Written By Rachel Severein

Winter has officially arrived in many regions across the country. I like to think that our precious cars and vans are already getting the shivers, sending up their automotive prayers to the gear gods that they may stay safe and maintained through these brutal months. For those of us who live and travel in our vehicles, it’s critical to know how to care for them through the freezing temps and extreme winter weather conditions, in order to keep them running and in great shape for years to come! Read on for important tips to keep your rig going strong through this season.

Ola Kalejaye with his rig

Maintain that battery

Winter puts more stress on your battery, particularly if you’re parking your vehicle outside.

Avoid that sinking feeling of hearing nothing when you hit the ignition with a proactive check of your battery and charging system! Repair shops don’t usually charge very much to professionally test your battery, and some car parts stores will do it for free.

To check a conventional battery:

  1. Remove plastic caps on the top and check the fluid level (see your owner’s manual)
  2. If the fluid is low, add distilled water
  3. If it’s more than four years old and shows signs of weakness, replace the battery if you can
  4. A tired battery may just need a good charge
  5. Worst case, be sure you know how to jump-start your vehicle!

The last thing you want on a cold winter day is to be stranded because your car won’t start. Make sure the contacts on your car battery are clean and corrosion free, and take the battery to an auto repair shop or car parts store to have it tested before winter is in full swing.

Flush and fill your coolant

Coolant, also known as antifreeze, is tremendously important to your vehicle as it keeps the engine from freezing in cold temperatures. 

Before you head into winter, make sure your rig isn’t low on coolant. Also, check to see that there aren’t any leaks in your vehicle’s engine 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.

Top off gasoline and washer fluid

Maybe you’re wondering what gasoline and washer fluid could possibly have in common. The answer is: 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.

trace, snow, white

Consider winter tires

Snow or no snow, if you live in an area where temperatures regularly fall below 45 degrees, winter tires are recommended.

At the very least, have a mechanic check your tire tread to make sure you have enough traction. Old, worn tires lose traction in snow, ice or heavy rain.

Even if there is no snow, the improved traction will help you safely stop and turn.

All-wheel drive is confidence-inspiring when you’re accelerating, but it doesn’t help you when you’re braking and turning,” says Woody Rogers, director of product information for Tire Rack.

“Winter tires are a must in areas where the temperature regularly drops below 45 degrees,” Rogers adds, noting that 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.

Check tire pressure weekly

This is incredibly important, as driving on underinflated tires can cause them to wear down prematurely and lose traction on icy or slippery surfaces. Your tires lose a pound of pressure with every 10-degree drop in temperature.

Don’t forget to let out a little air as temperatures start to climb again in the spring.

Protect your wiper blades

Make sure that you have heavy duty blades that are in good working order like these, plus washer fluid that can withstand sub-zero temperatures. You don’t want your washer fluid to freeze, expand and damage your washer fluid reservoir.

Consumer Reports recommends replacing wiper blades as often as twice per year. Most wiper blades are easy to install, and some stores, such as Advance Auto Parts, will perform the replacement work free of charge.

If you park outdoors, leave your wipers in the raised position to prevent them from freezing to the windshield. Never use your wiper blades to remove ice, snow or frost from the windshield; use an ice scraper instead.

vw bus, frontlight, headlight

Check your lights

One major hazard with winter driving is that the sun sets earlier in the day, which means there’s less daylight. As a result, you’ll want to do everything you can to make sure all of your vehicle’s lights are in excellent shape, providing the brightest 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.

Feel safe in your rig this winter

I’m no mechanic, but the research and tips compiled here can certainly serve as a great starting point to keep you and your home-on-wheels safe this winter. Don’t just take my word for it; my dad and brother, who are professional mechanics at Andrews Auto, have personally reviewed and approved all of them!