How to keep your car running during the winter

Winter is tough on your car. Road salt, ice, snow and potholes take their toll. Cold temperatures force your engine to work harder. But by doing a few things before -- or even after -- cold weather sets in, you can ensure smooth sailing throughout the winter months.

First, give your car a maintenance checkup. Checking fluids is important. Oil, antifreeze and wiper fluid all work together to make your drive safe and comfortable. The tires, hoses, belts and battery all need to be in tip-top shape to perform optimally in cold weather conditions. Use this checklist to be sure you are on top of your car's needs:

  • Check to determine whether your car needs lower viscosity oil during the winter. According to, oil grows thicker in the cold, meaning that your engine might not be properly lubricated. Therefore, some cars (especially older vehicles) require thinner oil in the winter. Check your owner's manual to see the manufacturer's recommendation for your car.
  • Check hoses and belts for damage and replace as needed. Cold weather can cause belts and hoses to go downhill faster, according to Edmunds, so have them checked before winter starts.
  • Replace wiper blades as needed. The cold can leave them cracked and stiff, and salt and ice buildup on your windshield make them work harder, according to Edmunds. Fill the windshield washer fluid tank with solution that includes an antifreeze agent.
  • If you live somewhere that gets a lot of snow, consider winter or snow tires. These tires provide more traction on slippery roads.
  • Check tire pressure. Cold weather lowers tire pressure, according to Edmunds, which could leave your tires more vulnerable to potholes. Moreover, properly inflated tires have optimal traction.
  • Check the antifreeze in your car. Antifreeze keeps the water in your car's radiator from freezing. According to Edmunds, the ideal ratio of water to antifreeze is 50-50. Use an antifreeze tester to determine whether you need to adjust the mixture.

If you live someplace where snowfall is likely and low temperatures are the norm during the winter, you should have a winter emergency kitin your vehicle. You'll need supplies if you get stranded in dangerously cold conditions. According to, your winter emergency kit should include:

  • Flashlight and flares.
  • Snow chains.
  • Tools.
  • Jumper cables.
  • Warm blanket.
  • Hats, gloves and a scarf.
  • Sand or kitty litter for added traction.
  • Small shovel.
  • Ice scraper.
  • Flagging (attaching a bright colored piece of fabric to your car will attract attention).
  • High-calorie foods.
  • Water or a sugary drink that will not freeze easily.
  • Small first aid kit.

By taking a few hours to prepare your wheels for winter, you can hit the road with confidence, knowing that your car is ready for the cold.

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