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How to Winterize a Car

Prepare your car now for cold weather and snow and avoid winter emergencies with these car care and Winter driving tips. This list will help you avoid no-starts, frozen doors and windows, engine freeze-up and accidents. You can check, lube and replace most of these items yourself in less than an hour. Winterizing your car is easy with these maintenance tips.

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Test Your Car BatteryFamily Handyman

Test Your Car Battery

Car batteries have a limited life. Don't wait for yours to fail and leave you stranded. You can check the condition of the battery, starting and entire charging system with a computerized battery tester. One choice is the SOLAR BA9. Besides testing voltage, a computerized battery tester checks for internal resistance and conductance, giving you a good idea of the battery's overall condition. Plus, the tester also checks the condition of your starter and alternator. Make sure you buy a battery tester that works on conventional lead acid batteries, as well as gel and absorbed glass mat (AGM) styles. That way you can use the same tester on your motorcycle and lawn and garden equipment. Don't want to invest in a tester? Most auto parts stores will test yours for free. And just in case, review how to jumpstart your car battery. Did you know you don't need to go to the shop for these 100 car repairs?

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Clean Your Battery TerminalsFamily Handyman

Clean Your Battery Terminals

Corrosion buildup on battery posts and terminals can cause hard starting problems in cold weather and prevent your charging system from fully recharging your battery. Disconnect the negative cable first, then the positive cable. Clean the battery terminal posts using a battery cleaning tool or wire brush. Then clean the cable terminals. Clean off all grease and acid residue from the top of the battery with a paper towel. Then re-install the positive cable terminal, followed by the negative cable.
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Protect Your Battery TerminalsFamily Handyman

Protect Your Battery Terminals

Reduce future battery terminal corrosion with a battery terminal protectant spray. Once the battery terminals are cleaned and re-installed, spray each terminal with a liberal coating of battery terminal protectant spray (around $8 on Amazon).
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Lubricate Window TracksFAMILY HANDYMAN

Lubricate Window Tracks

Freezing water can seep into the window tracks and create drag when you try to open the window. That drag can damage the window regulator cables, costing you almost $300. You can avoid the problem entirely by lubricating the window tracks with spray silicone or dry teflon spray lubricant. Lower the window and shoot the spray right into the front and back window track. Apply enough lube so it drips all the way down the track. Then operate the window through several open and close cycles to spread the lube along the entire track. Use glass cleaner and a paper towel to remove any spray that lands on the glass. Want more in-depth advice? Plus: Learn how to fix a leaking sunroof here.
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Lube Weather StrippingFamily Handyman

Lube Weather Stripping

If water seeps between your door and weather stripping and freezes, you could be frozen out of your car or truck. To prevent the water from freezing you out, coat both the weather stripping and the mating door surfaces with spray silicone. To avoid spraying silcone into your car's interior, spray it directly onto a clean rag. Then wipe the silicone lube onto your door and trunk weatherstripping. Repeat the procedure on door mating surfaces and the truck lid.

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Lube Your Door LocksFamily Handyman

Lube Your Door Locks

You probably don't use your door and trunk locks very much if you have remote keyless entry, but that's no reason to ignore them. In fact, if you don't keep the lock cylinders lubricated they'll corrode, making it impossible for you to use your key. If your key fob battery ever dies, you'll be locked out and have to call a locksmith. Lubricating door and truck lock cylinders is easy. Puffing graphite lock lubricant into the keyway works well, as long as you don't overdo it. Dry Teflon spray lube is another option. Shake the spray can to distribute the Tefllon and shoot the liquid into the lock cylinder. The solvent will dissolve any sticky parts. Once the solvent evaporates, the internal lock parts will be coated in Teflon particles, allowing the lock to operate smoothly. Learn how to lubricate all the parts of your car here.

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Lube Latches and HingesFamily Handyman

Lube Latches and Hinges

The last thing you want to deal with when you've got a dead battery is a sticking hood latch. Since the latch mechanism sits right behind your grille, they corrode and seize from all the salt spray that gets kicked up by the cars in front of you. You can prevent that corrosion by lubricating the latch mechanism before the snow flies. Just pop the hood and soak the latch with spray lithium grease. Open and close the hood a few times to work the lube into the latch and spring mechanism. Then close the hood and forget about it for the rest of the winter. It'll pop open without any problems when you need to get under the hood.

