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Do These 5 Easy Things for Your Car Before Winter Comes

According to the Farmers’ Almanac, we might be in for a long winter. Be that as it may, getting your vehicle ready for the snow doesn’t have to be rocket science. We teamed up with Advance Auto Parts for this helpful list of five things to check on your car before winter arrives. 

Each of these items can be ordered via the links provided. When they show up, you can replace them in your driveway or garage. Also, if your car has been sitting most of the year because of the lockdowns, now is an excellent time to jump on these DIY items before winter.  

Affiliate Disclosure: This winter guide is sponsored by Advance Auto Parts. Automoblog, Advance Auto Parts, and corresponding partners may be compensated if you purchase the items below.

Why Pre-Winter Maintenance is Important

Winter is different from other seasons because of the challenges and risks associated with driving. Snow and ice accumulation will make even the most familiar roads hazardous. The sun also sets earlier, meaning light is at a premium when we leave work after a long day. And we know from experience that visibility during a snowstorm is limited at best. 

This is why it’s crucial to have a trusted mechanic inspect your vehicle. We recommend having this done while the weather is still relativity nice during the fall. This will give you time if you need to save up for bigger ticket items, like a new set of tires or a brake job. New tires and fresh brakes will help when you are navigating rush hour traffic during the winter. 

The items on this list, by contrast, are much less expensive than tires, for example. However, each of them will give you an edge when Old Man Winter finally comes knocking.

#1: Change The Oil & Filter  

Oil Change
That age-old advice is still the best. Change your oil and filter at the mileage interval recommended by the manufacturer of your vehicle. Doing so will protect your engine and help it run more efficiently when the temperature drops.

The advice your dad and grandfather gave you about changing your oil is still relevant. Indeed, vehicles today have changed and have more technology than ever. However, under the hood, those mechanical components and moving parts need the best lubrication possible. 

Our advice is to run a full synthetic to protect your engine as the temperatures drop. In general, synthetic oil does a better job of keeping your engine clean and free from the deposits and sludge that hinder performance and efficiency. If you have never run a synthetic before, doing so will help flush out any muck leftover from conventional oil. Contrary to popular belief, it will not harm your engine to switch to a synthetic. 

Concerning winter weather specifically, conventional oils take longer to flow through your engine after it is first started. This is not the most ideal situation if your vehicle sits outside every night in freezing temperatures. You might sometimes hear the expression that synthetic oils get “to the top” of the engine quicker. This is to say a synthetic oil rushes through the engine faster because of its chemical composition. In the contest between synthetic and conventional oil, a synthetic will provide immediate lubrication even though the engine is still “cold” after being started. 

On the Advance Auto Parts site, you go through a quick three-step process: first, select your vehicle, then select the oil type and weight, and then select the filter. Advance Auto Parts has Castrol EDGE and Valvoline synthetic oil bundles for high-mileage vehicles, and a Mobil 1 bundle specifically for trucks and SUVs. Right now, every Pennzoil bundle comes with a free bottle of Spray Nine cleaner.

Our Top Pick
Synthetic Motor Oil Bundles

Advance Auto Parts has its synthetic oil bundles priced about the same as what a conventional oil change goes for. Given the lower price and higher quality of the oil, one of the synthetic bundles Advance Auto Parts offers is the way to go.


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#2: Check Your Battery 

Given the longer shelf life of car batteries, they tend to fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” category. In other words, you never realize you need a battery until your car refuses to start. And, of course, this always happens at the most inconvenient times.

If you cannot remember when you last checked your battery, now is the time. Advance Auto Parts has a tremendous selection of batteries from top brands like Optima, Autocraft, and DieHard. If you have never installed a battery before, or need a refresher, don’t sweat it. Advance Auto Parts provides this helpful guide, complete with a video demonstration.

Our favorite overall battery is the Optima Red Top line, which are AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat), meaning they’re more durable and longer-lasting, especially in particularly hot or cold weather.

Our Top Pick
Optima Red Top Batteries

Optima batteries are flashy and pricier than their competition. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better AGM battery on the market, especially if you drive a truck or an SUV. If you are towing a boat or hauling heavy trailers, these batteries can handle it.


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#3: Change Your Air Filter 

Dirty Air Filter
Do a good visual inspection on your air filter before winter. If it looks worn or more dirty than usual, toss it a get a new one. If you drive on gravel or dirt roads frequently, get in the habit of checking your air filter more often.

If you cannot remember the last time you looked at your air filter, it might be time to change it. Once you have removed your air filter (they are easy to locate), you can do a quick visual check. Most air filters are white or off-white when they are new. As you drive, they turn darker over time as they catch dust, dirt, and debris. While discoloration is typical on an air filter, if it looks excessive, go ahead and replace it. 

