Top 5 Winter Car Care Tips

Plus a few more friendly hacks to help you survive on frosty mornings.

Capital One

Originally published on December 6, 2018

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Cars spend much of the time exposed to the elements, enduring the kind of extreme temperatures that make for a healthy appreciation of your heating and air conditioning. Still, even on the most bone-chilling mornings in the dead of winter, our expectation is that they’ll start right up and take us to wherever we need to go.

In truth, that’s a perfectly realistic expectation, but only if you take an active role in getting your car as winter-ready as possible.


1. Give your battery a checkup: Extreme temperatures can be hard on a traditional car battery, which will lose about 20 percent of its power at 32 degrees. If temps drop to negative 22 degrees, even the best battery can only operate at half capacity. If your battery is more than a couple of years old, and don’t want to hear that dreaded click-click-click sound in the middle of a blizzard, get it checked before the bitter cold kicks in. If there’s corrosion on one of the terminals, clean it with a toothbrush and baking soda. You may also want to keep a portable jumper box in the glove compartment. By the time you find yourself surrounded by an empty parking lot and a dead battery, it will have already paid for itself.

2. Make sure your tires are good to go: President Lincoln couldn’t possibly have imagined that people would use his head to measure the tread depth of tires. It’s commonplace these days to stick a penny in the grooves of a tire’s tread to see if there’s enough left to be effective. If all of Honest Abe’s head is visible, it’s time for new tires, particularly if you’re traveling on roads covered in frozen precipitation.

Don’t just stop at the tread, though. The laws of physics dictate that all gases, and thus all tires, regardless of age, will experience a pressure drop as the temperature cools. As a very general guide, it’s about one PSI for every 10-degree drop. Even a slightly underinflated tire will be less effective in gripping the road, so it’s a worthwhile effort to check pressures regularly. You should be able to find your car’s recommended minimum PSI on a sticker in the driver’s side door jamb.

If you live in a climate that sees snow with regularity, you may want to consider buying winter tires. They are designed with a designed with a special tread and rubber compound, so their grip doesn’t decline as severely as other tires when temperatures drop and snow begins to fall.

3. Change your windshield wipers... and pull them up: If your wiper blades are frayed and leaving streaks across your windshield, they likely won’t last through the winter. Spring for a new pair, and it’ll seem like the best 20 bucks you’ve ever spent when that first big snow storm hits.

At night, remember to leave those new blades in the upright position—unless you enjoy chiseling them loose after a layer of ice essentially super glues them to the windshield.

4. Fill up on fluids: Speaking of your windshield, don’t forget to use de-icing windshield washer fluid, because you know at some point you won’t be able to resist spritzing the window on a freezing morning, and if it’s just regular fluid and your car isn’t toasty warm yet, you might cover your windshield in a fresh coat of ice.

You should also check your coolant, or antifreeze. If you don’t have the right mixture of antifreeze and water (it should be 50-50, generally), it could freeze in your radiator, and because water expands when it freezes, that can cause damage to your radiator or even your engine.

Check your brake and power steering fluid, too, and keep up with your oil changes. Motor oil thickens in colder temperatures, but you can usually use a slightly thinner oil to compensate for that. Mechanics may recommend switching to a thinner oil if you live in an area that freezes often. Your owner’s manual may recommend it, too.

5. Protect your car’s paint and its undercarriage: Winter can be a mess, especially when dirt and salt gets mixed with old snow and makes an endless sea of brown slush. It’s a very good idea to wash and wax your car carefully before the really cold months kick in. The wax (or non-wax sealant) will serve as a protective layer against the harsh elements and can defend against the corrosive nature of salt and other chemicals used to de-ice roads.

Weather permitting, wash the car regularly during winter, and don’t forget about the underbelly of your car, either. Regular blasts of water will keep winter grime from corroding any exposed steel.

There is no way for cars or drivers to completely escape the headaches of winter, unless going to Hawaii and leaving your car in the garage until spring is an option. With a bit of prep work, though, you can make driving during the freezing season a lot more bearable.

This site is for educational purposes only. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
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Rick Press
After a long career as an editor for a major metropolitan newspaper and website, in 2017 I joined Capital One as its Managing Editor for Auto Content. I’ve been fortunate to cover everything from breaking news and Super Bowls to CEOs and celebrities, and now I am excited to explore the connection we all have to our cars and help consumers navigate the car-buying journey. Let’s ride!