your wash bucket to help loosen salt and dirt. The warm water also won’t instantly freeze on your vehicle in the colder temperatures and it will help to keep your hands warmer while washing. You can also use the opportunity to inspect for paint chips and scratches. Seal any new paint chips with a paint sealant.
- Take Care of the Leather
Winter is also hard on leather interiors. Cold, dry air pulls moisture from leather. You should treat leather PRIOR to the onset of freezing temps as it won’t accept conditioners below 50 degrees (Fahrenheit).
- Protecting Tires
Your tires have a tough job in the winter, too and a quality tire dressing keeps tires looking good, even during harsh weather. This practice also provides a barrier to the elements. Your rubber won’t deteriorate.
Another great hack is to spray an inexpensive, silicone-based tire dressing in the wheel wells. This will prevent buildup of snow, ice and road salt. Although not recommended for exterior painted surfaces silicone is a great protectant for engines, wheel wells and the under-side of your car.
- Delicate, Expensive Wheels & Rims
If you have expensive, custom wheels, think about removing each wheel for winter preparation.
- Clean each wheel, front and back, with an extra-strength wheel cleaner.
- Scrub the tires thoroughly.
- Dry the wheels with a clean terrycloth towel. Protect with a quality paste wax or paint sealant.
- Also, be sure to treat your tires (front and back) with a liberal application of tire dressing.
- Don’t Forget to Treat the Trim
Bumpers, trim and door seals need extra protection as well, especially when the temperature drops. These materials are affected by extreme temperatures and UV rays cause fading, hardening and cracking and is especially true during the reduced ozone layer in Winter.
General Winter Prep
- Get Snow Tires
This is at the top of the winterize your car list because it’s the most important. Even if you drive an all-wheel vehicle or live where the streets are generally clear, winter tires improve surface grip in every type of road condition and in low temperatures. They help your car brake more efficiently in heavy snow and icy conditions because they constantly clear themselves of snow providing better grip as you go.
And note that “All Weather” is not as good or the same as Winter specific tires.
- Change Your Oil
The viscosity of oil changes with temperature, so if you have the wrong or old oil in your crankcase, turning that engine over when the oil is more like syrup is like you trying to slog through ankle deep mud. So go ahead and change that oil, and make sure to check your owner's manual and see what your manufacturer recommends for low temperature driving.
- Winter Wiper Blades
Yep - there are wiper blades designed specifically for Winter weather. The aerodynamic shape helps keep them in contact with your windshield in the heaviest and worst winter weather. They are much sturdier than summer blades so as to keep them moving (despite the cold and snow) and are covered by thick rubber so there are no exposed parts that can get clogged up. Also, remember to fill up on winter wiper fluid and that your spray jets are working properly and keep it at least ½ full all winter to avoid freezing condensation.
- Service Your Battery
Car batteries are tasked at their hardest during our harsh winters. So if your battery is coming up to the 5 year mark, it will be worth having it checked. Even if the battery is only a couple years old, it might be a good idea to have it tested as winter weather weakens batteries and the last thing you want is to be left stranded in the cold. During the coldest months its always a good idea to carry a set of jumper cables just in case.
- Check Your Tire Pressure (Often)
Cold weather causes tire pressure to change by as much as 1 psi for every 10°F shift in temperature (up or down). That means if there is a cold snap and a snowstorm overnight, you could be riding around on too soft tires at the worst possible time.
Check your owner’s manual– it will probably recommend operating your winter tires several psi (typically 3-5) higher than their recommended pressures for summer and all-season tires.
- Check Your Lights! See and Be Seen
Your plastic headlight lens & protectors are just as likely to be worn by road rash as your paint, so all this prep is a good time to invest in a headlight restoration kit it’s a cost-effective DIY way to get them back to their original crystal-clear state.
- Check Your Antifreeze
The fluid found inside of your radiator should contain a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water. To make sure you have the right ratio, pick up an inexpensive antifreeze tester, and if it has been several seasons you really should consider a flush of your system to get rid of corrosive by-product chemicals that accumulate over time. One more antifreeze note: In your emergency kit that you carry with you always, that bottle of gas-line antifreeze will help prevent fuel line blockage in the nastiest conditions.
So take a weekend before cold weather sets in and simply do these tasks:
Change the oil, check the tires, change your wipe blades, check your battery and coolant, and polish and wax your car.
Check these boxes; you’ll be ready for Winter’s worst and it will be Spring before you know it..