How to Winterize Your Ride

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The Starks probably wouldn’t know anything about winterproofing their cars, or about cars in general, mostly because cars don’t exist in Game of Thrones but they do know one thing – Winter is coming.  And as it happens, winter is coming.  And as it also happens, here in the real world, cars do exist and we do need to winterproof them unless we want to face some (potentially catastrophic) consequences.

Organizer

Winterizing your car isn’t necessarily something that people look forward to, but it is something that has to be done.  It’s a lot like washing dishes in a way.  You could just leave them to pile up in the sink until they’re halfway to the ceiling and gathering flies and some moldy organic matter that you don’t ever want to investigate in favor of just eating off of paper plates for the rest of your life, but at some point you’re going to wonder what exactly you’re doing with your life.

The same thing would happen if you left your car to rot away in the garage for the winter while you spent your morning commute on the bus every morning.  Eventually you’d find yourself trying to remember why exactly you’d sacrificed the luxury of your own car with your own temperature regulation and your own sweet jams for the sake of public transportation with people who aren’t familiar with (or just don’t care about) the concept of personal hygiene.

The point is you have to winterize your ride.  I’m going to show you how.

Give your battery a pop quiz

check battery

Batteries are not a fan of cold weather.   Low temperatures can make a good battery slow to start and straight up kill a bad battery.  You don’t want to be responsible for a murder, do you?

Wintry weather puts your engine under more stress, and so your engine decides to put your battery under more stress too because misery loves company.  When your battery is working overtime like that, it’s going to run out of juice a lot quicker.  And if you want to get nerdy, the chemical reactions that generate power in your car battery are slowed down by the cold temperature.  So that’s double the stress.

Let’s do some quick math here.

More power requirements + less power output = a car that won’t start on a cold winter morning.

So do yourself a favor.  Get tested.  And on that note, swing by a mechanic and get your battery tested too.  There are kits available online that you can buy to conduct a test yourself, but a mechanic will be able to check for any corrosion on your posts and connections too.  And plus, some people find that auto shop smell of oil and grease comforting in a way.

Upgrade your emergency kit

Emergency kit

You should always keep an emergency kit in your car with the essentials just in case, but when winter hits it’s a good idea to kick it up a notch and really double down on your supplies.  No one thinks they’re going to get stuck in the snow, but if there’s a worse time for an “I told you so” moment than when you’re stranded on the side of the road in the middle of a blizzard with no backup plan…I don’t even want to know what it is.

You should already have a flashlight and spare batteries in your emergency kit but if not, here’s your chance to grab one.  Another thing to consider is a USB charger for your phone.  Winter or not, the last thing you want in the event of any emergency is to be without any form of contact to the rest of the world.

Keep a blanket in the trunk so you can keep cozy in case the heat goes out – hand warmers aren’t a bad idea either.  If you really want to go all out, you can get fancy with some gloves, a scarf, and hat.  Pom-poms optional.

tires

Winter essentials like an ice scraper and a snow brush are no brainers, but you might also want to keep a small shovel handy too in case your car gets stuck, because no snow brush is going to help you out of that one.  Collapsible shovels are also an option, and a much cooler one at that.  Another thing to help you out of a sticky situation (or maybe a slippery situation is more apt) is kitty litter.  Keep some in your trunk to sprinkle under your tires for some traction to get you out of the snow when all hope seems lost.

If kitty litter seems a bit too out there for you, you can swap it out for some old floor mats.  They work just as well and maybe look a little less ridiculous sitting in the trunk of your car.  The only downside is that once you’re done using them, you get all the fun of having to put the snow-drenched mats back in your car.

You might feel like a Boy Scout reject hauling an entire grocery list of emergency supplies around in your car, but you can keep it all contained and controlled with a trunk organizer to free up space.  So no excuses!  Be prepared. Or at least be prepared for “I told you so.”

Always use protection

floor mats

Floor mats are more or less a necessity – they’re the unsung heroes of the car world.  If you don’t already have a pair of floor mats in your car within the first week of buying it, then you’re a terrible car parent and as an automotive blogger I am required to call the authorities on you.

But like your emergency kit, just because you (theoretically) already have a set of floor mats doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out of the woods.  Let’s face it – not all floor mats are created equal.  Your run of the mill carpet floor mats aren’t going to stand up to your slushy snow boots in the middle of a blizzard the same way rubber would.  It’s a good idea to invest in some heavy duty floor mats when the going gets tough.

Some floor mats are specifically marketed as all-weather, which means that not only are they rugged enough to outlast the winter, but they’re good for the rest of the year too.  If you’re looking for one less thing to worry about on your winter checklist, it could be worth it to consider looking into some.

And as an added bonus, floor mats can be used under your wheels to gain traction when you’re stuck in snow.  At that point, they’re going to be completely covered in slush and won’t be very good for protecting your carpet for a while until they dry out again, but they’re a total lifesaver in a pinch.  You can always hang onto some older floor mats next time you upgrade and keep the old ones in your car for exactly this purpose.

