Tips on How to Prepare Your Car for Winter: Safety & Storing Tips

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Keeping your car looking and performing well requires year-round attention and diligence. Although car problems can occur at any time, some issues are exceptionally prevalent during certain seasons. Car owners must take necessary action throughout the year to ensure their car is kept safe at all times.

The winter months are perhaps the most challenging for drivers. In addition to darker days and dangerous driving conditions, vehicles are more susceptible to problems when exposed to colder temperatures. Tires, vehicle exteriors, and engines all suffer from the effects of winter, and the road salt can damage your undercarriage.

Fortunately, modern vehicles are built to withstand severe weather conditions more effectively than older models. There are also plenty of useful products and accessories available, such as a car cover for snow. These help drivers minimize the impact of winter on their vehicles. The following guide contains several great tips on how to prepare your car for winter.

Ensure Your Battery Is in Good Condition

Car batteries are particularly vulnerable during winter. They are better suited to warm weather where energy flow and internal chemical reactions can occur with less resistance. It’s common for batteries to lose a significant amount of function when the temperature drops, so it’s vital that you keep on top of maintenance.

As winter conditions set in, motor oil tends to thicken. This puts additional strain on the battery, requiring it to work even harder to power the vehicle. Water, moisture, dirt, and corrosive materials can build up around battery terminals and clamps. This material can freeze, causing damage to the battery and hampering its performance. To avoid being stuck in the freezing cold with a dead battery, there are a few essential tips to keep it in good condition.

First, you should test your battery in the fall or just before temperatures begin to drop. If you have a multimeter, perform a load and voltage check. Your battery should register 12.6 volts or above when fully charged (13.7 to 14.7 when the engine is running). Anything less than this, and there is a possibility that your battery is damaged or malfunctioning. If you don’t have a multimeter, you should have your battery tested by a mechanic or during your oil change.

You can also perform a test by starting the engine and turning on the headlights. If they are dim, the lights are being powered by the battery, meaning the alternator isn’t producing adequate charge. If they get brighter as you rev the engine, the alternator is producing some, but not enough, charge for the battery. If they remain as normal, the charging system is likely working correctly.

You should regularly check on the condition of the battery and its casing. Keep it clean and remove any corrosive build-up. Check that the battery is secure and doesn’t rattle when the car is in motion. As a rule, you should change your battery once every three years. Avoid leaving your car idle for long periods during cold weather. Even if you don’t need to travel or you work from home, start your engine and leave it running for a few minutes every other day to keep the battery functioning.

Tire Maintenance

As the point of contact with the road, tires are critical to the safety of your vehicle year-round. However, there is no bigger test of your tires than harsh winter conditions. Cold weather, ice, and snow affect visibility, driving safety, and the state of your tires. Black ice and slippery road surfaces contribute to fatal road accidents every year.

The most important areas to focus on are the air pressure, tread depth, and your tires’ overall condition. If any of these aren’t optimal, you may face a higher risk of being involved in an accident. As temperatures drop, so, too, does the pressure inside your tire. Your car tires can lose around 1 lb. of pressure for every 10° drop in temperature. Individual tire models can have slightly different recommended inflation levels. Keep a pressure gauge on-hand to make sure you can monitor tire pressure at a moment’s notice.

Fortunately, tire pumps are present at most gas stations and truck stops, so you can adjust the pressure while you’re out and about. Tread depth is frequently overlooked, meaning people regularly drive with worn tires. This is extremely dangerous and can cause serious issues. Without proper tread, your car cannot grip the road properly, putting you in danger in icy, wet conditions.

To check the tread depth, you can perform the penny test. Place a penny into the tread groove with Lincoln’s head pointing into the groove and facing you. If you can see Lincoln’s whole head, the tread depth is under 2/32 of an inch, meaning your tires need to be replaced. Alternatively, you can check the tire tread wear bar indicator. Consider using winter tires or tire chains if you often drive in snow or ice. In general, tires should be replaced after 25,000-30,000 miles of use.

Regular Servicing

To give your car the best chance of getting through winter without significant issues, year-round maintenance must be carried out. Ensure your car is serviced every year and that you fulfill the minimum maintenance requirements. This will keep your car running smoothly, minimizing the risk of weather-related harm.

It’s important to realize that servicing your car outside of the winter months better prepares it for the winter. While vehicles can break down at any time, winter poses a particularly challenging environment. Consult the owner’s manual of your vehicle to check whether certain auto parts have distinct servicing needs. It may also contain car-specific winter maintenance tips.

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Check the Brakes

High-performing brakes are critical during winter. With increased moisture on road surfaces and the potential for icy conditions, gaining traction is much more difficult and stopping times increase. This puts additional strain on your braking system.

To combat icy conditions, authorities place salt on the roads. Although this is effective in giving drivers more grip, salt is corrosive and can build up on your brakes and undercarriage. If the salt build-up is ignored, it can wear your brakes unevenly. Defective brakes are extremely dangerous and should never be driven on.

Learn to detect brake problems so you can identify potential issues early. Listen for squealing or squeaking from your wheels. Don’t ignore it if your brakes feel different from usual, and take note if your car is pulling to one side.

Car enthusiasts might be capable of changing the brake fluid, inspecting the brake fluid cap and gasket, and checking the brake pads and rotors. However, if you’re unsure, you must have your brakes routinely checked by a qualified mechanic.

Ensure Fluid Levels Are Maintained

Our cars use a range of essential fluids to keep engines performing at optimal levels. It’s important to monitor these fluids and ensure their levels are maintained. Consult your owner's manual to determine what the necessary fluid levels are.

