How to winterize a car? 7 simple winter car care tips

Evaldas Zabitis

Evaldas Zabitis

While summer is many drivers’ favorite season, winter is when they tend to curse the most while standing in front of their vehicle, holding an ice scraper, thinking that maybe it’s about time to winterize a car.

Winter is when cars begin to sniffle, road surfaces become unpredictable, and weather conditions change more frequently than you might imagine.

Because the cold season presents drivers with multiple challenges, we’ve put together a guide that will explain how to winterize your carFollow these tips, penned by the carVertical expert team, and you’ll enjoy taking a ride in winter just as you do when it’s sunny and warm!

Afraid of buying a wreck?

Check any VIN to learn a vehicle's history!

Get report

1. Use winter tires

Even the most experienced driver will feel useless if their vehicle is equipped with worn-out tires. Especially in the winter season, when they become a road hazard for you and others.

A worn tire is a ticket to an accident

Each year, snow causes immediate chaos on the roads. Fortunately, much of it can be avoided if drivers put on their winter tires before weather conditions change. This is an essential part of winterizing your car.

Many tire manufacturers say that drivers should ensure their tires have a minimum tread depth of 3 millimeters to ensure maximum safety on every journey.

When tire treads are worn down, the water drainage channels become shallow, making them ineffective in squeezing out water or snow. A lower tread depth can make you feel like you’re driving on ice without the ability to control where you’re going.

PRO TIP: Accidents can cause long-lasting damage that can lead to additional problems down the road. This might make it more challenging to sell your car in the future; however, if you're the one buying a used car, make sure to check its history first to uncover any potential issues.

Choose good quality all-season or snow tires

All-season tires that last all year round can be a sensible option for those living in countries such as the UK, where drivers rarely face serious winter challenges. Such products from well-known manufacturers can save a significant amount of money in the long run without sacrificing comfort and safety.

In regions where sub-zero temperatures and snow are common, snow tires are the most reliable choice for every driver.

Why? Well, in lower temperatures, the rubber compounds of summer tires harden, decreasing the tire’s ability to grip the road. Winter tires use unique compounds engineered to resist hardening in cold temperatures, providing better traction on ice, snow, slush, and even dry pavement.

Studded tires for maximum safety

If you often encounter challenging driving conditions, don’t forget to consider studded tires.

Studded tires have vulcanized pins made of hard metal to provide more grip and safety on ice and snow on winter tires.

Depending on the tire circumference, 50 to 150 studs protrude 1.5-2 millimeters from the tread and drill into the relatively hard ground when driving. Despite the following advantages, studded tires are not legal in most parts of the world.

For example, in Europe, studded tires are illegal in Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal. While in the United States, studded tires are illegal in Alabama, Texas, Florida, Maryland, Louisiana, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, Mississippi and Wisconsin.

2. Check the condition of the battery

When the weather temperature drops below freezing, auto parts stores become filled with drivers looking for a new battery.

A properly-working battery is a must

There’s always at least one car in every yard that will wake sleeping neighbors on chilly mornings. While many drivers blame the car itself, a battery with insufficient energy simply doesn’t have the power to start a petrol or diesel engine.

You can do the most damage to the battery in colder temperatures, especially when driving short distances. It’s worth adding that short trips are bad for the engine as well.

If your battery has seen better days – replace it!

As complicated as it sounds, changing the battery is a surprisingly easy process that anyone can do. However, even if you decide to leave the battery replacement procedure to your other half, a neighbor, or a workshop, make sure you get the right battery beforehand.

Each car engine requires a battery with a specific capacity. If you buy a smaller battery, it will run out after a few months. If you buy a larger capacity battery, the alternator in the vehicle simply won’t charge it fully, and again, it will be ineffective after a few months.

Keep the jumper cables in the boot

Winter car care top tip. Every driver must have starting cables in the boot that will help them start a dead car battery.

Starting cables don’t take up a lot of space, but they can help you save a lot of time in the early hours of the morning or any other moment. Especially if you’re in a hurry and can’t replace a dead battery right away. Plus, having the starting cables means you can always lend a helping hand to others.

3. Take care of the windshield wiper fluid

Winter is the time of year when cars are at their dirtiest. The more dirt on your vehicle, the more likely you will make driving more difficult, even under ideal conditions. 

Reduced visibility can cause an accident

Melted snow mixed with dirt becomes a substance that settles on your windscreen. Occasionally, the dirt will blow off the windshield so quickly that it becomes impossible to see through.

This is true at certain times of the day and throughout the winter in general.

Use non-freezing window fluid

Windshield washing fluid is more critical for safe driving in winter than in summer. Not only that, summer and winter window washer fluids are fundamentally different.

In summer, the fluid is mainly used to remove insect residue, while in winter, it is used to remove road salt, soot from diesel engines, and oil spills.

Windscreen fluid, therefore, has a significant role in winter – removing the film that forms on windscreens, which is most troublesome for drivers during the darkest hours of the day.

Change your wiper blades

Like any other automobile component, window wipers also wear out with use. Poor windscreen wipers also affect how much window fluid you use and how many cleaning cycles it takes to wipe the window.

