How to Prepare your Vehicle for the “Polar Coaster” Winter


polar coaster winter weather vehicle wisconsin illinois

A vehicle that won’t start, won’t warm up, or is stuck in the snow… these issues are all too familiar to residents of Wisconsin and Illinois during our typical winter weather. And with an upcoming winter season that’s predicted to be even tougher than usual for Midwestern residents, you need to prepare your vehicle now to avoid getting stuck or stranded in the impeding “polar coaster” winter.

What is the Polar Coaster?

The 2020 Farmers’ Almanac is predicting a “polar coaster winter” for most of the continental United States, with blustery, freezing weather expected in most northern states east of the Rocky Mountains. January, in particular, is expected to be a rough month, as experts are calling for heavy snowfall to blanket much of the nation. Heavy snow and ice can certainly have a negative impact on your vehicle and daily commute, so it is always important to make sure that you are adequately-prepared for wintry weather in our region.

Get the Right Kind of Oil Change

During your next upcoming oil change, make sure that the oil you’re using has the right viscosity for the winter season. Motor oil tends to thicken as temperatures drop, so it won’t do its best job of keeping your engine lubricated if it’s too thick. Review your owner’s manual to determine which motor oil to use in different seasons and temperatures. For example, if you normally use 10W-30 oil, switch to 5W-30 oil at your next oil change for the winter.

Use the Correct Antifreeze Mixture Ratio

Antifreeze prevents the coolant mixture in your vehicle from freezing. If one of the fluids in your car freezes, it will expand, and the pressure could potentially crack engine blocks and cause damage in your car. A 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water provides protection for temperatures as low as -35°F. However, temperatures can plummet to even lower than that, which means you should up the antifreeze-to-water ratio to 70-30.

Ensure That Your Tires are Ready to Roll

Your tires must be properly inflated to ensure that they’ll hold up on snowy and icy roads. The air pressure in your tires has likely dropped as the temperatures have dropped, so it’s important to inspect them regularly. Expect to lose around one pound of air pressure per square inch whenever temperatures drop below 10°F. Your owner’s manual and your tire’s sidewall will tell you what your target air pressure should be.

You should also make sure that your tires have enough tread on them. Try the “Lincoln test” – just insert a penny into your tire’s tread with the top of Lincoln’s head pointing inward toward the tire. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, you need to replace the tire before winter begins. And you may want to invest in winter tires instead of your usual all-season tires before the winter weather begins, which can make a world of difference during the “polar coaster”.

Make Sure You Can See

Windshield wipers usually only work effectively for up to one year, so inspect your wipers and replace them, if necessary. Next, fill up your windshield washer reservoir with winter-ready windshield washer fluid. When purchasing the windshield washer fluid, inspect the bottle to ensure that it will excel in frigid temperatures. (Be sure to not use plain water, because it will freeze!) Fresh windshield wipers and a full windshield washer fluid reservoir are always great to have when you’re struggling to see the road in a blinding storm. Also, make sure that your vehicle’s windshield defroster is working properly before you find yourself stuck with a frosty or frozen windshield.

Do Not Idle Your Vehicle

Despite what you may think, letting your vehicle idle to warm up in the winter months is not best practice. According to AAA, idling requires more time for the vehicle to warm up and allows more fuel to get into the engine, which could ultimately wear your vehicle down quicker, especially if you let it idle often. Plus, repeatedly starting a car without running it long enough to recharge the battery can reduce the battery’s capacity and increase the likelihood of it needing to be replaced.

“If you average idling your vehicle ten minutes a day during the three winter months you are simply increasing the wear and tear on your vehicle by eleven additional hours. You are also wasting an average of about 5.5 gallons of gasoline,” explained James Spires, AAA Regional Manager. “If you must, the best way to warm a modern engine is to start it and allow it to idle for 15 to 30 seconds while you fasten your seat belt and check the mirrors. A little longer idle time may be appropriate in the winter if you need to clear snow and ice from the windshield and other parts of the vehicle.”

Expect a wild ride of extreme temperature swings and heavy snowfalls this winter, but by following these steps, you will be prepared to take on the polar coaster! Visit our Products page to browse our high-quality winter weather products, then contact us to learn more.