How To Winterize Your Car


Winterizing is a vague term that infers there must be some action taken for your car to perform and survive the winter. Is there?

Yes and no. Yes, because the engine coolant or antifreeze should be clean and effective. The antifreeze is a liquid that is pumped by the water pump through the engine block, where it absorbs the heat of the engine’s combustion chambers, then into the radiator, where it cools down and returns back into the engine, and so on. Before antifreeze was created, water was used. The problem with water is that it freezes below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Freezing water in an engine block or radiator expands and will crack the engine block or radiator. To remedy this, round metal plugs called freeze-out plugs are pressed into the water jacket of the engine and are designed to pop out if the coolant freezes, generally saving the engine from cracking. Antifreeze has a much lower freezing temperature that can both cool the engine and not freeze up when the engine is not running in a cold climate. “Potent” antifreeze is antifreeze that will not freeze at cold temperatures at all. You can easily check the strength of your antifreeze by testing a sample of it from your car’s radiator (check it when the engine is cold) with an antifreeze tester. If it is weak, open the radiator petcock, usually located at the base of the radiator, and allow the weak antifreeze to drain out. Opening the radiator cap will vent the system and speed up the process. Starting the engine for thirty seconds will allow more antifreeze from the engine block to drain out. Remember to dispose of the old antifreeze according to local statutes. It is sweet to some animals and will kill them if ingested, so exercise caution.

Winterize Car How To Winterize Your Car

There are different types of antifreeze on the market. Older cars use the conventional green antifreeze, while late-model cars use the maroon. The maroon antifreeze, known as extended life antifreeze, is advertised to protect your cooling system for five years or 100,000 miles. It can be added to your existing Dex-Cool (General Motors) antifreeze and is safe on aluminum or brass radiators. (Look for antifreeze that can last as long as fifteen years coming onto the market soon.) Antifreeze is sold either full-strength, which needs to be diluted with 50 percent water, or pre-mixed, which can be added directly into the radiator or radiator reservoir.

Dirty or rusty antifreeze may still be effective in cooling the car and in not freezing, but rusty antifreeze should be changed before it damages gaskets, the water pump, the radiator, and the heater core. Just draining and replacing with fresh antifreeze will help, but it is best to flush the system with a chemical available in all auto parts stores. Follow the directions on the product. Having the radiator removed and boiled out if the antifreeze is very rusty is advisable.

At all times of the year, make sure that your belts and all coolant-related hoses are not about to blow. The cold of winter makes these hoses and belts much more brittle and susceptible to snapping. Check them for dry cracks, bulging, or if they are brittle. Brittle hoses may crack on inspection, so be prepared in this event. Check all fluids, including the windshield washer fluid. Check the wiper blades and replace them if they are streaking or brittle.

Replacing your thermostat every four or five years as a matter of preventative maintenance is a good idea. Most engines are designed to operate efficiently at this temperature. Without the presence of a thermostat or if the thermostat was stuck in the open position, the engine would not reach its operating temperature and the car’s heater would not blow very hot air. On the other hand, if the thermostat was jammed shut, the coolant would be blocked from entering the radiator and your car would quickly overheat.

Winterize Car 1 How To Winterize Your Car

Thermostats are relatively easy to replace, although they can be a problem if the housing bolts are rusted in. Because they are usually not very expensive to replace, let a professional do the job. An opportune time to replace the thermostat is when you are draining or flushing the engine.

If you take your car in for a flush or thermostat change, make sure you wait and watch because it would be easy for a mechanic to tell you it was replaced when in fact it was not. Marking the thermostat bolt with a small dot of Wite-Out before the job and checking to see if it was untouched after the job will tell you if someone actually removed the bolt.

Note: Whenever flushing the antifreeze, keep the heater control to the “high heat” position to allow the heater core to be flushed in the process.

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