Category Archives: winterize car

Why is my car slow to start in cold weather?


woman trying to repair broken down carWhen the weather is frigid, it can be hard to convince yourself to head out into the freezing cold. It can even feel like your car doesn’t want to go out—especially when your car is slowly cranking. A car slow to start doesn’t have to be a normal part of cold weather; if it is, there are a few key reasons why your car starts slowly on a cold winter morning.

Why is a car slow to start in winter?

When the temperature drops, engine oil turns to the consistency of molasses. It takes more power to turn over an engine when the oil is sludge. If a battery is low on power, the result is the slow cranking of the engine on a cold morning. Eventually, the battery stops working.

Car batteries can decrease in power due to age or the heat. Summer heat can cause battery fluid to evaporate, damaging the battery’s internal part and decreasing battery performance. Older batteries can also lose power over time; car batteries should usually be replaced every 3-5 years. (Schedule an appointment to get a new battery installed.)

Slow cranking is only one sign of a dead battery. You can also tell if a car battery needs to be replaced if it needs to be jump started on a regular basis. Some cars also have a dashboard warning light that comes on when battery power is low.

In extremely rare cases, cars might not start in cold weather because of moisture in the fuel lines. Put simply, condensation can get into the fuel lines. The moisture can interrupt the flow of fuel and cause a slow start (or no start at all).

Older vehicles with carburetors can also have issues in the cold weather. This problem primarily occurs after the car has been sitting for a long time.

Sometimes, the slow start of a car has nothing to do with the cold weather. A slow-starting car can be caused by old spark plugs, which should be replaced every 30-100,000. (Ask your mechanic if it’s time for the spark plugs to be replaced.) A failing starter or corroded wiring can also cause a car to start slowly (or not at all).

How can I keep my car starting smoothly in the cold weather?

To avoid the annoying slow start of a car in cold weather (and other winter breakdowns), use these cold weather car maintenance tips:

  • Have the battery checked on a regular basis. A mechanic can test the battery to determine when it is low on power.
  • Regularly schedule oil changes. Ask your mechanic how often the oil should be changed.
  • When the temperature drops, check the tire pressure on every tire (including the spare). Frigid temperatures cause a sharp drop in air pressure (use these step-by-step instructions for checking tire pressure). Make sure to check the spare tire as well, so it is in good shape in case of a flat tire.
  • Make sure car fluids are topped off. Add checking the oil and antifreeze level on a regular basis. Both of these fluids are essential for a smooth-running car.
  • Pack an emergency car kit. A car kit may not stop a car’s slow start, but it can be helpful if a battery suddenly goes dead or the car breaks down. Use this list of emergency car kit essentials to assemble a complete kit—and don’t forget to pack cold weather gear that can keep you warm when you get stranded in the freezing weather.

Winterizing Your Car Checklist


winter road that car needs to be winterized forEven if it doesn’t feel right now like one of our freezing Wisconsin winter days, there’s no time like the present to prep your car for all the ice and snow that’s sure to come.  Winterizing your car may seem like another item to add to an already busy to-do list, but you’ll find it pays off when you’re faced with another day of winter driving.

Give your battery a good look.

Winter is hard on car batteries because the fluids in your auto turn to the consistency of molasses; your car needs more power to start up and an old or corroded battery just won’t cut it.  To make sure you aren’t stranded this winter, ask your mechanic to check the battery posts for corrosion and connections for wear and tear.  If your battery is older than 3-5 years or shows these signs of a weak battery, ask about the cost of replacement.

Check your tires

Your tires are your first line of defense when winter driving, so having them checked now can make sure you have traction when you need it and minimize your risk for a flat tire. Ask your mechanic to make sure your tires are at peak air pressure, and there is enough tire tread for maximum traction during wintry, slippery road conditions.

If you are worried about the traction of your tires (some car tires can be slippery even during summer), ask your mechanic if you need snow tires.  For Wisconsinites who don’t have to drive in the snow, or head south for the winter, snow tires are not a necessity. But if you need to drive to get to work or school, or you want the freedom to venture out into the snow whenever you want, snow tires are built specifically for maximum traction during the worst winter driving conditions.

Swap out your windshield wipers.

Be proactive so you’re not blinded in an already blinding winter storm. Install new windshield wipers before the first flakes fall, or ask your mechanic to add new windshield wipers at your next oil change. To make sure your view is clear, make sure your windshield wiper fluid is at the full level.  Locate the windshield washer reservoir under your head, and fill it up as needed.

Check your antifreeze

 If you’ve been adding water all summer to your radiator, now is the time to make sure you have the correct 50-50 antifreeze mixture that won’t freeze when the temperatures drop.  It’s for a good reason; a radiator full of water can crack when the water freezes.

