A Non-Mechanic's Guide to Winterizing Your Vehicle

One of the best ways to keep your vehicle from breaking down is proper preparation. Winter conditions can be very hard on your car, and often turn small mechanical problems into large ones. While there are things that are best left to the professionals, we have compiled a list of things anyone can easily check to minimize the chances of having a mechanical failure this winter:

  • Anti-Freeze (Coolant):
    • Fill the reservoir if it is below full:
      • A 50/50 mixture of anti-freeze(coolant) to water is recommended to properly cool and to not freeze.
  • Battery Cables and Connections:
    • Batteries should be replaced periodically. A bad battery will often die on the first freeze of the season.
    • Cables connecting the battery to the engine should be in good condition, not visibly warn or wrinkled, and (especially) not showing the wire underneath.
      • If corrosion (usually a white-crusty substance) is built up around the connection points, disconnect both battery connections before you clean:
        • Use baking soda mixed with water.
        • Alternatively, use a can of Coke.
      • Replace any rubber coverings that are warn, wrinkled, or brittle
      • The battery connection points should be corrosion-free and should be firmly tightened to the battery.
  • Brakes:
    • Make sure the brake fluid reservoir it is filled to the proper level
      • Note: the brake line is a closed system. If the brake fluid level has gone down, that means you have a leak, which should probably be serviced as soon as possible.
    • If your breaks squeal or squeak when breaking, it might be time to replace the brake pads.
      • Replacing the pads yourself is a fairly simple process if you have the proper tools and a large, flat cement area
      • Note: Squeaky/squealing brakes is not always a sure-fire sign of the brake pads needing to be replaced
  • Fuel Tank:
    • Keep a full tank of gas in case of an emergency.
    • A full tank of gas will keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Heater/Defroster:
    • Test each to make sure they work properly--have them serviced if not.
  • Lights/Hazard Signal:
    • Make sure all lights and signals work. If they don't:
      • Look for loose connections on the wiring
      • Look for burnt-out bulbs
        • If the connections are solid and new bulbs doesn't fix it, have it serviced.
  • Oil:
    • Check for correct oil level:
      • Fill it if the dipstick shows the oil is below the recommended level.
      • Keep track of the oil's weight:
        • Heavier oils congeal more at low temperatures, and thus do not lubricate your engine as well.
          • A guide to oil weight can be found HERE
  • Windshield Wiper Equipment:
    • Replace worn-out blades.
    • Ensure wiper-fluid is full and works properly:
      • Make sure your wiper fluid is made for winter conditions!
  • Tires:
    • Replace tires if the tread is worn out or is not made for winter conditions:
      • The test to determine worn out tires is to take a penny and stick it into the grooves of your tires with Honest Abe's head upside down. If the tread does not cover the top of his head, the tires need to be replaced.
  • Thermostat:
    • Make a mental or physical note of where the thermostat's needle normally is once the engine is fully warmed up.
      • Variance from the normal temperature may require professional servicing, or just the addition of more coolant/water.

There's hundreds of things that could cause a problem on the road, but following this guide can help prevent a lot of them. Self-diagnosing and fixing a potential problem before it turns into an actual problem can save a lot of time and money!

Note: While working in and around your car, make sure the engine is off and the car is in park/has its park-brake on. A cool engine will work best for checking these things, and remember to follow all of the guidelines on/in your car and in your owner's manual. When in doubt, check it out--your owner's manual will show where all of the reservoirs are, where they should be filled to, and what they're supposed to be filled with. Double check before pouring! Be safe this winter!