Cleveland winters are notoriously cold. Lake-effect snow covers the streets and changes the landscape for drivers throughout the city. Preparing your car for winter is crucial; use these five maintenance tips so you can stay safe and worry-free while navigating icy roads.
1. Change the Oil
While it’s true that you need to have your oil changed regularly, it’s especially important to stay on top of oil maintenance during the winter months. As oil travels through the engine, it collects debris and breaks down, making it thicker and causing it to travel more slowly. Cold winter weather only makes this issue worse — and slowly moving oil translates to an overheating engine and damaged parts.
New oil is thinner and can better withstand the cold temperatures that would otherwise affect its viscosity. If it’s been awhile since your oil was changed, make an appointment as soon as possible to get the issue addressed.
Some experts recommend switching to synthetic oil during winter, even if your car uses conventional oil, because synthetic oil is naturally thinner. However, doing so can negatively affect your car’s performance, so make sure to talk to a trusted auto repair technician before swapping out the type of oil in your car.
2. Install Winter Tires
Road salt, ice and snow can all make roads slippery and dangerous to drive on — and the type of tires you have installed on your car can be the difference between a car accident or a safe drive home. Installing winter tires will keep you much safer than all-season or summer tires would.
Winter tires are made of more flexible material that doesn’t freeze as firm as the rubber in other types of tires. They also have deeper tread to help them grip the road’s surface and offer you better traction and maneuverability. Conversely, all-season and summer tires can increase your chances of skidding out or failing to stop on the road; if fact, winter tires have a 35% shorter stopping distance than all-season tires and a 50% shorter stopping distance than summer tires. When it comes to avoiding rear-ending another car, that difference in distance is especially important.
Winter tires can last four to six seasons when properly stored. Keep them on rims so that it’s simple for an auto technician to swap them out for your all-season tires, and store them in your garage once the weather warms up.
3. Inspect The Battery
No one wants to be stranded on the side of the road with a dead battery. Before the weather gets too cold, take the time to inspect the battery and its cables for any rust, cracks or breaks. It’s also a good idea to have the battery itself tested to make sure that it's not due for replacement.
While many batteries have a lifetime of three years, those used in areas with extreme weather conditions need to be replaced every year. Winter can also reduce the battery’s capacity to store a charge — up to 35% at 32 degrees and 60% at 0 degrees. Your car needs twice that amount of battery to start.
Once you’ve determined that the battery is functioning properly, you can help preserve it through the winter by purchasing a battery blanket and using it to keep your battery warm and charged. It’s also helpful to park in a covered garage or downwind so the battery isn’t exposed to harmful temperatures.
4. Wash and Wax Your Car
Winter brings with it one of your car’s biggest nemesis — road salt. This chemical, which is used to dissolve ice buildup on roads, can wreak havoc on your car’s underbelly and exposed metal components, pitting them with rust and causing premature wear and tear.
Before the weather gets too cold, give your car a thorough wash and wax. The wax will help provide an extra layer of protection for both the underbelly and your car’s paint job. Once the roads are icy, make it a habit to wash your car once a week to prevent any road salt buildup. Even if you can’t make it to a car wash, rinsing the underside of your car with water will go a long way in preventing damage.
5. Check Fluid Levels
Your car’s oil isn’t the only fluid that is negatively affected by winter weather. Windshield wiper fluid and antifreeze are both susceptible to cold temperatures. If your fluids are too low, they can thicken and cause the rest of the engine to work at below optimal levels.
Windshield wiper fluid can freeze in its reservoir and prevent you from using your wipers at all, so it’s important to switch to a cold-weather solution that includes a little alcohol to prevent freezing. Antifreeze, much like its name suggests, prevents the fluid in your vehicle’s cooling system from freezing, expanding and damaging the engine. Make sure the antifreeze is at an appropriate level and check with your auto repair shop to see if you’re due for a flush.
Save Money and Stay Safe with Winter Maintenance
Just like your home, your car will benefit from winterizing. Winter is coming, so follow the five maintenance tips as described above and make sure your vehicle is ready to handle the winter weather, no matter how often you find yourself driving on icy roads.
Many auto repair shops offer a winter inspection, so call ahead and see what services are offered before making your appointment. Not only will you save yourself time and money, but you will also feel safe and confident when behind the wheel.