Car Care Tip: Winterization

29 Dec

With temperatures dropping well below freezing and often times below zero throughout the country, it’s time to give your vehicle a little check-up and make sure it’s ready for the winter.  Engine coolant and lubricants like motor oil and transmission fluid play important roles in protecting your engine whether it’s hot or cold.  Winter can cause a unique problem with motor oils and transmission fluids.  Designed to prevent harmful friction of the moving parts in your engine and transmission, these lubricants thicken as the temperatures drop.  The thicker fluid has a higher resistance to flow and until it heats up and begins to flow easier your engine or transmission isn’t being protected as it should.  You may have noticed that your engine runs rough in extreme cold, this is likely due to the lack of lubrication.


There are several ways to help protect your vehicle during the winter months.  Changing over to a thinner oil is always a good idea.  Thinner oil won’t thicken up as much in the cold and provide better protection.  There are also several types engine block heaters that you can install, many of which require little to no mechanical experience.  Kat’s Handi-Heat Magnum Magnetic Heaters are good examples of block heaters that require no mechanical skill.  Simply plug in the heater and attach it to your engine block or oil pan using its powerful magnets.  The heater will heat coolant in the engine or oil in the pan to prevent rough starting in the cold mornings and more importantly harmful friction.

Other types of engine block heaters replace freeze plugs and heat the coolant or splice into radiator hoses.  Whichever method you choose it’s a good way to protect your engine from the elements.  Equally important is making sure your coolant levels are good and that the condition of the coolant is up to specifications.  A good rule of thumb is to make sure that your cooling system is filled with a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water.  Water by itself will freeze as temperatures drop, this can crack your engine blog.  A 50/50 mixture of coolant and water provides the ideal protection against cold and hot conditions while providing chemicals that prevent rust.  Also make sure that your coolant system doesn’t have any leaks.  If you’re cooling system isn’t holding enough pressure the coolant could boil at a temperature that it would normally be fine with and cause your engine to overheat.  By purchasing an inexpensive coolant tester you can see the condition of your coolant.  The chemicals will breakdown over time and lose some of their protective properties.  A good coolant mixture should read somewhere around -32 degrees Fahrenheit on the coolant tester.


The charging system of your vehicle is also affected by the dropping temperatures.  As temperatures fall below freezing a batteries charging ability can drop as much as 60% and if you’re battery is already worn, you could be up a creek and literally without a paddle.  As the winter months approach it’s always a good idea to have your battery tested and replaced if need be.  It’s better to replace a battery before it’s completely useless than to find yourself stranded with a depleted battery.  When purchasing a battery for cold weather duty, be sure to pay close attention to the CCA #.  This stands for cold cranking amps and it’s the batteries ability to provide a certain number of amps for 30 seconds at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, after the 30 seconds.  So if the battery has a CCA of 600, it will generate 600 amps for 30 seconds at zero degrees Fahrenheit.  The higher the CCA, the better the battery will do in conditions that fall below freezing or zero.

If you’re among the clueless that just expects your car to start each morning and maintenance is a glancing afterthought.  You might want to take your car in for a quick inspection.  Many shops will do it for free. 🙂


One Response to “Car Care Tip: Winterization”


  1. How often change transmission fluid? - January 23, 2012

    […] Car Care Tip: Winterization ( […]

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