Ask Angie's List: How should I maintain my car in winter?

Paul F. P. Pogue, Angie's List on

Published in Lifestyles

Even if you don’t plan on much holiday travel this year, your car is an essential tool for picking up necessities and general errand-running. If you work from home, there’s a good chance your car has been sitting idle a lot more this year than it typically does. But even if you’re running less mileage through your car this year, it’s vital to stay on top of regular maintenance. You definitely don’t want to be sitting in a stalled auto in a bitterly cold winter night!

If your car is sitting idle for long periods, it’s even more important to check the basics. Verify that your tires are inflated to the proper pressure. Ensure you have enough engine coolant, and stay up to date on your oil changes. Many oil change services also perform a basic inspection, so pay attention to the notes they give you, such as tire tread depth or how much time your brakes have left before the pads need to be replaced.

If you haven’t had your car inspected for a while, consider hiring a mechanic for a full winterization. They should test belts, hoses, brakes and battery, as well as all elements that will receive more winter wear and tear, such as spark plugs and delivery lines.

Pay particular attention to your fluids. Keep your gas tank at least half-full if possible, to prevent condensation from developing in the system. Make sure you have sufficient antifreeze, and keep the windshield wiper fluid topped off. This is also a good time to replace wiper blades, too.

Keep a close eye on your tires with every temperature change. Every 10-degree drop in temperature causes your tires to lose another pound per square inch of pressure, so tires that hold up well on a moderately cold day might lose traction on extremely cold days.

Equip your car with an emergency kit that includes first aid supplies, battery jumper cables, shovel, blanket, flashlight, flares, mobile phone battery charger, repair tools, bottled water and high-energy snacks.


Wash your car frequently. The salt road crews spread on ice is very effective at melting it, but it also corrodes metal components.

Keep your windshield wipers clean and free of ice. Your best choice is to pull the wipers up and away from the windshield when not in use. If you forget and leave them in place, first pull them free of the windshield and remove any ice. If you don’t, and they're stuck when you turn on the wiper control, the rubber on one or both blades could tear.

Whenever you notice problems, whether it’s squealing brakes or an engine that hiccups on startup more and more often, don’t put off repairs. Every auto problem gets more expensive the longer you let it slide, and winter will accelerate the potential damage in a serious hurry.

Above all, drive safely! Even a car in perfect condition can get out of control easily on icy or snow-covered roads. Take particular care on corners and turns, and give other vehicles plenty of room to maneuver. Keep your lights on even during the day, which will make you more visible to other drivers.

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