Preparing car for Chicago winter

We have just moved to Chicago from North Carolina. What maintenance and other work should we have done to our 2003 car to ensure reliability throughout the winter, and longevity of our car?

First, have your battery checked. If it’s more than 5 years old, you may want to replace it now, before a 10-degree night kills it.

Second, if your antifreeze hasn’t been changed in the last two years, have the cooling system drained and filled with fresh antifreeze.

Third, check your tires. If they’re worn all-season tires, you might want to go ahead and get a new set of all-season tires that have good winter traction. (Some people like to have a second set of winter tires, but that’s a big investment. You can do fine with a good set of all-season tires. Read the consumer surveys at

Fourth, throw a shovel in the back. (I prefer a dirt shovel, not a snow shovel, 'cause it’s smaller and stronger than a snow shovel). A bag of kitty litter is handy for throwing under the tires for traction, too, if you get stuck.

Fifth, if you don’t have heated seats, buy one of those $30 plug-in car seat heater pads from Amazon. A warm backside makes commuting in winter seem not so bad, after all.

…also, fill your WW fluid reservoir with WW fluid that will not freeze and invest a few bucks in winter wiper blades.

Get a good set of winter tires and at the first good snow fall or ice go to an empty shopping mall and practice,practice,practice.

Make sure your tires are all-season(should state M+s on sidewall) have at least 6/32" of tread depth. Below that tread depth tires do not work very in winter conditions.

I Don’t Know If Your Windshield Wipers Ever Froze To Your Windshield In NC.

In Chicago it has to be part of your normal routine to check the wipers and free them from being stuck before getting in the car to drive.

It can be dangerous if your windshield suddenly becomes obstructed (and it will happen) and can be very costly if you turn those wipers on and they can’t move.

Buy a good window ice scraper and a good snow brush or a combination of both and keep it in the car.


All of the above and keep a warm winter coat in the trunk, you never know when you might need it!

Get AAA just in case. Keep your cell phone charged. Put some snacks, a drinking cup, toilet paper, stuff you’ll need if you get in a 7 hour traffic jam. Rocketman

If your car is up to date on maintenance, then you really don’t need to do anything for the car. In the winter you need a good snow brush and ice scrapper. Fill the washer fluid with a good fluid, the ones that say they don’t freeze might be best for the very cold Chicago weather. Winter wiper blades are better than normal wiper blades, but at the least get new wiper blades. You need them to clear the muck off the windshield so you can see. A set of jumper cables or a “jump starter pack” is a good thing to have handy. Some reflectors if you get stuck somewhere too.

As far as winter tires, I’d get them but if you can ride out the storms safely at home you might get by with all season tires. If your all season tires are worn 1/2 or more then replace them.

Keep some extra drinkiing water in the car. Keep your gas tank 1/2 or more full (in case you get stuck on a “closed” road like the NYS Thurway was recently in Buffalo) and slow down when driving in snow.

A change of registration is in order. NC plates will be towed away first. You probably already did that. I’ve been watching Parking Wars. It’s better than AFV some times. It’s like crime in reverse.

Studded Winter tires may keep you from dodge ramming something.

I believe Chicago is prone to the Lake Effect Snow, isn’t it? A half mile wide swath will get 2 feet of snow, the surrounding areas might get 2 inches. Find a local radio station that reports closing and delays and see if their website posts them on there as well. If school or businesses close down for the day, why wait until you’re in your car to see if you need to leave? Check when you first get up in the morning and if they’re closed, don’t even bother getting ready for work. Watch the local weather report and get into the habit of putting your wipers up off the windshield if it’s gonna snow or chance of freezing rain; this will help solve the problem of them sticking to it.
One thing I’d look into would be a remote starter. I’ve had them on my last 3 vehicles and love them. Set the temp and fan speed and such the night before and start your car to get it nice and comfy inside before you drive away. This will help if you need to park outside, if you have a garage where you live, you shouldn’t really need one.

Lake effect snow is more of an impact in Indiana, and Michigan. Chicago describes a lot of possibilities, as one might say they live in Chicago to someone from NY and actually live 40 or 50 miles out in a suburb. Look at Metra and other options, but be warned a snowy day can be just as long of a commute as a regular day. I starred jesmed, good advice for anyone, except for the heated seats, never had them, and you will be bundled up enough you may not even notice them.

Make sure the WW fluid you buy is good for -20 or -25 degrees F. Read carefully and get the right stuff.

We carry around a blanket and insulated coveralls in the back all winter long.

Welcome to da Windy City, the Winter Road Salt Capital of the World. There?s great advice from folks on the board but no studded winter tires are allowed in Chicago. A few items I?d like to add or reinforce from the previous posters:

  1. Run down your windshield washer fluid to get rid of all the tired old stuff and refill with the colder weather stuff. Or, if you don’t have time, dump a little isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol 70% or 90%) in the windshield washer reservoir and spray the washer until you catch the faint smell of alcohol. That way you flush the pure water out of the system so it doesn?t freeze up. If you just try to top off the water or old washer fluid, it?s going to freeze on the really cold days. You?ll have liquid in the reservoir but the stuff in the tubes/sprayer will freeze up and the washer will not spray. It?s going down to 2 degrees tonight. Good luck?
  2. Keep an extra jug of washer fluid in the trunk. You will use a LOT in Chicago. You?ll soon learn the joys of driving in never ending salt spray. Make sure you keep the reservoir topped off.
  3. Make sure your wiper blades are new. If you can do it yourself, 2 ANCO blade refills are about $10. Small price to pay to be able to see where you?re going. Worn wiper blades that work in the summer/fall will leave a thin film of water that will freeze in about 2 seconds and white out your windshield. That will require you to constantly spray washer fluid every 2 seconds to see where you are going. See 2).
  4. Your pristine Southern car is going to get assaulted by Chicago road salt. It?s really unbelievable how much salt they use up here. Any scratches or little dings in the paint that expose metal at the start of winter will grow into ugly rust spots by Spring. If you?re handy, do some quick touch up to cover all bare metal exposed by scratches and dings. If not, find a cheap body shop to do it for you. You?ll see the older rusted cars when you arrive and that may help motivate you.
  5. After you finish a nice ride in your warm car on a cold winter day, learn to ?air out? the car when you get home by opening the doors for a while to let the warm moist air escape. Otherwise, you will discover the joys of finding your car with frosted over windows ON THE INSIDE the next morning. Or, if you park in a garage, learn to leave the windows open a bit to vent out the moisture before it condenses and freezes and/or allow any frost to be removed by sublimation.
  6. Oh yeah, DON?T follow a salt truck in Chicago unless you like divots in your car and holes in your windshield. They don?t call it ROCK SALT for nuthin . . .

I wanted to add some clarity to the comments about the wiper blades. The ones I far prefer are rubber-booted winter blades. Some blades with plastic frames call themselves winter blades, but they really aren’t. Without rubber boots over the wiper frames, ice will very quickly build up in a storm and lift the blades up from the sindshield, and you’ll completely lose visability.

I’ve been stuck in a Chicago storm more than once, and it can get nasty. You’ll want the proper blades.

I’ve seen many references to wiper blades on this post, which I agree with unreservedly. However, DO make sure to flip them out away from the windshield when you store the car for the night. That way you won’t accidentally turn on the wipers stuck to the glass and burn out the motor or at least a fuse.

re airing out:

The only time I’ve ever had a problem with frost on the inside of the windows is when I left my air on “Recirc” instead of fresh.

re heated seats:
Trust me, it’s very noticeable if your seats are on or not when it’s leather seats. I am very thankful I got them in my new car.