How to maintain your car in winter cold weather

man pouring antifreeze into his car's windscreen wiper fluid

Danny Baggs

Posted June 27, 2022


Keep your car in tip-top shape this winter with this guide to winter cold weather car maintenance.

Vehicle maintenance is especially important in winter as inclement weather like cold temperatures, wind, ice, sleet, and snow become more common. If you’re planning to drive to mountainous or ski field destinations, this guide to winter cold weather car maintenance will be especially useful.


Winter cold weather car maintenance tips

Keep your car battery warm and charged

Nobody wants to be stuck in winter cold weather with a dead car battery. Make sure you know when your battery is running low, how to keep your battery charged, how to jump-start a car, and how to get a replacement battery. Car batteries are more likely to go flat in winter because cold weather saps battery power. To fight the cold, grab a battery blanket and park your car in a garage rather than on the street whenever possible.

Check your car lights

Cars have headlights, taillights, high beams and fog lights for good reason: you need to see the road, and other cars need to see you. Your car lights are more important than ever during the darker winter months, when visibility in reduced due to shorter daylight hours and inclement weather. Check that each of your lights is functional, including high and low beamsand replace blown or dim bulbs as soon as possible. If your lights are dirty, wipe them down with a chamois or microfibre cloth.

 

woman placing jumper cables on her car battery

Jumper cables can jump-start a flat car battery in winter cold weather. Image: Getty


 

Consider switching to synthetic oil

Conventional car oil can be slow to travel through the engine in cold weather, making your car harder to start. Older cars may benefit from using synthetic oil instead, which isn't as affected by cold temperatures: this type of oil doesn’t take time to warm up and is easier on engines. Check your car’s make and model before switching to synthetic oil to make sure that you have a compatible vehicle. You can also investigate synthetic blends – part synthetic oil, part conventional oil – for similar benefits.

Whichever option you go for, perform a quick and easy dipstick test by cleaning off your car’s dipstick and pushing it all the way into the oil tube. When you pull the dipstick out, check that the oil is brown or black – if it’s light and milky or has metal particles, take your car to an accredited auto care centre. If the colour is fine, make sure that the oil has reached the indication level on your dipstick. If it’s too low, top up your car with the oil recommended in your manufacturer’s manual, making sure not to overfill.

Take care of your windscreen

Visibility becomes crucial in cold weather, when mist, fog, rain and snow make looking keeping your windscreen clear a challenge. Never leave cracks in your windshield untended: get them filled right away by a qualified repairer. Water that falls into those cracks may freeze in cold weather, which will force the crack to expand and make driving hazardous.

Next, check your windscreen wipers aren’t too worn down and are working properly. You can easily buy replacements from auto shops or online stores: installing them only takes a minute or two, with no special tools required. If you’re driving in icy, snowy conditions, consider investing in a pair of winter wiper blades. Keep your wiper fluid topped up to clear away salt, sand, dirt and other debris that are commonly found on winter roads.

Finally, check that your car’s defroster and climate control system are working so they can help remove condensation and steam from your windscreen.

 

person checking their car's windscreen wipers in the snow

Check over your windscreen wipers in winter cold weather and replace them when worn. Image: Getty


 

Get your eyesight checked

Speaking of visibility, make sure to go and get your eyes checked by an optometrist at least once every two years. Vision deterioration can make it harder for you to spot hazards, read road signs or see road conditions in detail – especially at night during winter.

Check on your coolant

Your engine’s cooling system works to maintain the engine’s optimal operating temperature. The liquid inside is made from equal parts water and antifreeze, the latter of which prevents the water from freezing and expanding in cold temperatures. The resulting mix is called coolant. Check that your coolant hasn’t gone bad by using a flashlight or phone torch to check the liquid inside your coolant reservoir. If it is brown, sludgy or has visible floating particles in it, it may need to be flushed and replaced.

Use fuel injector cleaner

Fuel injectors deliver your car’s fuel to the combustion chamber by spraying fuel into the engine using an atomised nozzle: a cleaner and more efficient method than the old carburettor system. They make sure that the right amount of fuel is delivered at the right time.

Fuel injectors must be kept clean and maintained to prevent stalls and misfires. The best and easiest way to do this is to use fuel injector cleaner, which removes water and grime build-up to ensure that only clean fuel reaches your engine. In cold weather, this is particularly important to keep the water from freezing and blocking off fuel supplies. Fuel injector cleaner is relatively inexpensive and available at most auto shops.

 

woman looking out her car windscreen in snowy weather while driving

Get your vision checked every one to two years to make sure you can drive safely in cold weather conditions. Image: Getty


 

Fix any scratches to prevent rust

Ice and road salt can scratch your car’s paintwork. Depending on how deep the scratch is, rust may begin to form on your car’s body, which can weaken your vehicle in the event of a crash. Make sure you remove scratches from cars before they rust, and to get any rusty scratches fixed by a repair shop as soon as possible.

Inspect your tyres (and learn how to fit snow chains)

Better tyre traction equals a safer drive because your car can grip roads better in dangerous conditions. Tyres need extra traction in cold weather, when roads are more likely to be wet and slippery. Look over your tyres, making sure that they have sufficiently deep treads and replacing worn-out tyres immediately.

Next time you stop off at a petrol station, park your car by the air pump and inflate your tyres back up to manufacturer recommendations. Low temperatures create lower air pressure in your tyres, which wears tyres down faster while weakening their traction and handling. Take care not to over-inflate your tyres either as this can also cause less of the tyre to be in contact with the road. 

If you’ll be driving in snow, consider buying snow chains. They are less expensive than snow tyres, and provide excellent grip and traction on packed snow, deep snow and ice. You can even fit and remove snow chains yourself. While you are limited to low speeds and snowy, icy roads when using snow chains, they are essential for some areas. If you live in a consistently snowy area, you could consider investing in winter tyres, which use special tread designs and compounds for a normal driving experience in snow.

 

car tyres on snow

Inspect your tyres before cold weather journeys in winter. Image: Getty


 

Check that you're covered

Accidents can happen, especially when winter cold weather such as rain, ice and snow hits. Review your car insurance to ensure that your vehicle is adequately covered in the event of something unexpected, and that you have the right level of roadside assistance coverage in place to get you moving again in case of a breakdown, flat battery or empty tank.

 

Get RACV Emergency Roadside Assistance for help to get moving again. 
Discover more  →

 

This is general advice only and does not take into account your individual objectives, financial situation or needs (“your personal circumstances”). Before using this advice to decide whether to purchase a product, you should consider your personal circumstances and the relevant Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determination. For copies, visit racv.com.au. RACV Car Insurance issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia Pty Limited ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678. As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed.