By David Thome Special to ADAMM Published Nov 27, 2020 at 4:01 PM

This content is presented in partnership with ADAMM.

You might worry about your car if you have to park it outside – in the driveway, on the street, in a parking space, whatever – during the cold months, but a few simple practices can keep it running reliably and looking sharp.

“There’s not much to do that you shouldn’t do the rest of the year,” says Ken Winkelman, service manager for Kunes Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram of Elkhorn. “Newer vehicles are pretty well winterized.”

Even the anti-freeze/engine coolant no longer needs special attention, he says, thanks to the miracle of pre-mixing. That’s not to say, though, that you shouldn’t check the owner’s manual to see if it’s time to have the fluid replaced.

What car care experts like Winkelman and Jim Jarslberg, service manager for Griffin Ford of Fort Atkinson, say you need to do – even if your car luxuriates in a heated garage – is follow up on routine maintenance, especially the following:

Inflate the tires

“If you fill the tires when it was 80 and don’t check them in fall,” Winkelman says, “you’re going to be riding around on underinflated tires.” That’s bad, because incorrectly inflated tires are unsafe and wear out faster.

A tire loses one pound of pressure for every 10 degrees of temperature drop, says AARP automotive writer James R. Healey. “That’s mainly a seasonal danger when days are warm and nights are chilly, leaving you with underinflated tires the next morning.”

Of course, temperature fluctuations occur not only outside, but also in unheated garages and whenever the vehicle leaves the comfort of home.

Have the battery checked

Batteries die in winter – but is it winter’s fault? Not necessarily. 

First, vehicles constantly drain power for onboard computers, adjustable seats and radio presets. Second, AAA says that summertime heat accelerates fluid loss and oxidation, so “a battery damaged in July may not have the strength to get you to work in February.” Third, oil thickens in cold weather, forcing the battery to crank harder to start the motor.

There are ways to tell by yourself, but checking the battery is always on the list for any routine service, such as oil changes.

Plus, if your battery is getting old, preventive measures are recommended. “If your battery was new in 2016,” Healy says, “this season (2020) begins your period of borrowed time.”

Keep it clean

Salt, grime, bird droppings, nuts, sticks and even dried-on autumn leaves can be rough even on today’s multi-layered high-tech finishes. However, strong protection is just a gentle wash and a good coat of wax away.

Some blogs say to avoid car washes, but Jarlsberg says they’re generally all right – as long as the temperature is above 32. The reason? You don’t want your windows and doors freezing shut, because trying to open them could damage the motors or the parts that raise and lower the glass.

He says that a common ice scraper or a credit card – preferably an expired one – are good tools for emancipating windows, but it might be a good idea to keep deicing spray on hand.

DIY car care blogs recommend using microfiber cloths to wash and dry automotive exteriors, though again, Jarlsberg says he doesn’t see much difference between microfiber and cotton.

And, about those dreaded leaves: says the tannic acid created when they decay can stain car paint. If you did get stains this fall, a commercial washing solution and stain remover should remove them.

Hit the road

Experts agree that a little-used vehicle shouldn’t sit all winter long. 

Winkelman says he owns such a vehicle that he drives at least once a week, which is what many car care blogs recommend.

Noting that engines are most at risk right after they’re fired up, Healy, of AARP, says going for a 30-minute drive – 15 miles or so, including a few on the highway – can keep a healthy battery charged, warm the oil enough to evaporate engine-threatening moisture and improve lubrication for the next cold-weather start.

Ward off rodents

Rats, mice and other varmints sometimes take up residence in a vehicle left outside to escape the cold – and once there, they may be find that the wires are conducive to gnawing. They don’t hate your car; they just have to gnaw to keep their teeth from growing too long.

Car maintenance experts, including Ryan Nikolaus, service adviser for Russ Darrow Kia of Wauwatosa, recommends stuffing dryer sheets such as Bounce, into corners of the engine compartment where there are no moving parts if your car is going to sit.

Be careful going undercover

While experts agree that fitted covers can protect vehicles that will be up on blocks for the whole season, they’re not a recommended for cars you drive frequently. “I’m not in favor of using a cover for an everyday driver,” Jarlsberg says. “You have to roll it off and peel it over, and if you don’t do it just right, you can scratch the paint.”