If the material appears fringy and tattered, or the seal around the top of the filter is coming loose, it’s time for a new one. Really nasty air filters may look like a bird’s nest! Mice tend to snack on air filters (yummy!) as well, so if your car has been sitting, be mindful of that possibility. If your air filter looks like critters have used it as a buffet line, toss it and get a new one. 

Advance Auto Parts carries trusted brands like Carquest, Purolator, K&N, ACDelco, and Motorcraft. Just enter the year, make, and model of your vehicle to see which brands are available. The newer and cleaner your air filter, the better your gas mileage will be.

Our Top Pick
Purolator ONE Air Filters

Purolator ONE air filters are well-known for being reliable, affordable, and effective. If we’re looking for a standard air filter replacement, these are the ones we get.


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Pro Tip: Your vehicle may also have a cabin air filter, depending on the make and model. Cabin air filters help prevent dust, pollen, and other particles from getting inside while you drive. Like the regular air filter, if you pull out your cabin air filter and it looks like a bird’s nest, pitch it and get a new one. 

#4: Your Serpentine Belt is Essential

Serpentine Belt
Like the air filter, you can do a visual inspection of the serpentine belt.

Since serpentine belts have a longer life span, they also fall into that “out of sight, out of mind” category. On this list, the serpentine belt is the hardest one to do yourself as it requires special tools, and you have to make sure to route the new belt correctly. Still, it’s an essential item to check before winter. 

You can do so visually by taking a flashlight and looking at the belt’s underside (the side with the grooves). If your belt has a significant number of cracks or appears frayed or “brittle,” consider a new one before winter. Similarly, if you hear a squeak or squealing noise under the hood, a bad serpentine belt is probably to blame.  

Similar to the battery, if your belt snaps, it will be during an inconvenient time. If this happens, there is absolutely no way of driving your vehicle, and you must call a tow truck. A good serpentine belt is essential for winter because it drives vital engine components like the alternator, power steering pump, and water pump. If the belt snaps, your vehicle is immobilized almost immediately. 

Advance Auto Parts has serpentine belts from high-quality brands like Carquest and Driveworks. Serpentine belts are relatively inexpensive, so all the more reason to put a new one on before winter.  

Pro Tip: Your vehicle may have a smaller accessory belt depending on the make and model. Given our personal experience with GM trucks and SUVs over the last decade (all had accessory belts), we always recommend double-checking your own vehicle.  

#5: Get Rid of Old Wiper Blades 

Wipers 1
While it’s not a hard and fast rule, we recommend checking your wipers more frequently if your vehicle sits outside all year.

Bad wipers blades will give themselves away by the streaks they leave on your windshield. Over time, the rubber will wear down and may no longer make contact with the windshield. If this happens, you may continually see a leftover blob of water in your sightline. Bad wipers have a habit of missing spots like this. 

Like your air filter and serpentine belt, you can do a visual inspection on your wipers. Be mindful of cracks and cuts, or if the rubber appears to be peeling. Given how difficult winter driving can be, and how easy they are to replace, a fresh set of wipers will go a long way.

Our Top Pick
Rain-X Latitudes

Our favorite wiper blades are the Rain-X Latitudes, which are good in all types of weather, clean our windshields better, and tend to last longer than other brands.


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Frequently Asked Questions

Even if I change all of the items on this list, should I still see a mechanic?

Yes. Experienced technicians can look for other, not so obvious problems that are important to address before winter. A check engine light, fluid puddles on your garage floor, and any shake or odd noise are good reasons to visit your mechanic before winter.

What is the best way to maintain my vehicle?

The answer to this might vary depending on who you ask, but a good start is to read through your owner’s manual. Every owner’s manual has a recommended maintenance (or similarly named) section. This section details what services the manufacturer recommends and at what mileage intervals.

However, the mileage intervals for certain services may not match up with how you use your vehicle. For example, you may consider flushing and exchanging your vehicle’s primary fluids earlier if you fall into a heavy-usage category (like towing a trailer frequently). Given that we live in Michigan, where winters can be particularly cold, we tend to service our major fluids before the recommended intervals. It’s a peace of mind thing for us. However, talk to your mechanic to get their input on it and go from there.

In the meantime, we have put together this helpful guide on what to routinely check on your vehicle. Doing so will help you keep your car running for the long haul.

What should I put in a Winter Emergency Kit?

Your emergency kit should include: a flashlight, jumper cables, salt or kitty litter, a small shovel, scraper, flares or glow sticks, matches or pocket lighter, candles, food and water, medication, an extra set of clothing, spare blankets, and an extra cell phone. Include anything else you think will best serve you in the event you are stranded.

To help you better prepare for winter, please consult this free and helpful guide. It includes a comprehensive checklist for getting your vehicle winterized, driving tips that will help keep you and your family safe, and how to respond during an emergency, among other things.

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