How to Winterize a Car Like a Pro (With Advice from a Pro)

how to winterize a car

If you step outside almost anywhere in America right now, you’ll realize that the cold weather has come. (Except for Florida. It’s probably not that cold in Florida, but there are alligators and the city of Miami, so the place is to be avoided nonetheless.) If that step outside takes you toward a car you intend to drive around in cold, potentially snowy weather, then I sure hope you have taken the time to winterize your car. Failing to do so may preclude your car’s ability to take you anywhere, after all. Or to do so safely, more to the point.

Now look, I know a thing or two about preparing an automobile for the winter. But I don’t know anywhere near as much about vehicle winterizing as a professional mechanic or founder of Green Drop Garage, an eco-friendly mechanic shop (well, small and growing chain of shops, actually) in Portland, Oregon. Fortunately, I did have a long talk with Farhad Ghafarzade, who just happens to fit both of those profiles.

First, let’s talk about Ghafarzade so you can get a sense of his bonafides. As he tells it, his “background is in molecular biology.” Ghafarzade went to school at the University of California Santa Cruz, where he was proud to be “the banana slug on campus. Yeah,” he told me with what sounded like a grin, “I was the mascot. The banana slug.” His studies at Santa Cruz were in preparation for entering dental school, something Farhad decided he didn’t want to do about two weeks before said schooling would have commenced.

Thus he entered a brief period of drifting, during which time Mr. Ghafarzade posted some ads on Craigslist offering to convert diesel fuel cars to run on vegetable oil, something he had done while in college. He worked on a handful of cars every few months, and soon go the idea that there might be a business in the project — a project that would eventually become the multi-location Green Drop Garage.

These days, Green Drop Garages service a lot more conventional cars than they do vegetable oil conversions, but their work is always informed by an eco-friendly approach. They use low-VOC chemicals and re-refined motor oil that consumes 85 percent less energy. Hell, they even catch rainwater for use in the toilets at the shops! And maybe the most progressive thing they do is to not rip people off. Customers can pay for services as-needed, but can also subscribe to a $15-per-month Car Care Membership that basically offers unlimited routine maintenance services and problem diagnosis.

But anyway, you didn’t come here for a New Yorker-length profile of a person or a garage, you came here for vehicle winterization tips.

how to winterize a car

Winterizing Basics (aka the Bare Minimum)

  • Replace the coolant in your vehicle’s radiator system, making sure the blend is as close to 50 percent water, 50 percent antifreeze as possible. This will help maintain proper engine temperature even as the exterior temperature drops.
  • Ensure your wiper blades are in good shape. Replace them if need be, and remember to stand them up prior to snow fall or freezing rain.
  • Fill up your windshield wiper fluid reservoir with a cold-weather approved formula, and make sure all sprayer heads are clean and clear.
  • Pack a scraper and perhaps even a small snow shovel into your vehicle. This will help clear the windshield and/or clear a path for your tires.
  • Check your battery. Unless you actually know what you’re doing, get a professional to ensure it is in good working order. It should be replaced if it’s more than four years old or if it’s not holding a charge of greater than 80 percent.
  • Check tire pressure, as it will likely drop as cold weather constricts the rubber. You should fill your tires to their optimal pressure, then test them several days later. Also make sure your spare is filled up.
  • Get an oil change at the start of the cold season, and inquire about oils formulated ideally for colder weather.

Winterizing Like a Boss (aka This is How You Do It)

  • Get a set of snow chains (make sure they will fit your tires before buying them) and test putting them on and taking them off at least twice. Yes, it’s an annoying process, but well worth the effort the first time you have to use them in frigid, snowy conditions and find yourself a competent master of their use.
  • Always keep the gas tank full. Not only is running out of gas on a lonely winter road a bad thing, but the less gas in your tank, the more chance for water condensation to form. That water can eventually find its way into your car’s fuel lines, where it may freeze up, causing all sorts of problems, such as your turning your car into the kind of car that doesn’t turn on.
  • Pack an emergency kit including (at minimum): jumper cables, flares and/or reflectors, a blanket, some water, gloves, and spare socks. (If snow or rain gets into your shoes, these will be worth their weight in saffron. FYI, saffron is crazy expensive.)
  • Consider replacing older, worn tires, or even decent tires without much traction, with dedicated winter tires. These tires have tread patterns ideal for slick, icy, and snowy conditions.
  • Pack a bag of rock salt or a box of kitty litter in the trunk; both are excellent for getting traction on packed snow or ice when your tires alone are spinning uselessly, like yet another trapped rat running mindlessly in its little wheel.

Now get out there and enjoy the winter weather, you well-prepared little scamp! Unless you’re in Florida, that is. In that case, good luck with those terrifying lizard creatures you somehow take in stride.