What should I do to prepare my car for winter?

girl checking engine

Dear Michael – my friend and automotive expert,
I have some car care questions for you. But so you get the full picture, I’ll paint you a picture.

To prove that Monday can always get worse, I wound up trapped in the drive-thru at a coffee shop on what was, up to that point, the coldest day of the year. After placing my order, I set the heater on “incinerate” and enjoyed the warmth.

I was only two car lengths away from my breakfast (venti flat white with soy milk and spinach feta egg wrap!) when things got weird. There was a fuss at the window as the driver of the lead car hopped out and walked around her vehicle, talking on the phone and looking upset.

"Apparently, her engine had stalled."

Since I was not about to get out of my car, I lowered the heat to try to hear what was going on and to find out WHY I was being denied my very crucial cup of coffee and breakfast wrap. I heard her car crank, then stop. Crank. Stop. Crank, slow, s-l-o-w-e-r, stop.

No coffee, and now, no way out. The driver behind me started to honk (because that will speed things along) and the driver with the stalled car was once again walking around the car, talking into the phone, and now crying.

Seriously, Monday.

My Car-dependent Life
The idea of being car-less or stranded just makes me itch. Previously, we tried to become a one-car household. Before I understood just how important oil changes were, I turned a cute little two-door into a smoking paperweight.

As new parents with lots of debt and no spare cash, our one-car experiment lasted exactly two weeks. Since then, things have only gotten crazier.

Hubby and I both work full time. He’s a self-employed financial advisor and needs a nice car. He really can’t take a client to lunch in a car packed with toddler boosters and empty fruit snack bags.

I’m a bookkeeper for a small company. My car needs are simple, but hauling kids around takes room. Between work, school, and church, our calendar is full up to the point of goofy. We have three kids, two dogs, multiple goldfish, and a turtle.

We just can’t function on fewer than two cars.

Pathological About Maintenance
I’ve never been a big fan of high-end vehicles or seen any need to spend a whole lot on fancy extras, except the entertainment monitors, because children. My car needs to be loaded with airbags and have a butt warmer. I drive a van so I can haul gear and groceries. I also like sitting a little higher off the ground than a regular car, and the visibility from the back seat is better for my little guys.

"I'm now pathological about maintenance, because I don't want to be stranded."

I’m now pathological about maintenance, because I don’t want to be stranded. Years of driving cheap heaps in high school and college gave me all the experience I needed on automotive quirks like “I wonder if reverse will work today?” or the occasional electrical fire.

Automotive Anxiety
As someone who’s worked hard to never be stranded (since I melted the motor of the aforementioned two-door), I have probably made some poor choices. For example, I can’t change a tire. My older brother had a car fall off the jack when he was young, and the whole idea of lifting an entire car on one metal contraption just terrifies me.

However, I have a terrific automotive expert friend at BG Products (Michael) who helps me out when I have questions, such as:

  1. If I don’t pay for preventive maintenance now, will it cost me later? Yes.
  2. Does this fuel cleaner go in before or after I fill the tank? After, but leave a little room for that 11 ounces of pure fuel system joy.
  3. Why don’t they make diesel nozzles a different size at the gas station so you can’t put the wrong fuel in your car (asking for a friend…)? He just laughed (I was totally serious).
  4. Honestly, how often do I need to get an oil change? Before I reach 10,000 miles since I’m a card carrying member of the Lifetime BG Protection Plan® (not sure if there’s a membership or a card, but my engine’s covered if I stick to those intervals).
"Why do cars freeze up and quit?"

Un-caffeinated Musings
Now I have more questions. Why do cars freeze up and quit? More importantly, will my car freeze up and quit, and if so, where? Maybe the carsicle in front of me is a diesel; I’ve heard they don’t like the cold. I know my car was checked out thoroughly before we went on vacation back in August; should I have done more last fall?

Driver behind me has stopped honking. Thankful for the quiet, I text hubby.

Me: Trapped in the drive-thru. Happy Monday.
Him: Exciting story? Or just somebody stalled?
Me: Unknown driver, frozen in place, I think. How’s your morning?
Him: Everybody fed and in the van, we’re out of turtle food. Do you need help?
Me: No idea. I’ll figure it out and get turtle food on the way home. Have a good day.

Coffee Shop Heroes
I was getting ready to call in late (trapped?) when we were rescued. Our knights showed up in hoodies and flip-flops (seriously? It’s freezing!) and pushed the carsicle into a parking space. The lady in front of me in the drive-thru even paid for my breakfast!

New question for you Michael:
How do I keep my car running when the temperature falls below zero?

Signed automotive anxiety sufferer,


Dear Renae,

Don’t worry! I can help ease your anxiety. This is a very good question. Statistics prove that being proactive (investing in preventive maintenance) is much better than being reactive (being inconvenienced with unscheduled car repair).

It’s not just diesels! Almost all vehicles experience added stress under cold temperature operation.

"Like people, cars are, 'warm-blooded' and don't work as well when it is cold."

Vulnerable to cold temps:

Now you know why the waiting lines for car repair are always much longer during the winter. If a car is not properly checked before cold weather arrives, a seemingly healthy car may not run so well when it’s cold.

Before it gets cold, check the cooling system and the fuel/air intake system.
Because the car takes longer to warm up in cold weather, it is even more important to have these systems clean and working at top efficiency.

"An engine that isn't really clean may 'choke and die' in cold temperatures.

Low coolant levels can cause a car to overheat in cold temps. The air filter should be checked and replaced if necessary. Also, a thorough diagnostic evaluation of the vehicle’s air intake and fuel injection system may reveal oil or fuel deposits. These need to be cleaned out so that the car can “breathe” and run easier when it gets cold.

One more thing to ease your worries: You’re covered under the Lifetime BG Protection Plan®. Just keep doing what you’re doing (regular oil changes) and you’ll have peace of mind for life!

Like you, I also enjoy my coffee. The only thing to put a damper on my day more than not getting my morning cup-of-joe, is to have my car stall while waiting in line to get it. If cars could just run on coffee, their dependability might improve greatly!

I hope you and your car stay warm!

Michael Belluomo, BG Product Technical Service Manager

By Michael Belluomo
BG Product Technical Service Manager

Mike has 35 years of experience in fuel and lube technologies. He manages all product-related inquires and assists with BGU and Distributor-specific training. He is a regular contributor of articles on product understanding and technical industry trends.

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