The Ram's Eye - A Driver's Blog: Winter Car Maintenance Tips


Saturday, 15 December 2012

Winter Car Maintenance Tips

It's this time of the year again and I thought I would share a few winter maintenance tips that can be overlooked but they can keep a vehicle running better and more safely.

1- Tires

They're the only components that connect your vehicle to the road. Regardless of the capability of a vehicle's drivetrain and suspension or how strong the brakes are, they will handle only as well as the tires allow them to. Always get snow tires and not summer or all season tires if snow stays on the ground. If you only get rain but no snow where you live, all season tires are a great choice.

Check tread regularly to make sure the grooves are deep enough. Tires have wear bars which indicate  when the amount of tread left is unsafe for driving. Snow tires have two wear bars; one for dry/wet driving and one for snow driving. If the tread is at the taller wear bar (the snow wear bar), the tires are not safe for snow driving but may still be used in the rain or dry. If the tread reaches the lower wear bar, the tires should be replaced.

Rotate tires if needed and keep tires with more tread should be on the back. It is more difficult to correct for a skidding rear end than a skidding front end. Also make sure tires are inflated to the manufacturer's specifications. Not only does properly inflating tires improve handling, but it also increases the life of the tires and reduces gas consumption so make sure you check tire pressure regularly.

Bigger is not better when it comes to snow. Don't get tires that are too thin for your vehicle but don't go wider than stock size when buying winter tires. A thinner tire will be able to cut through snow easier than a wider tire, which tends to drive over the snow rather than through it.

2- Brakes

Make sure your brake pads and rotors have sufficient life left. Braking performance degrades dramatically from dry to wet to snow conditions. There's no need to reduce it even further.

If you have ABS, make sure to service the system when it needs to be serviced and keep it working properly. If you don't have ABS, learn how to modulate braking pressure because locking up is almost guaranteed under medium to hard braking with snow on the ground.

3- Engine/Drivetrain

Make sure all engine fluids are topped off and that engine and transmission oils are changed at the intervals recommended in the owner's manual and make sure the oils have the recommended specifications. Make sure to also check the oil filter and replace when necessary. If you get your oil changed at a shop, they probably change the filter at every oil change but it's still a good idea to double check with them.

If temperatures are below freezing, give the engine some time to warm up. Do not wait for too long though - less than a minute should be enough except for extreme temperatures. Modern engines do not need the same amount of warm-up time as older engines did, so there is no need to wait and idle in your driveway for several minutes. All that would do is waste gas and delay warm up because engines warm up much quicker while under load compared to idle.

One thing to note though is that engines are designed to work best at their normal operating temperatures. Engine oils do not lubricate as efficiently while they are cold and clearances between moving components and seals are very slightly altered. Take it easy with your right foot until the engine reaches normal operating temperatures.

4- Wipers 

Make sure your wipers' motors and wiper blades are in good condition and work well. If the rubber on the wiper blades is cracked, the wipers need to be replaced. If the wipers squeak or leave strokes on the windshield, check to see if there is ice on the rubber or the frame that's preventing the wiper to bend and/or stick properly to the glass. If there is, make sure to clean it. If there is no ice and the wipers seem clean but the wipers streak or leave strokes, the wipers probably need to be replaced. It is usually recommended that wiper blades are changed every 6 months.

5- Batteries 

Do not ignore an issue with the alternator, alternator belt or a battery light. Car batteries take a beating during cold weather. Turning an engine while cold is harder and demands more energy from the battery. This is because of the issue I mentioned earlier, which is that engine oil does not flow as well while it is cold so it makes the engine harder to turn. Batteries also lose performance the colder the temperature gets. Make sure you know how to boost a battery in case your battery dies and you need to jump start your vehicle but never jump start a frozen battery.

6- Headlights

Visibility.. it is very often reduced during winter months because of rain or snow. You need to see well and be well seen. The sooner you see an object that is in the way, the sooner you can take evasive action - decide to stop or slow down and steer away - and the more likely it is that you will avoid a collision. Add that to the fact that stopping distance is increased and grip is reduced, and early evasive action becomes very crucial. Make sure you keep your headlights and taillights clean and that all your bulbs are working well.

7- Body Maintenance

You may want to invest in garages, carports, or covers, especially if you have more than one vehicle and leave one parked for long periods of time. Sticky fallen leaves, water, dust, sunlight and other elements can cause discolouration and paint damage or body damage in case of a storm. If salt is used on the roads during the winter months to help with traction and/or snow melting, make sure you wash your car regularly, including the underside, to wash the salt off. If you plan on parking a vehicle for an extended period of time, wash it or get it washed all around and under before covering it or putting it in storage.

8- Handy items

Finally, here are a few items that you should keep in your vehicle and could come in handy:

 - First-aid kit
 - Battery booster cables
 - Tire pressure gauge
 - Compact air compressor
 - Tow rope/cables
 - Lock de-icer
 - Windshield/Wiper washer fluid

If you're travelling, blankets and a few energy bars are good to have with you in case you're stuck and have to wait for a while for assistance.

Drive safe and remember that most of the above apply year round but they become more critical during the colder months! Please use these tips with your best judgement and at your responsibility.


  1. Winter maintenance is among the top things we should keep track on. Being involved in a winter accident and being stuck under the snow are no-no’s. And, of course, winter repairs are pretty costly. So to save our body and pockets from harm, let’s do these maintenance checks and visit our mechanic regularly for car tune-ups.

    Michelina Douglass

    1. Very well said, I couldn't agree more.

  2. These are great tips, and as Michelina stated, it's important to follow them in order to ensure safety for ourselves and other drivers. I wanted to add that anyone worried about maintaining the look of their automobiles may want to invest in garages, carports, or covers for their cars. It is also important to get your car washed regularly, as salt from the roads can wear down paint and metal. Thanks for sharing such great advice!

    1. That's a great point, Joan! If you don't mind, I would like to add that to the post to make sure others can see it.

    2. Please, do. I hope it helps. Thank you. :)

  3. We had a little trouble with our wipers when we paid a visit to my parents in Boston last winter. I checked the tires, engines, oils, lights, but the wipers were the one thing I didn't bother to check before we went on a road trip on a snowy weather. I learned my lesson well and it will be a part of the list next time. :)

    Cody Strub

    1. It's great that everyone arrived safely! Wipers can definitely be often overlooked because they don't contribute to the car running safely and reliably but sometimes seeing an obstacle a few seconds earlier due to a clean windshield can be the difference between avoidance and a crash.

  4. I was actually just talking about this very topic with a friend of mine yesterday. He said it would be almost impossible to find good information about local auto repair, but I guess he was wrong! haha

  5. Take a look at your car’s oil and oil filters. Ensure that you adhere to you car manufacturer’s oil recommendations, a clean and efficient engine oil is key to beating the frosts of winter driving.

    1. Absolutely, thanks for the addition!

  6. great helpful tips. For winter its very difficult to kip up the car in a good working condition and normally few things are missed. Thanks for the list once again.

    1. Winter can definitely take a beating on a vehicle and it becomes difficult to keep up with maintenance. Thank you for the comment, I hope it helps!

  7. Winter really poses several problems to cars and so, maintenance is really very important. Snow, moisture, mineral salts are very damaging to car components because these bring about rust. So, thank you for these winter maintenance tips. These are of great use.

  8. Check your oil level weekly when the engine is cold, by removing the dip stick. Wipe clean and replace. Remove again and ensure that the oil level mark is between the minimum and maximum levels as indicated on the dip stick.

  9. As winter is right around the corner, I know that winter care tips are something I need to once again consider. The tips you provided are excellent. I will be going to my Chrysler Jeep service dealership office soon and will have a maintenance guy check everything out. I'm especially concerned with the brakes and wipes as I get a lot of snow in my area. I want to make sure to fix any problems before the bad weather hits.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Hey Mike,

    In regards to wiper blades, if the rubber strip is cracked or worn do you recommend getting a wiper blade insert like this
    or just replacing the entire thing completely?

    1. I personally have never come across a rubber blade insert so I have always been replacing the entire wiper but if I were to find one, I would probably give it a try.

  12. Excellent Post ! I am really appreciate of your post. Here you are explained very well about car maintenance tips a windshield. We also provide full range of Car Repairs in Watford.

  13. Winter comes with many troubles for your car. These are such phenomenal tips to know about the transition into winter driving! I'm definitely going to need to get some tires for the winter at the auto shop.