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Check Tire Tread DepthFamily Handyman

Check Tire Tread Depth

Worn tires are your worst enemy in winter. They increase your stopping distance and decrease stability on wet roads. Even though most states have a 2/32-in. minimum tread depth standard, independent tests have shown that tire traction decreases dramatically once your tires wear beyond 4/32-in. You can try to slide by through winter on low tread, but that's exactly what you'll be doing—sliding. A single skid into the curb at 5-MPH can easily cause $1,500 worth of damage to suspension and steering components. Sure, your insurance will cover it, but you'll have to pay the deductible and it'll count as an at-fault accident, raising your premiums for years. For about the cost of a single deductible, you can buy new tires or install winter tires and avoid those slip and slide accidents. To check the depth of your tread, use an inexpensive tire tread depth gauge (from any auto parts store). Check the tread depth in the center and outer edges of each tire. If your readings are less than 4/32-in., head right to a tire store. We'll show you the proper way to change a tire in this video.
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Consider Winter TiresFamily Handyman

Consider Winter Tires

Winter tires could save your life. Winter tires provide much more traction on snow, getting you started 33% faster from a stop sign and reducing your stopping distance by almost 30-ft. compared to all-season tires. Winter tires even perform better on ice, stopping you 48% faster and reducing side skid in turns. A set of four winter tires costs $600 or more, depending on your wheel size. If you have the tires mounted on your existing wheels, you'll have to pay a shop to swap them each spring and fall. Sure, winter tires cost a lot. But consider that you're getting a lot for your money. When you factor in the better stopping distance and handling in turns, it's easy to see how winter tires could prevent an 'at-fault' accident. If your collision deductible is in the $500 to $1,000 range, winter tires could actually pay for themselves in a single season if they keep you out of an accident.
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Check Your CoolantFamily Handyman

Check Your Coolant

Engine coolant does more than protect your engine from freezing and cracking. Coolant also contains anti-corrosive additives and water pump lubricants to keep your entire cooling system in tip-top shape. Test the level of your coolant's freeze protection using an inexpensive tester. Suck in some coolant from the coolant reservoir and read the results on the scale printed on the tester. But don't stop there. Just because coolant tests ok on the freeze protection doesn't mean the additives are in good shape. To check that, you'll need a digital multimeter. Begin with a cold engine. Remove the radiator cap and start the engine. Set your digital multimeter to DC volts at 20 volts or less. When the engine reaches operating temperature, insert the positive probe directly into the coolant. Rev the engine to 2,000 rpm and place the negative probe on the negative battery terminal. If the digital meter reads .4 volts or less, your coolant is in good condition. If it's greater than .4 volts, the additives are exhausted, and you may be in the market for a new radiator, a water pump or a heater core in the future. All of those are far more expensive than a simple coolant change. Learn more about how to test coolant here.

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Switch to Winter Wiper BladesFamily Handyman

Switch to Winter Wiper Blades

Ordinary wiper blades get packed with snow, causing the blade to streak or miss large swaths of your windshield. Winter wiper blades eliminate that problem. The entire blade is wrapped in a rubber boot that prevents ice and snow from sticking or packing. They make for much better visibility and safer winter driving. Find winter wiper blades at any auto parts store for around $12-ea. Remove your old wiper blades and store for use again next spring. Then snap on the winter wiper blades and see clearly all winter.

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Check and Replace Your Hood LiftsFamily Handyman

Check and Replace Your Hood Lifts

If the gas lift cylinders that keep your hood open are weak when it's warm outside, they'll quit working completely when temperatures dip below freezing. Hood and rear hatch lifts are available at any auto parts store for about $25-ea. Since both the left and the right lifts receive the same amount of wear, you should always replace them in pairs. Right- and left-side lifts often differ in subtle ways, so ask the store clerk to label them for you. Get a friend to hold the hood open while you replace the lift. Propping the hood with a piece of wood is a recipe for a head injury. The lifts attach to the hood and fender with bolts or a ball and socket arrangement. The bolt styles are easy to identify. Just remove the bolts and replace the lift. The ball and socket styles have a 'C'-shaped clip that prevents the socket from popping off the ball. To remove the ends from the ball studs, just insert a small flat blade screwdriver into the center of the clip to pry it out. That'll allow you to disengage the ball and socket. Use the screwdriver to pry out the C-clip on the replacement lift and snap the end onto the ball. Learn more about replacing hood lifts here.

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Replace the Cabin Air FilterFamily Handyman

Replace the Cabin Air Filter

Cabin air filters are one of the most neglected maintenance items on late model cars and trucks. You may think its unimportant, but a clogged cabin air filter can dramatically reduce airflow through your car's heater, stressing the blower motor and over heating the blower motor resistor. Blower motor replacement on some cars can cost as much as $400, so it really pays to replace you cabin air filter before heating and cooling season. Buy a replacement filter at any auto parts store for less than $20 and refer to the installation instructions shown in your owner's manual. See what's involved in a typical installation here.

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Build a Winter Emergency KitFamily Handyman

Build a Winter Emergency Kit

Nobody plans to get stranded. But if you do, you'll want these critical items to keep you warm and allow you to perform some basic repairs. Since most drivers never check the air pressure in their spare tire, your emergency kit should include an inexpensive tire inflator that plugs into your power port. Use it to bring the spare back up to the recommended pressure. Plus, keep a can of Fix a Flat in your car in case you're unable to safely remove the flat tire and install the spare. Next, add a warm winter cap with ear flaps and work gloves?nothing can chill you faster than handling an ice cold steel jack and lug nuts with your bare hands. Add a fold-up shovel, an LED flashlight fitted with lithium batteries (alkaline batteries freeze in winter), jumper cables, an extra car cell phone charger, a notepad and pencil, and extra bottle of motor oil.

Up next, check out these winterization tips for your car.