How to Winterize a Car: The Ultimate Guide

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A car owner scraping ice and snow off her car windshield

Be it your seasonal/summer car or your prized Mercedes-Benz 250S, some cars just aren’t equipped for harsh winter conditions or high-risk winter driving. If you plan to store your one of your vehicles over the winter, you’ll need to winterize (before you sign a rental agreement). 

Otherwise, you’ll pull your car out of winter storage, only to find your tires flattened and your gas tank ridden with harmful moisture. 

Remember: Winterizing isn’t just a necessity for RVs, boats, and other recreational vehicles. Much like your RV, cold temperatures can have a similarly negative impact on cars, too. Here are just a few ways severe cold can affect your car

Sure, you could have your car professionally winterized as part of a winter prep service package. Or, you could spare yourself from a long wait at the auto body shop (and save a decent chunk of change) by doing it yourself.

Let’s get started. 

How to Winterize a Car

If this is your first time winterizing a car, the sheer amount of steps involved might intimidate you. But before you run to your nearest auto body shop, know that this long list of steps can be broken down into three simple categories: the exterior, the interior, and mechanics under the hood. 

*Note: Much like it’s possible to drive a winterized RV, you can also drive a winterized car. 

Winterizing the Car Exterior

When preparing the exterior of your car for the harsh reality of winter weather, something as simple as planning ahead for icy mornings can make a world of difference. You can do this by purchasing tools like an ice scraper or de-icer, both of which are sold at most auto parts stores. But that’s only the beginning.

Once the cold weather hits, and you decide you’re reading to put your vehicle in storage, there are a few preventative measures you’ll need to take. 

Step #1: Wash and Wax

Wash and wax the outside of your car to extend the longevity of its protective paint. After thoroughly washing and drying your car, apply a fresh coat of wax to prepare your car for cold weather. (Remember: It’s best to apply car wax before a winter storm or during other dry periods). 

Step #2: Replace Your Windshield Wipers and Wiper Blades 

Inspect your windshield wipers for signs of wear, including cracks, stiffness, streaks, scratches, or skidding when the wipers are in use. If you notice any of these issues, install new wipers and upgrade to wipers with rubber to keep ice from collecting on the blades.

The average cost of new wiper blades ranges anywhere from $53 to $64

Step #3: Lubricate the Door Locks

If water finds its way into crevices like trunks or door locks, it could end up freezing between those entrances to the car, which can result in you being locked out (even if you have a key). So, lubricate locks ahead of time with the help of silicone sprays or door-lock lubricants (like this one) from an auto parts store.

Step #4: Switch or Inflate Your Tires

Tires are responsible for carrying a lot of weight, traveling many miles, and keeping you safe in the face of questionable road conditions. If you live in an area prone to snow, black ice, and freezing winter temperatures (32 degrees below Fahrenheit or below), consider switching from your regular all-season tires to snow tires or dedicated winter tires–both of which have impressive tread depth.

Winterizing Car Interior 

During the winter, your car’s interior may be less vulnerable to wear-and-tear than your car’s exterior. Temperature drops can lead to brittle windshield wipers, cracked windshields, salt-induced corrosion, you name it. However, that doesn’t mean cold weather has no impact on a car’s interior components. 

Besides the fact that you’ll track a lot more dirt, mud, and debris into your vehiclel in the winter–which can lead to staining–cold weather can also put your interior cargo at risk (Read up on these 8 things you shouldn’t leave in the car during the winter). 

Taking the right steps to winterize the interior can keep your car clean while simultaneously preventing long-term winter damage:

Step #1: Invest in Rubber Floor Mats

Ice, snow, and salt are three of the easiest particles that you can track into your car during winter. Purchasing rubber floor mats will stop salt, ice, and snow from seeping into your carpet or reaching your floorboards, resulting in rust. You can purchase rubber floor mats at most department stores, and they are relatively inexpensive, so this small investment can save you money in the long run.

Prices will vary depending on the type of floor mats

Step #2: Check and Clean Gaskets

Car door gaskets keep air out of the vehicle, but wet weather and freezing temperatures can cause gaskets to freeze. So, while winterizing, make sure you check your gaskets, clean them as needed, or replace them entirely if necessary.

Step #3: Prepare an Emergency Kit

Anything can happen in the face of extreme weather. So, as part of the process of preparing for the winter months ahead, consider assembling your own vehicle’s winter emergency kit, just in case.

