When the temperature drops and the weather gets icy, it becomes even more important to make sure our cars are serviced and safe for the winter. Now is the perfect time to check that your car is in top shape before the holidays creep in to take up all of your spare time.
Here are 10 car maintenance tips to keep your car running smoothly all winter.
Maintain your car battery.
When it’s freezing cold and icy outside, the last place you want to be is stranded with a dead battery. That’s why it’s incredibly important to take good care of your battery. When it’s cold outside, batteries tend to have a harder time getting started because they have less cranking power. At 0° F a car battery has only half of the cranking power that it does at 80° F.
To check your battery, remove the plastic caps that are on the top and check the fluid level. You can add distilled water if the fluid level is low. If you have a maintenance free battery, you can check the status on the top of the battery.
You may prefer to have the battery tested professionally. They can charge it for you, but if it’s old and not maintaining a charge like it used to, we recommend getting a new battery before the winter starts. You should ideally have a battery that is 600 CCA or above for the best winter performance.
Check all of your lights.
With winter comes darker days and earlier nights, so it’s critical to make sure all of your lights are in working order. If a bulb is out, be sure to replace it. If your headlights are foggy or have a yellow haze, look into getting a restoration kit. They are easy to use and can make a big difference on visibility.
Check all of your fluids.
Before the winter starts you should check all of your fluids and either replace them or top them off.
Oil is the lifeblood of your engine, so it’s important to make sure you replace your oil when recommended. Motor oil lubricates the engine so that all parts run smoothly and keep them from overheating. Oil actually thickens as the temperatures get colder, and this can put a lot of strain on your engine. Your owner’s manual will tell you what type of oil you should be using, but ideally it should be a multi viscosity oil that is signified with a “W” (such as 5W-20, 5W-30, and 10W-30). These oils can be used year round, even with cold temperatures. Be sure to replace your filter whenever you replace the oil too; this will result in optimal flow.
To ensure that your engine runs properly, you need to have the proper amount of coolant. Antifreeze protects your engine from corrosion, helps heat transfer, and prevents rust from building up. Your car should have a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water, which will keep your coolant from freezing until temperatures drop under zero. As it gets colder, you may want to increase the ratio to 60/40 or 70/30, but you should never have more than 70% antifreeze.
Additionally, you should make sure your windshield wiper fluid is topped off. With the snow, sleet, ice, and salt that comes with winter, you will end up using your windshield wipers frequently. You can also add some washer fluid antifreeze to ensure it’s suitable for winter.
Replace your windshield wipers.
Just as you want to be sure that your wiper fluid is topped off, you want to be sure that your windshield wipers are in good working order. If they aren’t doing a bang up job, consider replacing them before the winter starts. You can periodically clean them up by wiping the rubber blades with glass cleaner and a paper towel, but they should still be replaced every so often. In fact, studies have found that they start losing their effectiveness in as little as six months.
Maintain tire pressure.
Cold weather affects your tire pressure greatly. In fact, for every ten degree drop in temperature your PSI drops by one pound. So it’s important to keep an eye on this as we head into winter. Underinflated tires can cause uneven wear on your tires and cause premature wear. Additionally, it can make your car less predictable to drive, which can be dangerous for you (especially with slippery winter conditions). Be sure to check the tire pressure frequently as temperatures drop, and again as the temperatures rise again in the spring.
Invest in winter tires.
Depending on where you live and how much winter precipitation you have to deal with, you may want to invest in winter tires. Experts recommend getting winter tires if the temperature regularly drops below 45. That’s because winter tires can stay flexible even in cold temperatures, which can help maintain better traction when stopping and turning on cold pavement. No matter how good of an All Wheel Drive system you have, nothing beats having an optimum contact patch, which is where the rubber meets the road. Additionally, winter tires have “lugs”, which are deep channels carved into the outside of the tire to push water and slush out of the way.
Test your defroster and heater.
When the temperatures drop, nothing beats having a working heater and defroster. Not only do they keep you comfortable, but they reduce the amount of moisture in the vehicle making it easier for you to see. Before the temperatures drop too much, start up your heater to make sure the air is hot coming out. If it’s not, be sure to bring it in to get looked at before the temperatures become too unbearable.
Have your brakes checked.
While the winter doesn’t inherently affect your brakes, it’s just good practice to ensure they are working properly before the weather gets too bad. It’s recommended that you get your brakes serviced once a year, so doing it before the winter is a good routine to get into.
Pack a winter emergency kit.
This isn’t exactly a car maintenance tip but, it’s a good tip for preparedness. It’s always a good idea to have an emergency kit in your car. You never know when you might be stuck or stranded for a period of time. Your emergency kit should have the following:
- A few bottles of water
- A thermal blanket
- An extra set of warm clothes
- Non perishable foods (such as granola bars)
- First-aid kit
- Car tool kit that includes a screwdriver and a knife
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Jumper cables
- An extra phone charger and extra battery
- Ice scraper
- Extra antifreeze
Be prepared for an emergency.
Again, this isn’t exactly a car maintenance tip, but you want to be prepared mentally and financially for an emergency. That’s why it’s so important to build an emergency fund ahead of time. By building an emergency fund into your budget, you can help yourself prepare for a problem in the future, such as a winter accident.
Starting an emergency fund doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are a few easy steps to help you get started.
Make your budget.
If you don’t already have a monthly budget worked out, then get one started! Simply track your income and expenses and see how the two line up.
Determine your emergency fund goal.
The amount of money you want to set aside for your emergency fund will vary from person to person. Here is a rough guideline of what experts recommend:
- 3-4 months of expenses if you are in a relatively stable financial position and don’t have a lot of people financially dependent on you
- 6 months worth of expenses if you have a lot of dependents, are a sole provider, and/or live in an expensive area
- One year worth of expenses if you are older, have underlying health conditions, and/or are nearing retirement
Set up direct deposit.
Setting up a direct deposit to your emergency fund will help you grow it without much effort. Simply start up a free account where you can house your emergency fund, and portion out some money to direct there. You can do a split direct deposit that will allow you to put a certain percentage in one account and the remainder in another, that way you can build your savings while still keeping your checking account at a healthy balance.
Those are our top tips for winter car maintenance.
Being prepared for the winter can save you a lot of hassle, money, and time. So be sure to check your engine, top off your fluids, and prepare for the unexpected.
As you make your winter preparedness checklist, be sure to add “refinance car loan” to the top of the list. By refinancing your car loan you can save a lot of money on your monthly car payments–money that you can use for your emergency fund, holiday shopping, or anything else you have coming down the pike. And refinancing your car loan is easy when you use Auto Approve. Get in touch today to find out how much money you could be saving!