10 steps to winterize your car

Updated: November 25, 2014

1. Use winterized windshield washer fluid

Windshield washer fluid

What is the most common problem on a first really cold day of the winter? The windshield washers don't work! Why? The windshield washer fluid freezes. As the cold season approaches, fill up your windshield washer fluid container with winterized washer fluid that won't freeze in the cold. The temperature rating is stated on the bottle. Keep a spare bottle in the trunk, you will use a lot more windshield washer fluid in the winter. If your windshield washers stopped working in extreme cold, clean the washer jets from ice, leave your car in a warm garage until the ice in the fluid container melts, use up the old fluid and fill up the tank with winterized windshield washer fluid.

2. Consider installing winter wipers

Winter wipers

Winter wipers are specifically designed to work better in below-freezing temperatures. A set of winter wipers cost from $25 to $65 and can be purchased in the automotive department of your local Walmart or other big-box store.

3. How good are your tires?

Winter tires

Winter tires are proven to be more effective in snowy and icy conditions than all-season tires. To do their job, winter tires need to be installed on all 4 wheels. Don't wait until the first snow storm, as dealerships and repair shops will probably be fully booked for the tire-swap season.

4. Is your battery in good shape?

Battery test

Your battery must be in top shape to get your car started in freezing cold. If your battery is more than 3-4 years old, have it tested and replace if it's weak. Many dealers and repair shops offer a courtesy battery test with a regular oil change in the pre-winter season. Ask your mechanic to check battery terminals; corrosion at the terminals will cause problems.

5. Is your car rust-proofed?


The best time to rust-proof your car is before winter. The salt used on the roads is very corrosive and if the vehicle is not protected, some chassis components and body panels might get rusted. Many local repair shops offer rust-proofing for $60-$180.

6. Install winter floor mats

Winter floor mats

Winter floor mats can prevent moisture from getting under the carpet, where it can cause corrosion in electric wiring. The best option is to buy the OEM floor mats from your dealer; they are more expensive, but will fit better. When installing, make sure the mats are secured properly in place and won't slide under pedals. A set of good winter floor mats will serve you for many years.

7. How to prevent door seals from freezing

Spraying the door seals

In some cars, rubber door seals may get frozen to the door. There are special sprays available to protect the rubber seals from sticking. In this case, we used the spray from Würth called "Rubber Care." If you cannot find anything like this in the store, call your dealership parts department. It might also be called "weatherstrip lubricant."

8. Lubricate door locks

Lubricating the door locks

Ask your mechanic to spray door and trunk locks, so they won't freeze. If you have a minivan with sliding doors, the door rails and the locking mechanisms also need to be cleaned and lubricated.

9. Winter emergency kit

Winter road kit

Winter weather is unpredictable and you need to be prepared for any situation. Here are some items you should consider keeping in your car: a basic tool kit, ice scraper, shovel, sand or kitty litter, tow cable or chain, traction mats, road flares or warning light, an emergency sign, a flashlight, booster cables, extra windshield washer fluid, first aid kit, cell phone charger, emergency food pack, bottle of water, warm clothing and footwear for each passenger, a warm blanket for each passenger, matches in a waterproof container, reflective vest.

10. Pre-winter maintenance

Regular service

Have your oil change done before winter; fresh oil will make your car easier to start. Many dealers and repair shops offer pre-winter maintenance packages that include checking your cooling system, battery, wipers, tires, etc. Book an appointment ahead of time as many shops can be fully booked up during the tire swap season.

Adjust your driving

Winter road conditions are unpredictable and you need to adjust your driving habits. Don't forget that if you have a 4WD vehicle, it accelerates and handles better in slippery conditions but its braking ability is pretty much the same as of any other vehicle. Check more winter driving tips that you can find at your Automobile Association or Transport Safety Authority websites. Here's a couple of links:
Checklist and Tips for Safe Winter Driving - the NHTSA brochure.
Winter Driving - download a brochure from Transport Canada.

You might also be interested: