I thought I'd post a short article Dave Merline wrote about whether winterizing your car is actually necessary. Here it is:
They say that there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. But there are actually many more, like the fact that the weatherman is wrong more often than he’s right, and that your home repair will take longer and cost more than you were initially told, and that every year around this time you will begin to hear talk about “winterizing” your car. But is it really necessary to do anything extra to prepare your car for the possibility of snow and ice?
There was a time when cars were much more susceptible to the extremes of winter weather, and there were indeed some things that needed to be done to avoid getting stranded in the midst of a snowpocalypse. But now many of these have been made unnecessary by technological advances. All-season tires have made snow tires somewhat superfluous. Synthetic motor oil can withstand more extreme temperatures, negating the need to switch from 10W30 to 5W30 in the colder months. And even car batteries, the bane of many a driver in sub-zero weather, perform better now than they did 20 years ago.
But still the talk of winterization persists. We asked Michael Calkins, manager of approved auto repair for the American Automobile Association, if he thought such preventative measures were still vital, and he told us, “A lot of that stuff is no longer necessary."
Much of what he does recommend, and what the majority of articles on the subject recommend, is routine maintenance that should be being performed anyway, regardless of the weather. Calkins admitted that most winterization is only really necessary on older cars thanks to advances in technology.
To look at the advice doled out on the various winterization articles online, it’s hard to see what most of the tips have to do with winter. Typical advice includes “check your windshield wiper blades and wiper fluid levels.” Why is this more important in the winter? It’s not. In fact, we’d argue it’s more essential in the spring. Snow is easily brushed aside by dull wiper blades, but rain requires decent blade quality to ensure visibility in a downpour.
Another oft-cited nugget is, “check your belts and hoses.” Is it 1985 again? When’s the last time you could even find a belt or a hose under the hood of a car, let alone check them? Modern car engines are so tightly packed that even these kinds of routine maintenance checks have to be done in a professional garage.
Checking your brakes and inspecting your tires for wear are other common winterization tips, but balding tires and failing brakes are never not dangerous. Like the rest of what you tend to hear this time of year, these are things you should be checking regularly, regardless of the wind chill factor.
Perhaps the most useful advice these articles contain is “keep an emergency preparedness kit in your car.” Again, keeping things like road flares, a flashlight, some snacks (we recommend Takis), and a copy of Shades of Grey (why not?), is something that should be done year-round. Still, making sure a blanket is part of that kit is not bad advice, although that has more to do with winterizing yourself and your passengers than winterizing your car.
The bottom line on winterization is that unless you live in Alaska, or somewhere else where winter means weeks and weeks of sub-zero temperatures and several months of deep ever-present snow and your cars come with block heaters pre-installed, you don’t need to do a thing to your car to get it ready for the winter, provided you take good care of it the rest of the year as well.
Your mechanic may recommend a fluid flush or a seasonal tune-up, and while those things certainly won't hurt, the fact is, if your car was built in the current century, it should do just fine in the winter without any help.
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