Winterizing your car isn't as extreme or difficult as it might sound. With just a handful of simple tips, your car can be prepped for the long winter we have ahead of us.
Winters here in the Northeast where FCP Euro is headquartered can be harsh at times. In just the last two weeks alone, we've experienced temperature swings of nearly forty degrees and multiple feet of snow. Most of a vehicle's systems are robust and unaffected by the winter; however, extreme cold temperatures add extra stress on many systems. Rubber dries up and hardens, oil is less viscous, and your cooling system has to work harder than ever. Add road salt into the mix, and you have the perfect combination to wreak havoc on your car.
The tips below will both make your winter commutes easier and safer with minimal investment necessary.
1. Install Winter Tires
Many people assume all-season tires are good enough for the winter. I mean, the name implies that they should be. This, however, is not the case - especially here in the Northeast, where we get measurable snow regularly. Some cities, towns, and even entire countries (Canada) require cars to be equipped with snow tires between winter months for a good reason.
Winter tires aren't just more effective because of their tread design; the rubber compound is different than all-season tires. While the tread cuts through and evacuates snow and slush more effectively, the rubber is formulated in such a way as to remain more elastic at cold temperatures. By remaining elastic, they offer more grip in all conditions, including in the dry. In our experience, even an inexpensive set of winter tires perform better than the best all-seasons.
If you live further south, where you only get a few days of snow per year, winter tires could be overkill. A good set of all-seasons would be more than adequate for the occasional snowfall.
One more thing to note is that the drastic change in temperature affects your tire pressures significantly. As the ambient temperature falls, so will your tire pressures. We recommend checking tire pressures regularly throughout the winter as the temperature fluctuates. To top that off, as the winter goes on, the road surface usually gets worse. It's easy to have a pothole bend a wheel or damage a sidewall, which can create a slow leak. Regular inspection can keep you safe and prevent you from getting stuck on the road in the cold. Check out this affordable tire pressure gauge that we recommend keeping in your car.
Good snow tires can turn any car into a car good for the snow. This article's header image is my 2005 MINI Cooper S. Everything that makes that car a go-kart that rips back roads all summer should make it terrible in the snow. It's lightweight, it has a poor weight distribution, and it's low to the ground. But with the right snow tires installed, it refuses to get stuck.
If you're looking for snow tire recommendations, the reviews on TireRack.com are a great place to start. Personally, I prefer Bridgestone Blizzaks or General Altimax Arctics for something with a bit lower price point.
2. Install New Windshield Wiper Blades
How often do you think about your wiper blades? Just like your tires, wiper blades harden in colder temperatures. Your windshield is a complex curve that these blades have to conform to. With old blades, the rubber dries out over time. Couple that with the cold, and this makes them almost completely ineffective. I know I can't stand having streaks across my windshield while driving in the rain and snow. Even on a clear day, the streaks and smears left behind create dangerous glares and obscure your vision.
A clean and clear windshield makes for a much safer drive home.
3. Perform An Oil Change
Regardless of the time of year, you should be performing regular oil changes. However, leading into winter is one of the most crucial times. Put simply, cold oil flows less easily than warm oil. Some manufacturers (like BMW with their E36 M3) recommend using a thinner weight oil in cold temperatures. This helps to prevent oil starvation at startup while the oil comes up to temperature. We recommend LIQUI MOLY oil change kits. Use our vehicle selection tool at the top left of fcpeuro.com to determine the correct kit for your car. If you've never performed an oil change before, don't fret; there's a good chance that we have a DIY guide on our YouTube channel that covers the step-by-step process.
4. Inspect Your Cooling System
Having a properly functioning cooling system in the winter is extremely important. Not only does it keep your car cool, but it also keeps you warm. First, there's your coolant. In the winter, you want to be running an antifreeze/water mixture. Although it is implied, antifreeze keeps the liquid in your cooling system from freezing solid. In most applications, a 50/50 mixture is adequate. However, if you live in an area that gets extremely cold, a 60/40 or 70/30 mixture of antifreeze to water is recommended. Here is a list of those temperatures:
- 50% Antifreeze- up to -36C (-34F)
- 60% Antifreeze- up to -52C (-62F)
- 70% Antifreeze- Up to -64C (-84F)
Like your wipers, cooling system hoses are made of rubber. When it gets cold, the rubber shrinks and hardens. If you have any leaks when it's warm out, it's almost a guarantee those leaks will become more significant in the cold.
A couple other important parts worth checking are your heater control valve and your thermostat. If either of these components is stuck in the wrong position, your heater won't function, and the engine will not come up to temperature properly.
Our cooling system kits offer everything you need to completely overhaul your system. This is the ultimate way to guarantee you'll stay warm, and your car will stay cool this winter.
5. Wash & Wax
While this doesn't affect the operation of your vehicle, it can save you a few headaches in the long run. Keeping your car clean throughout the winter keeps your paint from becoming damaged and your car from rusting. A thorough wash and wax of your car before the season will make every subsequent wash that much easier. Dirt and road salt will rinse off your paint with ease. Even clearing the snow off a freshly waxed car is easier - it just slides right off. If you want to take it one step further, replacing wax with ceramic coating ups the level of protection and drastically reduces how much effort it will take to keep your car clean.
We recommend at least an extra coat of wax and a quick wash once a week to keep your car rust-free. Our favorite brand of detailing supplies is Griot's Garage. Not only are their products ultra-effective and a great value, but they've also been around for quite some time. If Griot's isn't your speed, Sonax makes a convenient kit with everything you need to keep your car clean through the winter.
You can go in-depth further than this guide, but this is a good baseline to get you through the arduous winters of the Northeast. In an upcoming guide, we'll help you assemble a tool kit that belongs in your car all winter long.
Let us know in the comments below how you get your cars prepped for winter and any tips or tricks you might have.
Writer/Editor at FCP Euro and owner of a daily R53 MINI Cooper, a track-built R53 MINI, and a 1997 Dakar Yellow E36 M3 Sedan. ••• Instagram: @evan.madore