A snow covered car that says Winterize Your Vehicle in the snow

Winterize Your Vehicle

With Tips from the South Campus Automotive Program

Even though North Central Texas winters aren’t particularly brutal, people should take precautions to protect their automobiles before freezing temperatures arrive. If you do not feel comfortable with any of the following tips, consult your mechanic for assistance.

Check the battery terminals and cables

If the terminals are corroded or the cables are loose, clean or replace them to ensure good electrical contact. Temperature extremes can exacerbate a poor connection.

Check the battery

Connect a voltmeter to the battery terminals with the ignition and all accessories turned OFF. A fully charged battery should show 12.6 volts. If the battery reads less than 12.4 volts, it is less than 75 percent charged and should be recharged. Most car batteries only last four or five years. If your battery is five or more years old, you may need to replace it soon. Replacing it before cold weather can prevent a no-start and service call.

Check the strength of the coolant

Antifreeze mixed 50/50 with water will provide freezing protection down to minus 34 degrees Fahrenheit. If someone has added straight water to the cooling system, it can raise the freezing temperature. You do not want the coolant to freeze because ice expands and can crack the radiator or engine block. The strength of the coolant can be checked with a hydrometer. If the strength of the coolant reads low, add additional antifreeze to bring the coolant up to normal strength.

Check your belts and hoses

Worn belts and hoses are susceptible to failure in cold weather. If something snaps, the only way you are getting home is a tow truck.

Change the oil

Winterize your engine by replacing old, dirty oil with fresh oil. This can reduce the drag on the starter when a cold engine is cranked. Synthetic oils are best for easy cold weather starting.

Replace the spark plugs

Refer to your vehicle owner’s manual for the recommended replacement interval. New spark plugs can make the engine much easier to start during cold weather.

Check your tire condition and air pressure

Wet or icy roads can cause accidents, so make sure your tires are capable of handling adverse weather and road conditions.

Clean your fuel injectors

Fuel varnish can build up in injectors over time, causing a leaning effect on the fuel mixture. Add a can of fuel injector cleaner to your fuel tank. This can help ensure easy starting and smooth running all winter long. If you have a diesel engine, change the fuel filter/water separator and add a can of fuel conditioner to the fuel tank. This will help prevent fuel waxing and the formation of ice in the filter when the temperature drops.

Check the heater and defrosters

Does the heater blow hot air? Do the defrosters reroute warm air to the windshield to clear the glass? Does the rear electric defogger work? Does the air-conditioning compressor come on when you run the defrost? This is important because it helps to dehumidify the air and clear the glass.

Check or replace the wiper blades

Wiper blades have a limited life of approximately one year. Sun exposure, extreme heat and cold all age the rubber and cause it to become hard and brittle. If the wipers streak, chatter or smear, it is time to replace them.

Check your windshield washer fluid

Much like antifreeze, it prevents freeze up in your windshield washer system.

Protect yourself

Toss some winter survival gear into the trunk or luggage compartment. This should include a flashlight (with new alkaline batteries), a blanket, boots, gloves, hat, small shovel and maybe a bag of sand. Something to eat such as protein bars, pretzels, chocolate, nuts, dried fruit and bottled water can be helpful. If you carry a cell phone, make sure you have a cell phone charger along, too, and a credit card or cash if a wrecker is ever needed. A few precautions taken now could save a lot of grief when Old Man Winter does arrive.

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