Check your oil fill level

To make sure you’re not stranded when it’s freezing cold, check your oil level so your engine stays running when you need it the most.  Turn off your engine and grab a paper towel. Open the hood of your car and locate your dipstick. Pull your dipstick out and wipe off the end. Put the dipstick back in and pull it out. Your dipstick has little lines on it; make sure your oil level is between the two lines (and not above the max line). If your oil level is low, add oil. Make sure you added enough by checking the oil again when you are done. If you find your oil level is consistently low, talk to your mechanic at your next appointment. A low oil level can indicate an oil leak or another issue that you need resolved before winter.

Transmission fluid

Transmission fluid breaks down over time and needs to be periodically checked and evaluated (not as often as oil, but regularly). There is a process for checking transmission fluid; you can find directions here. If you don’t feel comfortable checking it, ask your mechanic to check your transmission fluid at your next oil change appointment. Transmission fluid should be red, but gets darker in color as it breaks down. Use car manufacturer guidelines and if your car is having issues shifting to determine if your transmission fluid needs to be flushed.

Make sure your four wheel drive is four, not three, wheel drive.

Four wheel drive is not typically used during summer, and you don’t want to find out that it doesn’t work when you need it during winter driving.  Ask your mechanic to inspect your four wheel drive and make sure you can use it when the snow gets deep.

Pack a winter safety kit

Even with all the steps you’re taking to winterize your car, accidents happen. To make sure you’re prepared for the worst winter emergencies, pack a winter safety kit with essentials such as:

  • Roadside assistance card or tow truck phone number
  • Flashlight
  • Blanket
  • Jack and lug wrench
  • Jumper cables
  • Boots
  • Shovel
  • First aid kit

Pack your supplies in a waterproof container and keep it in an area of your car that can be easily accessed at any time.  Most importantly, pack it now before your stranded in the snow because you didn’t winterize your car.

Must-Haves for your Car Emergency Kit


winterize_watertownNot planning on breaking down or getting stuck during our Wisconsin winter? No one does, but it’s best to prepared for when (not if, but when) you are stranded with a broken down car. Start by purchasing a plastic container or box to store these items in:

  • Roadside assistance card or tow truck phone number. Don’t be left scrambling trying to find the number at the last minute. Program these numbers into your cell phone, and carry your card in your purse or wallet. Add a copy of your card to your emergency kit.
  • Flashlight. Make sure you test the flashlight from time to time, and that the batteries are still strong. You never know when you need a flashlight, and you don’t want to be left in the dark.
  • Blanket. Pack a warm, thick blanket that can keep you and your family warm when you are stranded.
  • Jack and lug wrench. Most cars come with a jack and lug wrench for changing a tire, but some of the smaller, more compact car models do not. Make sure you have everything you need when you have a flat tire.
  • Jumper cables. Wisconsin winters seem to bring out the worst in car batteries (find out why in our recent post). Carry a set of jumper cables all year long, as summer is actually the worst time of year for weak car batteries.
  • Boots. Ever tried to shovel out your car with soaking wet shoes on? Not pleasant. Pack an old, waterproof pair of boots that you can use in case you get stuck.
  • Snow shovel. Be prepared for the inevitable snow that comes with our Wisconsin winter, and the winter driving that comes with it. A foldable or small shovel is handy for digging your car out of a full day of snow, or cleaning out around when your tires when you go off the road.
  • First aid kit. Wisconsin winters are slippery, and sometimes—any time of the year—people get sick. Always carry a small first aid kit with you for those just-in-case times, and make sure a pair of plastic gloves is included so you don’t come in contact with other people’s body fluids.
  • Rags and hand sanitizer. Working on your car can be dirty, so carry a few clean rags and small bottle of hand sanitizer so you can clean your hands when done.

Make sure you know how to use jumper cables (for step-by-step instructions click here) and change a tire. Next, schedule an appointment so experienced auto mechanics can make sure your car is ready for winter driving or that long trip to Grandma’s. Test your tires to see if they can make it another season, and you’re ready to hit the road safely and prepared.

Winter Driving Tips


winterize_watertownWhether you want it or not, Wisconsin winters bring snow, arctic cold and winter driving—a challenge for even the most experienced driver. Don’t just tackle those roads head-on. A preventive maintenance check-up for your car, and a short crash course on winter driving, is the most effective way to get through the roughest Wisconsin winter roads:

Have your vehicle checked before you brave through the snow. Even if your vehicle is well maintained, chances are your vehicle needs an inexpensive tune-up to get through our Wisconsin wintery roads.

Know the thickness of your brakes and tires. These are two of the most important systems in your car for winter driving. Extra traction and thick pads are vital when driving during the most challenging winter storms.

Always carry a cell phone and emergency kit. Be prepared for an emergency breakdown or to dig out. Never leave home without a cell phone, emergency kit, shovel, window scraper and winter gear.

Allow for extra traveling time. Slow and steady wins the race in snow.  Go as fast as conditions allow.

Double your normal stopping distance. Take your normal stopping distance and double it.  You’ll need extra space to stop when the roads are wet and slippery.

Never stop on a hill or on a sharp curve. Stopping in a blind spot for other motorists is a sure way to ask for trouble. If your vehicle can’t make it up a hill, take a detour so you can take a flatter route to your destination.

