How to prepare your car for winter

How to prepare your car for winter

Preparing your car for winter

Unless you live in paradise, winter has potential to be rough on your car.  There are a few things you can do to prepare you car for winter.  Those of you who live where it never gets below freezing you’re lucky.  You can stop reading right now and go enjoy your weather.  For the rest of use, who know what cold weather, snow and ice means for driving.  Here are some things that can easily prepare your car for winter.

Car Repairs

If you have a good mechanic at some point he’s told you that you need to fix your car soon.  Any car with higher mileage will have repairs that should be fixed soon.  Most people put these repairs off until they have the money to do them.

Fall going into winter is when you get these repairs done. Just because they could wait in the summer, they can’t wait in the winter. Even something as simple as your car’s alignment being off will cause problems on ice.  This is why you want to get all the repairs you’ve been putting off, done before winter.  Just think about how mad you’ll be when your stranded in a snow storm because the belt you’ve known is bad for months breaks.


Having good traction on slick road is very important.  If you’re tires only have marginal tread you need to replace them.  Most tires start out with at least 10/32″ of tread depth.  Depending on who you talk to 5/32″ is either bald or close to end of life.  Either way going into winter you want more than 5/32″ tread depth on your tires.  The closer your tires are to 5/32″ or less the more important is for you to buy new tires.  As always you should replace your tires in at least a set of 2, but all 4 is the right way to do it.  Of course if you own an AWD vehicle you will have to buy all 4 tires.

All Season Tires

When buying tires, all season tires are the best.  There are summer or performance tires that won’t do you any good on snow and ice.  When it comes down to buying tires, name brands are better than brands you’ve never heard of.  However you pay for the name, there is a reason why these name brands have been around long enough for you to have heard of them.  As far as which name brands are better than others.  There is no clear winner.  Every big tire manufacture has something that makes them better than another and something that makes them worse.  You’ll have to do research.  The best thing to consider is sticking with the tire brand that came factory on your car.

Snow Tires

If you live where the snow gets deep or there is lots of ice.  You may consider buying snow tires.  There are two kinds of snow tires you can buy.  Those that can be studded and those designed so you don’t need to have studs.  Studless snow tires are the recommended way to go.  Since many states and counties have laws dealing with when and if you can run studded tires.  Also if you have the money it’s suggested that you buy a second set of rims to go with your snow tires. This gives you the option of changing them out yourself if you have an unexpected snow fall.

Local VS Online Purchase

There are tons of places you can buy new tires.  There are also places to buy used tires.  However used tires are never financially worth the money.  The big question is do you buy your tires online or just go to a local shop?

With online tire sales you always appear to get a much better deal on name brand and off brand tires.  Many times the prices they list per tire are $10-$50 cheaper than your local shop.  The problem is they don’t always include shipping into the price till checkout.  They also don’t explain you still have to pay someone to mount and balance your tires.  If you’re one of the lucky few that have the equipment to mount and balance a tire please buy your tires online.  Usually even shipping you’ll save money.

When buying from a local shop they almost always mount and balance your tires for no additional charge.  This makes the price of getting the same tire from a local shop versus buying online normally with a few dollars price of each other.

Which still leaves the question online or local tires sales.  The best answer is shop around.  The quickest way to shop around is find local shops online. Such as Discount Tire.  This way you can price exactly how much you’ll pay and  schedule it to get done all at the same time.  If you don’t have a local Discount Tire you can also order directly online and have them shipped your house.  With free shipping on some orders this may be the best of both worlds.


Every car has plenty of maintenance that needs to be done.  Going in to the winter if you haven’t kept up on your maintenance it’s not necessarily the time to catch up on all of it.  This can be cost prohibitive.


The most important parts of maintenance for your car going in the winter is your coolant and having it flushed.  You definitely want to make sure you have good antifreeze.  Old coolant will potentially freeze in your engine.  Since antifreeze is at least 50% water when it freezes it will expand.  This can lead to cracked radiators or even your engine block.

If you’ve had your coolant changed in the past year.  It’s still a good idea to top off your coolant reservoir.  However any time you add coolant make sure you use a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water.   Also make sure you use the antifreeze specifically called for in your owners manual.  Although a “universal” antifreeze will work in an emergency.  It may not have all the additives your cooling system needs.

Tire Rotation

If you aren’t replacing your tires you will want to have them rotated.  When you have tires rotated the common idea is put your tires the with the most tread on the back of your vehicle.  This is of course because you don’t want your back end coming around your front end.

If you’re one of those people that grew up driving cars no traction control no ABS or any computer controls.  Then you know how to drive on slick roads so the better suggestion is to put the best tires you have on your drive axle.  If you have front wheel drive put them on the front of car.  If you have rear wheel drive put them on the rear of your car that way you have the most traction to get moving.