Get some junk in your trunk

Hold up.  You can’t just stop at floor mats.  Your cargo area needs some love too.

cargo mat

Actually, your trunk is probably the most underappreciated part of your entire car.  You’re constantly just throwing stuff back there – six metric tons of groceries, dirty work tools, bags of potting soil that have tiny holes in them that you didn’t even notice until you already left the store – and you never even take the time to say thank you.  In fact, when was the last time you stopped by just to say hello?  You probably never even show your face unless you want something.  Despicable.

It only gets worse in the winter.  On top of the usual, now you’re throwing in bags of salt which, coincidentally, also suffer the same fate as potting soil in that they are always fated to have tiny holes in them that you will never ever notice until after you already left the store.  The least you can do is throw your trunk a bone and protect the carpet with a cargo liner.  Plus, it makes it easier on you to clean up the mess – all you have to do is shake off the mat and you’re good to go.

Cargo liners are also great considering you don’t have a lot of options for storing your snow brush once you’re done cleaning off your car in the morning before work.  Sure, you can throw it on the floor in the back seat like a slob – or you can be a civilized adult and store it in the trunk.  And with a trunk mat to keep your carpet dry, you don’t even have to worry about it.

You should really still say thank you though.

Let’s get wheel

By now you’re probably getting a little tired of all the work that’s going into winterizing your ride.  Was that a tire pun?  Probably.  Sorry.  But it’s relevant, because tire maintenance is one of the most important points on the winterproofing checklist.  After all, you’re not really going to get anywhere without them.

So let’s get rolling.  (Last one.)

If you’re living in an area that gets hit with some of the more bitter winters, you might want to just take the safe route and get yourself a set of snow tires.  They’re made with rubber that’s meant to stay softer and more pliable in colder temperatures, which helps you get better traction on snow and ice.  On top of that, they’re designed with increased tread to keep you in contact with the road.  Basically they’re the Big Bad Wolf of tires when it comes to slow, sleet, and ice.

But with great power comes great responsibility – or in this case, a great price tag.  If you’re not prepared to pay a pretty penny, snow tires might not be the best option for you.  Not to mention the fact that not everyone has the space to store their summer tires in the meantime, and some people just straight up live in Florida and don’t need snow tires when they’re chillin’ with the alligators.

In that case, you have to do a little more work.

Since you’re not shelling out the cash for the fancy top-of-the-line tread that snow tires provide, you should at least make sure that your usual tires have sufficient tread.  This is pretty easy and your good ol’ friend Abe Lincoln is here to help.  Take a penny and insert it between the raised portions of your tire’s tread with Lincoln’s head pointing down.  If you can’t see the top of his head, then congratulations!  Your tires are good to go.  If you can see Lincoln’s noggin peeking out at you, it might be time to buy some new tires.

Check out this quick guide on the Lincoln method.

So your tread is all sorted out.  Now it’s time to swing by an air pump and check your tire pressure and (most likely) top it off.  For every ten-degree drop in the temperature, your tires lose one psi of air.  That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it adds up over time and for some of us lazier folks that could mean that our tires that were perfectly inflated in the summer are now at a potentially dangerous low psi for the winter.  All the tread in the world won’t help you if you’re driving on deflated tires.  Ice skating is fun.  Skidding on ice in your car is not fun.

Melt that frozen heart

antifreeze

Antifreeze is ultra-important in cold temperatures because it lowers the freezing point of water in your radiator.

Coolant and antifreeze are generally interchangeable terms but coolant is typically sold premixed, while antifreeze may be sold pure and need to be mixed by the buyer.  So reading comprehension, perhaps more than ever, is important here.

If you’re pouring pure antifreeze into your engine then you’re not going to have any water in there to cool it down.  It might not seem like a huge deal in the dead of winter where your teeth are chattering, but the average engine produces 4500 degrees of cylinder heat when it’s burning fuel.  In scientific terms, that’s Really Hot.

On the other hand, if you’re mixing coolant that’s already premixed with more water, you’re diluting the antifreeze content and throwing off the levels needed to keep the water from freezing in your engine.  More science:  When water freezes into ice, it expands.  If that happens, it can crack your engine block or radiator.

Bonus round!

So now you’ve got all the important stuff out of the way, and you can pat yourself on the back.  Alternatively, if there’s anyone available, you can get a high five.  If there’s a dog around, you can go in for the handshake.

But there’s always more to be done.  Here are a few more things you can add to your checklist for extra brownie points. Or, you know, if you just want to be extra safe.

Schedule an inspection with a mechanic.  Consider it kind of like your regular doctor visit.  By the way, when was the last time you went for your checkup?

Check your windshield wipers.  They’re inexpensive to replace and it only takes a few minutes to swap them out.  While you’re at it, make sure your windshield fluid is topped up.

Brush up on your 4WD.  Lots of SUVs and trucks have this feature, but not a lot of people make use of it in the warmer months.  Do you know how it works?  Do you even know if it works?

Wax your car. Seriously.  It’ll help protect your paint from all the salt on the road once things get nasty.

And most importantly:  Slow.  Down.  All the preventative measures in the world don’t mean anything if you’re driving like a maniac on the roads.

Do you have any other tips or tricks for winterizing your ride?  Let us know in the comments!