winterized car on road trip

How to Winterize Your Car for Road Trips

Did you know 5W-30 motor oil is better than 10W-30 for colder weather? Find out this and more cold hard facts in our article on how to winterize your car. From motor oil, to antifreeze, to tires - and more! - winterizing boost your car's lifespan.

by Joe Graceffa, on January 12th, 2018

Is your family vehicle prepared to drive over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house? It’s time to be safe and smart with your automobile!


Winter months can present many challenges for your vehicle when you take even the shortest road trip. Regardless of where you live, there are checks and tune-ups that are necessary as the weather changes.


Follow these basic steps to winterize your car.


• Know Your Motor Oil


Your automobile’s oil is the lifeblood of your car.  Oil tends to thicken as it gets colder, and if it’s too thick, it won’t do the best job of keeping your engine lubricated. In general, the colder the weather, the thinner you want the oil in your engine to be.


The viscosity of vehicle oil in colder weather is indicated by the first number in the oil specification. The lower the number, the better the viscosity in cold weather. For example, a 5W-30 oil is better in the winter than a 10W-30 oil.


Check your owner’s manual for precise information about which motor oil to use in different climates and temperatures.


• Antifreeze


Antifreeze, also known as coolant, is that bright yellow or green liquid that mixes with the water in vehicles to keep the radiator from freezing or overheating. This magical substance keeps your engine running during those times of the year when the weather turns frigid. Without it, your engine can freeze, leaving you to become stranded in the worst of times. It is especially important to have the correct antifreeze/water mixture to prevent problems with the radiator. Make this a priority when preparing your car for winter.


• Wipers and Wiper Fluid


If you live in one of the colder cities, you'll want to purchase and use freeze-resistant wiper fluid to keep your windshield clean and your vision clear.


While you’re at it, check the wiper blades to assure they do not require replacement. Even the slightest snow storm or rainfall can decrease road visibility if you’re using worn-out windshield wipers. Depending on where you live and how often your wipers are used, they should be replaced every six months to one year.


• Tires


Whether you live in a climate that gets occasional rain, or a state that is blanketed by winter snow, it is imperative that you examine your tires.


Low air pressure and worn tires are especially dangerous on wet or slick roads, as both can reduce traction. Tires must be properly inflated to ensure you’ll have the best possible traction as you drive.


Also, assure your tires have appropriate amounts of tread on them. The simple test is the “Lincoln test.” Insert a penny into your tire’s tread with the top of Lincoln’s head pointing inward toward the tire. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, you need to replace the tire before winter weather begins.


Consider snow tires if you live in an area with a lot of snowfall. It's a valuable investment that can increase your traction and improve your safety on the road.


Another option is all-season tires that can be used to drive year-round. The advantage of these tires is that you don't have to change the tires before winter or keep two sets of rims. Of course, the disadvantage is that you don't get all the great features of a specialized seasonal tire.


• Battery


As a general rule, the more sophisticated your car’s onboard computers are, the bigger the strain on its battery. Many new cars have powerful computers that are operating all the time.


Or perhaps you use your automobile infrequently. In this case, avoid letting its battery become drained by the electronic systems. Simply take it for a short drive every week or two to recharge its battery.


Many people are unaware that battery capacity can be reduced by the cold weather.


Check over the battery cables for cracks and breaks. The terminals should fit snugly with no loose connections. You can check your battery fluid by uncovering the refill hole. If the level is below the bottom of the cap, refill with distilled water.


While you're inspecting your battery, look around for the manufacture date. Knowing how old your battery can help you understand when it will begin to lose charge. If the battery is older than four years, it may be time to replace it.


Or if you’re like a large number of drivers, simply locate a full-service gas station to help you out with this essential automobile parts check.


• In Case of Emergency


Keeping a safety kit in your car all year is always a smart idea. Things like road flares, a jack, a lug wrench, and a first aid kit should be at hand no matter what.


During the winter season, some of the additional basic items to include are:

• Flashlight

• Blanket, warm clothes, gloves, and hat

• Bag of kitty litter or sand to help if your tires get stuck in the mud, snow or slush

• Ice scraper and brush

• Small shovel

• Safe and leak-proof container of coolant

• Water and snacks

• Portable power for your cell phone


When renting a car in winter, always check with the staff to ensure they have take the proper steps to winterize the vehicle. If you're renting a car, you can also save some on the rental by using a Travelocity coupon.


A Final Word


Bottom line, no matter where you live in the United States, any decrease in temperature can take a toll on your vehicle. Your vehicle needs year-round TLC. If you're not the do-it-yourself type, take your vehicle to a trusted mechanic.


Remember safety first: slow down and increase your following distance when driving in the nasty winter weather because all vehicles lose traction in rain, snow, and ice. And be sure to take precautionary steps to winterize your car.