In addition, worn-out wiper blades can damage both the windscreen and the rear window. And after all, replacing the wipers is a much cheaper process than replacing the windshield.

4. Combat the cold weather

Cold and snow have always been the enemy of cars. Fluctuating temperatures can often cause all sorts of inconveniences, but nowadays, these can be avoided with the help of specific measures.

Doors that are difficult to open

One of the most annoying attributes of winter is doors you just can’t open.

The door rubbers fitted on the doors and on the car’s body become brittle due to temperature differences as if they were coated in glue.

In freezing temperatures, opening the door can be extremely difficult, which can be very annoying.

Use winter tools, such as a door rubber cleaner

Freezing vehicle door rubbers can now be solved incredibly easily. Car cosmetic companies produce a range of different products that make it possible to unfreeze your car’s rubber in just 5 minutes.

Some are spray-on, others are applied, so the final decision is yours, as both types of products work equally well.

Buy an anti-snow de-icer

If you want to be 100 percent prepared, you should also buy an anti-snow de-icer. This snow melter is designed for ice-coated windows, door locks, and handles.

Window solvent turns ice into a wipeable liquid in just a few moments without using a snow brush. An additive for door locks and knobs does the same, preventing them from freezing later and helping them function in low temperatures.

5. Don’t forget the spark plugs in your car (and the fuel filter)

One of the most essential components of any engine is the spark or glow plug. Whether petrol or diesel, it needs proper maintenance to ensure that it doesn’t let you down at the most crucial moment.

In winter weather, spark plugs play an essential role

Ignition systems in petrol and diesel cars work in different ways, with diesel cars relying on glow plugs to start the engine, while petrol cars use spark plugs.

A spark plug works continuously to ensure your engine is running. The fuel is mixed with the intake air in the throttle body before being injected into the combustion chamber. Conversely, a glow plug is only needed during the ignition process.

If any one of several plug elements fails, the impact of the worn component will be felt throughout the chain. 

Winterize your car by replacing your spark and glow plugs

Making sure that your spark plugs and glow plugs fit your purpose is an important step to winter-proof your vehicle.

Cold starts need outstanding spark plug performance. A leading cause of hard starting is degraded spark plugs, and while being an inconvenience, this also results in more severe effects, such as increased fuel consumption and emissions.

According to the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, lousy spark plugs have a 30% negative impact on fuel economy.

Change the fuel filter

Most people tend to refer to manufacturer-recommended intervals when it comes to, for example, an oil change. However, you shouldn’t overlook another cheap but essential part - the fuel filter.

To properly winterize a car, you should change your fuel filter, which clogs up after a year or two and can no longer work as efficiently as before.

6. Don’t forget to wash your car

Mud deposits can also damage various car components. For example, doors, door sills, headlights, the exhaust system, and even the wheels.

Winter is not kind to the bodywork

Every time the streets are covered with snow, gritters take to the streets. While cleared roads help keep traffic moving freely, the snow-melting substances they use affect the car’s body.

In some parts of the world, salt used for road gritting is harsh on cars with poorer corrosion protection. However, even ideal corrosion protection doesn’t guarantee that you won’t see a tiny brown speck on the bodywork in a few years.

Wash your car at least once a month

It may seem like a bad idea in cold weather, but washing your car in winter is simply essential.

If the air temperature is below zero, don’t hesitate and wash your car indoors by hand. Dirt and other ingredients contribute to the formation of corrosion hotspots that reduce the car’s residual value. That’s not what you want, is it?

Cover the body with a protective film

Compiling the winter car maintenance guide, we can’t forget a particularly effective tool, a protective film to help protect your car’s bodywork.

If you want to avoid additional worries in the future, apply a unique thermoplastic urethane film that goes over any painted surface on your car’s exterior.

7. Don’t compromise your vision

According to several studies, traffic deaths are three times higher in winter than in summer. Also, it should be no surprise, but most accidents in winter are caused by poor visibility.

Headlights play a more important role in the winter

A lack of visibility can indicate a number of things. In the winter, poor visibility is mostly due to Mother Nature’s tricks, but the vehicle’s headlights significantly impact overall visibility.

Lights are most effective when they are clean and free of snow, whether day or night. Clean the headlights and taillights, and ensure that all bulbs are working. Also, remember to check for turn signals and the "third brake light," usually located in the rear window.

Make a preventive adjustment of the headlights

Winter is the bleakest and darkest time of the year. As you know, winter has the shortest daylight hours, which means that the lighting area of your car’s headlights becomes much more critical. After all, having good visibility on snowy roads can make all the difference.

For example, if you drive down the road and can’t see more than 20 or 30 feet in front of you, the headlight beam is too low. If all you see is the night sky or the tops of the trees, the headlight beam is too high.

Several factors can cause your headlights to be out of alignment and shine incorrectly. A frontal collision can cause the headlight to become unbalanced. Your headlights may also become distorted due to driving over potholes and hitting road hazards. Check your headlight adjustment if you notice any of the issues listed above.