Your emergency kit should contain the following essentials:

  • Jumper cables
  • Flashlight/batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Matches
  • Bottled water
  • Phone charger
  • Tire pressure gauage/inflator/repair kit
  • Warm clothing/blanket
  • Car tool kit
  • Non-perishable food

Preparing Your Car’s Mechanical Parts for Winter

The motor in your vehicle is designed to stand up to hundreds of miles of use. Even so, it still requires extra love and care to operate at its best. The same goes for all other mechanical parts in your car.

Follow these tips to prepare your car’s running parts for the harsh effects of winter weather:

Step #1: Check The Basics

Examine the engine, look at the cooling system, and make sure the engine oil light is not on. Inspect belts, hoses, and the radiator cap, along with your windshield wiper fluid levels.

Step #2: Prioritize Your Vehicle’s Transmission

If you’re unsure of whether your vehicle is properly winterized, take your car to a local repair shop. In the case that you’ve missed a step, car maintenance shops like Jiffy Lube and Grease Monkey can even winterize your vehicle for you. The winterization professionals will replace old fluids with antifreeze and check the tread of your tires, 

Prices will vary based on location as well as your car’s specific needs, so contact your local car service technicians for more information.

Step #3: Test the Suspension System

Take a moment to look at the tire pressure and four-wheel drive capabilities of your car. Opt for winter tires or all-season tires for maximum protection. Make sure you have an extra set of jumper cables, spark plugs, and snow flies for added reassurance, even when all aspects of the suspension system already work properly.

Winterization as Risk Prevention  

Even if you meticulously complete all steps of the winterization process, things can still go wrong. Fortunately, winterizing can significantly reduce the risks involved with winter driving. 

Here are the risks you should be aware of when navigating winter road conditions. 

Risk #1: Your Car Battery Dies

Your car battery has to work harder in colder temperatures. Additionally, you likely use your windshield wipers, heat, and lights more often during winter compared to summer. If you proactively replace your older battery before winter arrives, you won’t find yourself at a loss due to a dead battery.

Risk #2: Your Tires Are Low

Cold weather reduces the pressure in tires. If you don’t check your tire pressure during the winterization process, you likely won’t catch tires before they are already underinflated. This can result in tires that wear out quickly, which might even lead to potential blowouts or flats on the road.

Risk #3: Gas Lines Freeze

Temperatures that change quickly can cause condensation to form in your gas tank. When this moisture backs up into your gas lines, it can freeze, making your car inoperable. 

The most common sign of frozen gas lines is a car’s failure to start, but if you check your antifreeze and coolant levels while winterizing, you can catch warning signs of frozen gas lines before they result in disaster. 

Risk #4: Systems Leak

When condensation occurs on a mechanical level in your car, it means certain features are freezing. But what happens when they are no longer frozen? As they start de-icing, leaks can spring up, which can lead to an abnormal build-up of pressure, Plus, if vital fluids may start leaking, malfunctions that could potentially cause an accident may occur. 

Risk #5: You Encounter Corrosion and Rust

During winter, the roads are often coated in salt to help drivers stay safe amid slippery and dangerous conditions. While salt can protect winter drivers from hazards like black ice, road salt (and other chemicals that are used to melt the ice and snow) can corrode the metals that make up your car’s body and frame. 

By winterizing your car and preparing for the presence of salt ahead of time, you can protect your car from common issues, like damage to your car’s muffler, exhaust pipe, and brakes.

Before You Go

Whether you choose to expose your car to winter conditions or decide to store it away under a car cover until the weather gets warmer, the process of winterization is a must. For those of you who would like to store your car for the winter, search peer-to-peer storage marketplaces like Neighbor.

Not only will you find affordable month-to-month contracts, but these local short-term car storage options are reliable. With climate-controlled rental spaces available, you can ensure maximum protection for your car during winter.

    Pro Tip for How to Winterize a Car:

    Drivers who switch to winter tires each year can save time by investing in an inexpensive set of steel wheels. Mounting your winter tires on steel wheels will make for an easy swap and save your alloy wheels from winter damage.

    Pro Tip for How to Winterize a Car:

    If you don’t know how to check the fluids in your car, have it serviced before freezing weather arrives to ensure you have enough antifreeze.

      Pro Tip for How to Winterize a Car:

      If you purchase after-market floor mats or ones not specifically designed for your vehicle, make sure they don’t interfere with the working of the gas and brake pedals.

        Additional Winterization Resources

        Browse all our winterization guides:

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