Unless you live in a sun belt region, winter is the most damaging season for your car. During the winter months, your car’s paint, tires, glass, plastic and other surfaces will be at the mercy of the elements, including wind, rain, sleet, snow, sand, gravel, cinders, salt and road oil.
Fall is your best opportunity to inspect and prepare your car with a protective layer, giving your car a fighting chance. Your car’s paint, tires, leather and rubber trim all need touching up in the fall, even if you have cared for them all summer. If you didn't prepare your car before winter, don't worry. There are new products available to help you keep your car clean and protected.
SEAL THE PAINT
If your car will be exposed to extreme winter conditions, the best protective coating is a paint sealant (synthetic wax). Unlike carnauba wax products, an paint sealant is better equipped to shield against water and road salts. The polymers used in modern paint sealants cross-link, creating a barrier that's more difficult for water, road salts and chemicals to penetrate. A high quality paint sealant will last five to six months, providing more than enough protection for the winter season. I recommend Klasse All-In-One or another high quality sealant.
KEEP YOUR CAR CLEAN
Your car is more likely to be scratched during winter due to all of the potential debris on the road. As moisture penetrates deep scratches and chips in your car's paint and repeatedly freezes and thaws, it weakens and eventually cracks surrounding paint. This allows oxidation to rapidly set in. A quick and easy way to reduce paint damaging oxidation caused by winter road damage is to wash your car as often as possible and inspect for paint chips and scratches. When found, seal new paint chips with a paint sealant.
TREAT THE INTERIOR
Winter is also hard on leather interiors. Cold, dry air pulls the moisture from leather, so it’s important to treat leather prior to the onset of freezing temperatures. Once the daytime temperature dips below 50 degrees (Fahrenheit), the leather will not accept conditioners. Although the surface will look good, you have not provided moisture to the hide. I recommend Lexol Leather Conditioner and Hide Food for winter leather care.
PROTECT THE TIRES
Your car's tires have a tough job in the winter, too. Liberal use of a high quality tire dressing keeps tires looking good during the harshest weather and provides a barrier to the elements and to ozone that can cause rubber to deteriorate.
If you live in a region that gets snow and ice, another easy tip for winter car protection is to spray an inexpensive, silicone based tire dressing in the wheel wells to prevent buildup of snow, ice and road salt. Although not recommended for your exterior painted surfaces (it makes body shop repairs difficult), silicone is an excellent protectant for your engine, wheel wells, and the under side of your car. It’s best to start this practice before the really cold weather hits.
CARE FOR DELICATE, EXPENSIVE WHEELS AND RIMS
If your car has expensive, delicate wheels, think about removing each wheel for winter preparation. Delicate wheels should be cleaned, inspected, and sealed. Clean each wheel, front and back, with an extra-strength wheel cleaner. Scrub the tires thoroughly, too. Dry the wheels with a clean terrycloth towel. Protect with a high quality paste wax or paint sealant. Complete the job by treating the tires (front and back) with a liberal application of tire dressing. Allow the tire dressing to soak in for 5 to 10 minutes before wiping off the excess.
DON'T FORGET THE TRIM
Other parts of your car2s exterior such as the bumpers, trim and rubber door seals need extra protection when the mercury drops, too. These materials are affected by extreme temperatures and the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation causes fading, hardening and cracking, especially in the winter with a reduced ozone layer.
If you drive a convertible in cold winter weather, don't forget to clean and protect your canvas top. If water penetrates your top, then freezes, your top will be prone to severe damage. Your top must be thoroughly seal (waterproofed) before you take it out in the cold, wet winter weather.
WIPER BLADES AND WINDSHIELD CLEANER FLUID
Don't forget to inspect your windshield wipers. Replace them if there's any sign of wear. Remember, you're going to be counting on your wipers to deal with winter's worst. While you're at it, check your wash fluid and add a wash booster. A good wash booster will help cut through road salt, road grime and mud so you can see.
DON'T BE CAUGHT WITH A DEAD BATTERY
If your car is more than 6 years old, think about replacing the battery. Every January, there comes an especially brutal sub-zero morning that drains the last bit of power from weak car batteries. Even if your battery is relatively new, you should inspect it before winter arrives. Make certain the terminals and posts are free of corrosion (clean with baking soda and water) and the terminals are tight.
CHANGE YOUR COOLANT AND MOTOR OIL
Have the cooling system checked for the correct concentration and level of antifreeze. If your vehicle needs additional coolant, follow the manufacturer's recommendation for the ratio of water to coolant. If your coolant is more than two years old, it should be flushed and refilled.
Changing the oil and filter before winter is the single most important step in prolonging your vehicle's engine life. Most manufacturers recommend an oil change every 5,000 to 15,000 miles or once a year, whichever comes first. Your oil service interval will depend on the age and manufacturer of your car.
CHECK YOUR TIRES FOR WEAR AND INFLATE PROPERLY
Finally, worn tires won't give you the traction you need on wet, icy roads. If your tires are worn, replace them with a good set of all-weather radials. For extra grab in the snow, get a pair of snow tires. Snow tires should always be used in complete sets of four. I know that it's common practice to place just one pair on the drive wheels, but this is a recipe for disaster, especially on front-wheel drive vehicles. If the tires with the most grip are placed on the front, the rear will be more likely to lock up during braking, resulting in fishtailing or a possible spin. Although it’s not as dangerous when a pair of snow tires are placed on the rear axle of a rear-drive car, those tires will only provide traction under acceleration, and do little for cornering or stopping.
If you live in a rural area you may want to keep a set of tire chains in your trunk. Likewise, correct tire pressure ensures optimum handling, stopping and wear. Remember to check pressure frequently because cold air causes it to drop (one pound for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit).
Winter preparation, especially in cold climate regions, will help your car make it to Spring in good condition. If you take a weekend before the cold weather sets in to change the oil, check the tires, change your wipe blades, check your battery and coolant, and polish and wax your car, you'll be ready for Winter's worst.