Winter Car Prep 101: Replacing and Refilling Car Fluids

Pro Comp Tire A/T Sport

Make no mistake—Winter Is Coming. And with it comes bad weather, freezing temperatures, and automotive woe. When it arrives, will you be sipping seasonal-flavored lattes, humming Bing Crosby tunes, and breathing in every bit of crisp, fortifying, holiday-scented air with the blissful confidence of one who entered the winter season prepared? Or will you be a foul-mouthed, Bah-Humbugger scraping frozen washer fluid off that windshield, ticked that you ignored the good advice of your neighborhood auto shop? Well, now that things are in proper perspective for you, let’s talk winter car prep. Specifically, let’s talk about those car fluids you’ve been willfully ignoring and how they’re going to react to the cold temperatures Old Man Winter has planned for you.

Car Fluids + Cold Weather = Bad Romance

Modern vehicles have come a long way when it comes to battling the winter season. Advanced traction control systems, standard all-wheel drive, and even those heated seats all sure do come in handy when the snow starts falling. But addressing your car’s fluids before it looks like a frozen tundra outside is basic winter car prep every owner should be doing.

Like that jar of honey hiding in the back cabinet, as the temperature drops, the fluids in your car begin to thicken and even gel. If oil, antifreeze, washer fluid, or diesel fuel aren’t kept at the proper viscosity, they can do horrible things to the seals and systems inside your car. With average car ownership costing over $8,000 a year, according to AAA, do you really want to hurt your wallet any further?

That’s what we thought. So, let’s break down the basics.

Oil

With so many varieties on the shelf, how do you know what oil is right for your vehicle? First, quit furiously Googling and get the owner’s manual out of your glove box. Then walk over to the shop owner or employee and ask for some guidance. That wasn’t so bad, right?

An industry professional can help you determine the correct viscosity of oil to purchase. They can also make some recommendations for which products will serve you best in the upcoming cold months. Based on your area’s climate, you may need to switch to a thinner oil or a synthetic grade.

Whether or not your hometown sees a cold season, the basics of winter car prep will help you stay ahead. At the very least, you should keep up with those routine oil and filter changes to ensure your engine is running properly.

Antifreeze

While you’ve got the ear of the guy at the auto parts store, ask for some advice on winter car prep for your cooling system. If you’re unfamiliar with the properties of antifreeze, the recommended ratio for winter, or you honestly don’t know anything other than “My Mom said not to drink it,” it’s safe to assume you need a little guidance.

Again, whip out that owner’s manual and find out what the proper mixture is for your vehicle. Likewise, purchase a tester or have someone check that the coolant levels are correctly filled. Failing to swap out antifreeze—or forgetting you were running water in the summer—can cause the fluid to freeze in your radiator. And that’s a headache you don’t want for the holidays.

Fuel & Fuel Additives

As that cold weather settles in, another area to be mindful of is the gas tank. Yes, aside from rising prices and rumored higher octane ratings, we also need to be concerned about keeping those fuel levels up and moisture-free.

If you live in a region where pump fuel is treated with ethanol, an additive may not be a necessary part of your winter car prep. But keeping the tank at least halfway full is a habit you should get into for the cold months. First, it will keep the car running (and therefore warm) if you get stranded somewhere. Second, more gas in the tank means less chance of moisture forming and fuel lines freezing. And if you’re one of the chosen people who resides in a state like North Dakota or Maine, throw a bottle of Heet into that car emergency kit. You’ll thank us later.

If you’re rocking a diesel these days: kudos for being on-trend. But did you know that a fuel additive should be on your winter car prep list? The paraffin wax in diesel fuel can turn to gel in low temperatures, ruining filters and clogging the fuel system. Pick up a fresh filter and a diesel fuel treatment at the parts store to prepare for freezing temps. Cold mornings are rough enough, no one wants to add in a truck that won’t start.

Washer Fluid

One of the most frequently forgotten aspects of winter car prep is swapping out summer washer fluid for a winter-grade blend. Did you know summertime fluid can freeze in cold temperatures, damaging the wiper blades and turning the windshield into a sheet of ice? Don’t be “that guy” attempting to drive down the road with only a tiny circle of visible windshield. It won’t be an easy sell to the claims adjuster when you inevitably cause an accident.

Grab a wintertime mixture to replace or at least top off what’s in your tank. And while you’re at the auto store, hit the end cap and pick up a new scraper, brush, and wiper blades if you need them. Standing in a freezing cold parking lot trying to scrape off windshield ice with an old plastic rewards card really puts a damper on the whole holiday season.

Don’t forget, the people at the auto shop are there to HELP you. They’re happy to answer questions, recommend new products, and make your winter a little more bearable!

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