Improve headlights by using modern technology

Headlight technology has made considerable leaps in the past ten years. Manufacturers today use very modern and effective LED technology, which improves forward seeing distance by a shocking amount. However, if your car has halogen or HID (xenon) type headlights, there is a cheap and useful trick to improve seeing distance.

Rather than changing your bulb to the original parameters, choose another alternative, which could improve seeing distance from 10% to 40%. That will make quite a difference, especially in the headlights with HID technology, which can be equipped with an LED bulb.

8. Change your driving style

In spring, summer, and autumn, accidents are often caused by inattention, distraction, or excessive speed. But in winter, accidents are also caused by irresponsible driving under unpredictable conditions.

Many crashes in winter are caused by vehicles that spin out or slide off roadways – often because the car wasn’t adequately equipped or was going too fast.

Use caution

Smooth steering, acceleration, and braking are essential for safe driving in the snow. Jerky control motions can easily unstick tires with a shaky grip on the slick road. Thus every wheel rotation, brake application, and throttle action must be careful, smooth, and slow.

Improve your skills

Winter can be an ideal time to improve your driving skills. In winter, vehicles’ behavior dramatically changes.

Learning a trick or two will be helpful in various sorts of situations, for example, in sudden and annoying blizzards or icy country roads. Improving your skills will help improve your confidence in challenging winter conditions.

10 myths about winter car care and driving

Myth 1: Warming up the engine before driving

Warming up, according to some, is achieved by reaching the ideal oil temperature, which improves the engine’s performance, but it’s not true.

The most efficient way is to drive. In this way, the engine will reach the desired temperature faster. Just don’t drive aggressively, and don’t rev your engine above 2000 rpm until the engine reaches its operating temperature.

Myth 2: Using air conditioning only in hot weather

Another common misunderstanding among drivers is that air conditioning is unnecessary during the winter months. Meanwhile, the air conditioning must be turned on from time to time in the winter for the entire system to function correctly.

This should be done for several minutes at least a couple of times a month. In the winter, air conditioning allows you to dry the air and prevent the windshield from fogging while increasing comfort and safety while driving.

Myth 3: Carrying sandbags in your trunk will improve traction

Many older cars had an unpleasant combination of features: a front-heavy load and rear-wheel drive. Sandbags in the trunk became a common approach to increase traction in tricky situations by adding weight to the vehicle’s rear wheels.

For most drivers, this winter driving tip is no longer necessary. That’s because most modern cars are front-wheel or four-wheel drive. Adding weight to the trunk can throw off the balance of a vehicle, diminishing traction and potentially impairing steering and braking.

Myth 4: A petrol and diesel cocktail is better

While such an approach may have worked in older cars with systems capable of filtering petrol and diesel mixture, it should not be attempted now.

Modern diesel engines include common rail systems or unit injectors, and even a small amount of gasoline can cause severe damage.

Myth 5: Alcohol or denaturant instead of washer fluid

Alcohol is not a good solution since it evaporates quickly and causes water to precipitate.

Spraying alcohol on the windshield while driving can cause frozen streaks that reduce visibility, which is extremely dangerous and could lead to an accident.

Myth 6: Four-wheel drive makes a car completely safe to drive in the snow

While four-wheel drive can help you get to your destination faster in the snow, it can’t help you stop your car.

Everything is dependent on the tires and the driver, who is in charge of the car. A motorist who does not know how to operate a vehicle will not benefit from even the most modern system.

Myth 7: Your parking brake can help you stop in winter weather

Pulling the parking brake on a car in a crisis scenario disables the vehicle’s anti-lock braking system, reducing the automobile’s stopping force and capacity.

When attempting to release the parking brake in extreme cold, the parking brake can potentially freeze.

Myth 8: I can’t do anything about black ice

The first step is to prepare for it. Look ahead – which is how you should be driving anyhow – and be wary of areas where it’s most likely to form.

If you’re on black ice, don’t hit the brakes; instead, gradually let off the throttle, and steer as little as possible. If you avoid sudden changes in speed or direction, you may be able to get safely across it and onto bare asphalt again.

Myth 9: Deflating your tires will give you better traction

This myth is based on the belief that letting some air out of your tires will increase the surface area of the piece of each tire that touches the road.

In actuality, though, this notion is nothing more than a bunch of nonsense. Fully inflated tires perform better in the snow. Always maintain your tires full to their recommended PSI regardless of the season.

Myth 10: Pouring hot water on your windshield is an easy way to melt ice

If only it was that simple. While hot water can indeed dislodge ice from your windshield, it can also crack the glass. Although most automobile windows are strengthened, they are not meant to withstand a sudden temperature change from freezing to boiling.

Check your VIN

Avoid costly problems by checking a vehicle's history. Get a report instantly!

Frequently Asked Questions

Evaldas Zabitis

Article by

Evaldas Zabitis

Evaldas has been writing since middle school and has had a passion for cars for as long as he can remember. Right after getting his driver’s license, he spent all of his savings on shoddy cars so he could spend time fixing, driving, and selling them. Evaldas is always interested in automotive technical innovations and is an active participant in automotive community discussions.