Remember that liquids can experience reactions to changing temperatures. It’s common for engine oil to thicken in the cold. This makes it more difficult to circulate the engine, which can lead to problems. Consider changing to a winter-grade oil if you’re expecting a particularly cold season, and opt for a low viscosity oil for improved winter performance.

Windshield wiper fluid is also important to consider. Regular wiper fluid with high water content is prone to freezing. Switch to a winter blend that contains a higher concentration of alcohol to prevent the reservoir from freezing.

Inspect your cooling system and make sure to top off antifreeze levels. An even distribution of water and antifreeze is recommended for maximum protection. Again, consult the owner’s manual or contact a mechanic if you’re unsure. You must also monitor other fluids, including radiator fluid, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, and brake fluid.

Invest in a Quality Car Cover

In addition to internal and engine-based issues, the exterior of your vehicle can take a lot of punishment during winter. Rain, wind, snow, and ice can, directly and indirectly, damage your car.

Frozen windshields are commonplace on cold winter mornings. Attempting to remove ice hastily with warm water can result in cracked glass due to the rapid change of temperature. Storms and persistent wind can blow loose debris into your vehicle, creating dents or scratches. Snow and rain frequently contribute to rust damage.

Invest in a car cover to stand up to the harsh winter weather. This adds an extra layer of protection to keep your car safe when it’s not in use. A quality cover can extend the lifespan of your vehicle, keeping the exterior pristine and preventing wear and tear to the inner functions. As an added benefit, a car cover makes cleaning off your car after a snowstorm a breeze.

Keep Your Vehicle Well-Fueled

Most people are aware of the dangers that freezing temperatures pose to your windshield, engine fluids, and overall road conditions. However, many drivers don’t realize the effect it can have on their fuel tanks.

When fuel tanks aren’t close to full, moisture can develop in the empty space. If a lot of moisture builds up, the fuel can become diluted and negatively impact pumps and other engine parts. More importantly, this moisture can freeze inside the tank, causing severe problems. This is more likely to happen if your vehicle is left unused for long periods.

To combat this issue, ensure that your car is well-fueled. The more gas there is in the tank, the less space there is for moisture to develop. If you’re keeping a vehicle in storage for winter, keep your tank half-full.

Keep a Winter Breakdown Kit Onboard

Despite carrying out all possible preventative measures, there’s no guarantee that your car won’t encounter problems. If you experience issues on the roadside, it’s vital you’re prepared. Breakdown kits are designed specifically for this purpose. However, winter customizations can be made to cater to more severe weather conditions.

If you live in a region that is known to have tough winters or if there is a storm on the way, it is beneficial to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Many items that make up a breakdown kit are inexpensive, and there’s a good chance that you already own at least some of them. Some useful tools for your breakdown kit include:

  • Reflective clothing materials
  • Warning triangle
  • Flashlight
  • Emergency flares
  • Car jack
  • Ice scraper
  • Jumper cables
  • Towing rope
  • Tire chains
  • Rock salt
  • Spare batteries
  • First-aid supplies
  • Paper and pencil—not an ink pen because it can freeze or dry out

Consider adding thermal blankets, hats, gloves, water, non-perishable foods, medication, and a cell phone-charging brick for winter.

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Plan Journeys in Advance

Ensure you adequately prepare for all journeys well in advance. Your car may need more time to warm up, and your trips might take a little longer due to the weather. Prioritize organization and allocate enough time for driving. This will reduce the need to rush, making each car journey a lot safer.

Another key aspect of winter journey planning is to pay attention to the weather forecast. If you know that the weather is expected to be particularly bad on a certain day, perhaps you can reschedule tasks you had planned for that day.Perform regular maintenance checks and adopt a safety focus when it comes to winter driving.

Park in Sheltered Areas

For maximum protection from the elements, avoid leaving your vehicle exposed. Where possible, park indoors or in a safe, structured environment. Parking near the coast or in forested areas can result in damage caused by debris. If you plan to keep your car off the road this winter, protect it from the elements by storing it in safe and sheltered areas. Ensure it is safely secured in its car cover for maximum protection.

Storing a Warm-Weather Vehicle

Many drivers have dedicated vehicles for the summer months. Since warm weather is much friendlier to the exterior and running of a car, summer provides the perfect environment to flaunt convertibles, hot rods, and classic cars. Once cold fronts and adverse weather hits, these vehicles are safer in storage.

You first need to find a suitable storage location. If you have space in your garage, this is the ideal place to keep your car. However, parking lots and storage facilities often provide vehicle storage services for long periods.

Before locking your car way, be sure to clean, dry, and wax it. This will clear away excess moisture, grime, dirt, salt, and grit that could potentially damage the vehicle. Fill your fuel tank and perform all maintenance checks, such as fluid levels, tire condition, and battery tests. Most importantly, fit your custom car cover snugly around the vehicle to give it an additional protective layer. This will help keep your car in excellent shape throughout its time in storage.

Browse Our Full Range of Car Covers Today

Going the extra mile is critical in ensuring you and your vehicle’s safety throughout the winter. From carrying out regular maintenance to protecting it when it’s not in use, taking small measures can prevent large repair bills. Purchasing a quality car cover is one of the best ways to keep your vehicle safe daily.

Check out our inventory or call one of our representatives at (800) 385-3603 to explore our full range of covers. We stock the highest quality products and boast a fantastic range of semi-custom and fully custom covers for all vehicle types.