Don’t mash the gas. Avoid sudden accelerations as much as possible so you don’t fishtail or slide into the path of oncoming traffic or into the ditch.

If you want extra traction when navigating on the snowy roads, purchase snow tires for your vehicle. Constructed with a softer compound and tread pattern designed specifically for getting through winter precipitation, snow tires can dig down and find traction on even the roughest roads. The snow is here, so don’t delay. Make an appointment to get five vital parts of your vehicle checked so you can survive our Wisconsin winter roads.

5 Parts of Your Car to Have Inspected Before Driving to Grandma’s


winterize_watertownThe holidays are here, and you’re headed to Grandma’s for a mouth-watering holiday dinner. You packed your emergency winter kit, a snow shovel, and a bag of salt for traction. You even invested in snow tires. You feel like you can handle any winter driving emergency. But is your car ready for the long trip?

Even if you keep your car in tip-top shape, chances are your car needs a bit of “tuning” by an auto mechanic to make sure it’s ready to traverse our Midwestern snowy roads. This short check-up is affordable, and ensures that the major systems of your car are ready for winter driving:

  1. Brakes. Winter driving involves extensive stopping, and you don’t want your brakes to go out when you need them the most. Have your brakes inspected to make sure you have enough pad thickness for confident stopping, and your brakes are engaging evenly.
  2. Tires. If you’ve decided snow tires are right for you, contact a mechanic about mounting the new tires. If you’re keeping your existing all-season tires on the car, have a mechanic check the tread wear indicators (one of the signs you need new tires), or check them yourself. When you put a penny in the tread of your tires, you shouldn’t be able to see all of Lincoln’s head. If you can, it’s time for new tires that can battle through the snow.
  3. Battery (and battery connections). Don’t know why winter is so hard on batteries? Read our recent blog post, and have your battery tested by a mechanic. An experienced mechanic can also inspect your battery connections and clean off any corrosion or rust.
  4. Headlights. You need to be able to see the road, right? Headlights are inexpensive and essential for every Wisconsin driver.
  5. Windshield wipers. Don’t make Grandma worry about you because you went into the ditch due to poor visibility. Windshield wipers make a big difference when you need to clean off all the snow piling up on your windshield.

As long as you have your car in the shop, have your mechanic also check your fluid levels and radiator fluid. You’ll need a full tank of windshield washer so you can have a clean windshield on your trip. And with the freezing temperatures, you don’t want a radiator full of water to freeze and causes an expensive repair.

Don’t procrastinate about getting your car into the shop for a winter tune up. Make an appointment as soon as possible. Wisconsin auto repair shops are busy this time of year, preparing cars for upcoming holiday travel and winter driving. Your car appreciates the check-up, and your family will appreciate not worrying about whether your car can make the holiday drive.

Winterize Your Car BEFORE Winter


winterize_watertownIf you’ve seen the winter predictions, and had flashbacks to our polar vortex winter, you know how inconvenient (and cold!) it can be when you need to get somewhere and your car won’t start. Or worse, when you end up on the side of the road during the dead of winter. Take those memories to heart when visiting the repair shop this fall, and take a few preventative measures to keep you, and your car, on the road this winter.

  • Have your tires checked. Colder temperatures leave tires susceptible to injury and you vulnerable during a season when you need traction. A quick check by an auto technician ensures your tires are at peak air pressure, and there is enough tire tread for maximum traction during wintry, slippery road conditions.
  • Inspect your battery, and your records. Have an auto technician check the battery posts for corrosion and connections for wear and tear. If your battery is old, ask about the cost of replacement. Fluids in the engine turn to the consistency of molasses during winter, meaning it takes maximum battery power that older batteries do not always have.
  • Determine whether you need snow tires. Not sure if you need it? Not everyone does. For Wisconsinites who don’t have to venture out during snow, or head south for the winter, snow tires are not a necessity. However, if you’re among the thousands who HAVE to get to work or school, or you want the freedom to venture out into the snow whenever you want, snow tires have clear cut advantages for winter drivers.
  • See through our Midwestern blizzards with new windshield wipers. Driving in a snow storm is not the time to find out you need new wipers. Be proactive. Purchase new windshield wipers before the first flakes fall.
  • Make sure your radiator is not full of water. If you’ve been adding water all summer to your radiator, now is the time to make sure you have the correct 50-50 antifreeze mixture that won’t freeze when and if the polar vortex freezes again.
  • Make sure your four wheel drive is four, not three, wheel drive. Four wheel drive is not typically engaged during summer, and parts not used often do not always work when needed.

As with Wisconsin weather, prepare your car for the worst.  Pack a kit with the essential items you need: blankets, warm clothes, shovel, non-perishable food, flares, windshield scraper, flares, kitty litter, jumper cables and any medications you need if you are stranded. Taking the time for inspections and preventative maintenance now yields a well-running car when you need it the most.