Another reason to rotate your tires this way.  Is to help keep tire wear even on all for tires.  As your drive tires will wear faster than the none drive tires.

Fuel Filter

Fuel filters are important to change once a year.  Many cars don’t have a replaceable fuel filter as most new cars are only in the gas tank.  For those cars that do.  Changing your fuel filter is cheap insurance to make sure nothing is getting into your fuel injectors or engine.

Air Filter/Cabin Air Filter

Just like your home furnace needs to have the air filter changed so does your car.  The engine air filter should at least be checked before winter to make sure that you can still see light through it.  If not replace it.  Do not attempt to clean it.  By knocking the dirt out or using compressed air, you can cause small holes in your filter making it useless. The one exception is if you have a reusable filter, then go ahead and clean it.  However it’s not recommended  to use oil impregnated reusable air filters on new cars.  The oil can sometimes come off the filter and ruin your MAF sensor.

Your cabin air filter is the same as your engine air filter.  The biggest difference is the most of them are not as easy to get to.  So if you are going to spend the time to take it out you might at well replace.  They aren’t very expensive, for the filter itself.  Most of them just requiring you to remove your glove box to get to them.

Supplies to keep in your car

On top of the 6 Things to Keep in Your Car, there are a few other things you should add to prepare your car for winter.

Ice Scraper

Having a good ice scraper is a must if you live anywhere that gets cold enough to freeze.  Using your credit card to clear frost or ice takes forever.  Plus most of use don’t have the time to wait for the car to warm up and melt the ice off.

Hand Warmers

It sounds crazy to keep hand warmers in your car.  Your car has heat.  The problem is what happens if you get stuck somewhere?  Maybe your gas gauge stops working and you run out of gas.  It’s always good to be prepared.  There are two types of hand warmers disposable and reusable.  They both have their place.

Disposable Hand Warmers

Cheap disposable hand warmers are the best thing to have to just throw in your car.  They don’t go bad unless the package gets opened.  Almost every brand lasts between 5-8 hours and has enough heat to keep your hands or whatever warm.   The best part is if you wait until after December in most places you can pick them up on sale for really cheap.  Of course that may not help you this winter.  So buy a couple throw them in your car try them out and get more later.  They are very cheap insurance from frostbite or just being cold.

Reusable Hand Warmers

A reusable hand warmer like Zippo makes, uses a simple catalyst to convert lighter fluid to heat without a flame.  They are great for keeping your hands warm.  Once going the amount of heat stays even until the fuel is used up.  The problem with them is that fuel evaporates so you can’t store them filled in your car.  So if you choose to use one keep the fuel with the heater so you can fill it when you need.  Also the catalyst is good for only a few uses and costs about the same as the heater it’s self.  That said, for 12 hours of heat you can’t beat them.

There is one more type of reusable hand warmer.  It’s electric.   These use a rechargeable battery.  These won’t produce as much heat at the other types.  However when you have cold hands anything is better than nothing.  The good part is when you don’t need it to warm you hands you can charge your phone.  It’s also very easy to keep it charged up and ready to use in your car whenever you need it.  No worries about forgetting the fuel or a lighter.

Extra blanket

Most people figure if they dress warm enough for winter they don’t need a blanket.  This is far for the truth.  Having an extra wool blanket is for more than just wrapping yourself up in to keep warm.  You can put it down on the ground to keep yourself warmer and drier if you need to change your tire, or fix your car.  It can be used to protect your car if you have to put something dirty inside your car.  Any old blanket will do on most occasions.  However wool is one of the few materials that will still keep you warm if it gets wet.  So in a snow or ice storm it will do a better job of helping you stay warm.  Thus keeping a wool blanket in your car is a great idea.

A Folding Shovel

Most people don’t think to carry a shovel in their car.  Others don’t want to because they normally take up a lot of space.  A folding shovel takes care of the problem.  These can come in very handy if you get high centered in the snow.  They can also help with digging some dirt to put under your tires for more traction.  Or just useful for breaking up ice under you tires.  If you’ve ever had to dig your car out of a snow pile you understand how great having even a small shovel is.  So keep one in your car for those few times you need it.

Bonus Items: Gas Can and flares

If you have the space you should also consider having a 5 gallon gas can, a lighter and/or flares.  These three things are good year round to have in your car.  You never know what might happen that you may run out of gas.  It happens to the best of people.  Gas gauges go bad.  Gas stations can be closed when you need them the most.

Flares can serve duel purposes.  They help you start a fire, to keep warm. They can be used to let people know you are having car problems and you need help or just warn them you are there.



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