Most people dread the harsh winter weather, but even if you’re not ready for the cold and snow, you need to make sure that your vehicle is. Don’t wait until it’s too late to winterize your car; get prepared in the fall while it’s still mild outside.

before snowfall

The following winter car care issues should be taken care of before the first snowfall of the season:

Give your vehicle a good waxing in the fall to protect the finish. It will also help the snow slide off better for easier cleaning.

Visit your auto technician and have the belts and hoses checked out to see if they need to be replaced. Your belts and hoses should all fit snugly and should not be cracked, glazed or frayed. It may also be a good idea to change your oil to one with a lighter weight for sub-zero temperatures, as this type of oil makes for easier start-ups and less engine wear in the first few minutes.

Keep track of the wear on your tires. Many winter fender-benders are caused by driver error and worn tires. If you are due for new tires, don’t wait until the middle of winter; get them replaced before the snow falls. Make sure your tires are properly inflated and that your spare is in good condition.

Also, check to see if your spark plugs and battery need replacing. You don’t want to have a stalled car in the dead of winter. If your battery is more than two years old, take it to your technician to have the charging system completely checked. Older car batteries are less likely to start in winter temperatures than newer ones.

thawing out

To keep your doors from freezing in the cold weather, spray or smear silicone every fall and spring on all the gaskets between the door and the car’s body. If there is a gasket on each, then coat both. It’s also a good idea to treat the gaskets on the trunk or hatch.

Washing your car on a regular basis is a good idea in the winter, in order to keep all the salt and grime off your vehicle. But if you do wash the car when it’s very cold outside, the door lock mechanisms may get wet, which may cause your locks to freeze. To prevent this from happening, spray graphite in the key slot and work your key into it several times to get the graphite deep in the slot. Make sure not to get messy graphite on your clothes, and wipe off the key before you stick it back into your pocket. It may be a good idea to have a keyless entry system installed in your car.

Also, keep a container of lock thawing chemicals handy in case the lock still freezes. The inside of the gas cap door is a good place to store it. The chemicals usually wash out the lubricant from the lock mechanism, so shoot more graphite into the lock after you get it open.

lock, stock and replace

There are items you will want to have on hand for the winter. One of these is an aerosol de-icer, which you can use on frozen doors and locks. But remember, the colder it gets, the less pressure the propellant will provide.

A handy item to have in the garage or your shed is windshield washer fluid. Stock up and make sure to fill up your car’s reservoir. If you have been using water instead of washer fluid, make sure it is completely removed before you add the fluid.

Keep a few good scrapers and brushes around just in case you lose any. Have one in your car, one in your garage and one at work. That way, you are covered wherever you are. Use the toothed side of the scraper to break up ice and the smooth side to clear off chunks of ice and snow.

Your windshield, and what to keep in your car at all times…

windshield care

You may also want to apply a repellant to the windshield and all the windows to keep them free of slush, salt and all-around muck. The repellant does this by filling in microscopic pits and scratches to which the stuff clings. This also makes it easier to scrape off ice and snow from the windows. Put some on your wiper blades, too.

Speaking of windshield wipers, you should replace your regular wipers with winter blades. They have a thin rubber sheath covering the superstructure to keep snow and ice from building up, so the entire blade stays in contact with the glass.

Do not yank or chop at your windshield wipers to try to free them if they are stuck to the windshield. You may pull chunks from the blade, which will lead to streaking when you use the wipers. Start the car, put on the defroster, and clear the other windows first. By the time you get to the windshield, the wipers should be free from ice.

check your lights

Turn on your car’s lights and walk around the vehicle. Make sure they are working properly. If any are burnt out, replace them. If any lenses are cracked or broken, replace them too. Make sure to check the high beams, low beams, turn signals, and hazard flashers.

Also, check to see if your headlights are aimed properly. This helps you see where you’re going and keeps you from blinding oncoming drivers. If you carry heavy loads often, aim the lights under those conditions.

carry in your vehicle

Find a couple of carpet scraps and store them in your car. If you happen to get stuck in the snow, place these scraps under the wheels for better traction.

You should also keep a well-stocked emergency kit in your vehicle in case you get stranded. Some of the items you may want to include are:

  • Battery jumper cables
  • First-aid kit
  • Shovel
  • Basic tool kit
  • Sleeping bags and blankets
  • Extra winter clothing
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Transistor radio
  • Bag of sand
  • Cellular phone with charger
  • A power adapter
  • Extra car battery

If you become stranded in your vehicle in a winter storm, stay inside your vehicle, call for help with your phone, stay warm with blankets, keep your lights on to remain visible, and run the engine and heat periodically to save fuel.

Don’t wait too long to get you and your car ready for winter. Just because the calendar says that winter officially begins December 21st, doesn’t mean that Mother Nature will wait until then to blast us with a blizzard. Be prepared.