I wasn’t planning on writing this but when a person on Reddit asked me about winterizing their car, I started with a few thoughts and then suddenly, I have a page-long overview for them. I decided that it might be a good idea to share this with readers here. If you have a Volkswagen, this will apply and likely to Audi customers as well but specifically this is intended for consumption by MK7 Golf owners (Sportwagen, GTI, R, Estate). An additional data point is I’m in New Hampshire. It’s very likely your Winter will be milder than mine.
In the most basic case, if you’re a GTI owner with the standard 18” wheels, then visit TireRack.coma and put in your car information and buy winter tires. All-Season tires are the Multi-Function printer of the car world. They aren’t great at any one thing. Running dedicated Summer & Winter tires is essential if you’re north of Tennessee. Most people, that’s all they need to do for Winter but if you’re like me, maybe there’s a few bits I can help with?
Best Case (fully winterizing your vehicle):
- VW recommends against using any windshield wiper fluids except theirs (the blue stuff). I have 3 friends with Golfs who have failed windshield wiper fluid sensors after using Rain-X for a single season. So, where do you get the blue stuff? You can buy it here from ShopDap.com. The bottle indicates how much to dilute the concentrated mix based on the temperatures. Read it and mix appropriately for the lowest temperature. I’d recommend buying a case of this stuff because VW is known for chewing through washer fluid. Maybe Deutsch Auto Parts will give you a bulk discount.
- Coolant is also temperature dependent when it comes to dilution. VW’s MK7 Golf platform uses G13 coolant. It’s also designed to be a concentrate and to be diluted with distilled water. Here’s a link to buy it. Again, dilute based on the lowest temperature you’re going to have in your area. I flush my coolant once a year (overkill).
- Before Winter starts and after Winter ends, inspect and see if your windshield wipers need replacing. I do my front wipers once a year and my rear-wipers every 2 years. Ice & snow is rough on the edges of the wipers and you’ll start to see streaking and uneven wipes even after a single winter (NH winters can last 6 months). Here’s a link to buy the OEM wipers.
- If you can afford to get a car-wash that also sprays your undercarriage, try to go once a week. Touchless car-washes are the only options and keep that salt from sticking around too long. VW has a 10+ year corrosion warranty and the undercarriage is almost all plastic so you’re better off than most people when it comes to corrosion but once it starts, it’s hard to stop so a weekly spray underneath will keep the car looking & functioning great for decades.
- Avoid a window-scraper unless absolutely necessary. You’re fine to own one as sometimes you have no choice but a snow-pusher with a micro-fiber towel under it (I keep 5 of these in my car) is going to be much nicer to your clear-coat. Little small scrapes on the windshield will make it harder to defeat oncoming headlight glare at night. Go sit in a 10 year old car versus your new VW and see how much of a difference glare is. That’s usually due to improper care like cleaning the windshield with a paper towel and ammonia windex along with ice scraping. I recommend the Snow Joe for ice pushing which has a scraper at one side if needed.
- Reduce idling if you can. It’s tempting to want to warm up the car for 20 minutes and engage those heated seats but aside from the fuel economy losses, idling without driving is bad for your car. Modern direct injected engines can handle this abuse for many years but it does decrease the life of the engine. I generally warm up for 60 seconds and go. Try to do the same no matter how cold it is.
- Grab some floor mats from Weathertech. Salt covered boots cause permanent damage to the fabric in your OEM floor mats. Resale value will be affected by keeping the interior carpet in great shape.
- A boot liner is also a good option. If you’re going to load up all of your snow-shoeing gear in the back, this keeps water and salt from getting into the fabric.
- Your turbocharged vehicle LOVEs cold weather. The colder ambient temps help the engine from having to work as hard as the low temp increases the density of the air and allows your turbo’s goal of 18.5 PSI to be hit much easier but despite the power increase and spool time being slower, Winter tires do not have the kind of traction as Summers do so be very careful. Your car will also be a bit louder than stock at 0F or lower so don’t be alarmed if you hear the turbo a bit more during cold winter months
- In the North, gas companies change the mix of the gasoline around the time temps are below 32 during the afternoon to evenings. Winter Fuel will have more non-combustible components in it so you’ll see your fuel economy drop during the winter. This is normal. I run Shell 93 year-round due to my car’s tuning but if you can afford 93 throughout the winter from a Top-tier gasoline station, your’e helping your car a lot.
On the subject of winter wheels & tires:
- Go 1” smaller in wheel size from the stock size VW gave you so if your car came with 18s, go 17s but in the Golf R & GTI w/ Performance Pack, make sure it’s a wheel that will clear your brake calipers. The reason for going small is explained here.
- By going smaller, you’re not only going to have more traction but if you pop a tire or dent a wheel on a hidden curb under snow, they’ll be much cheaper than your stock Wheel + Tires by up to $300. VW’s 18” GTI wheels are $400 new and tires in that size are a lot more than 17s.
- Also, by having a 17” Winter set and an 18” Summer set, you’re able to get better performance in the Summer time and save even more money by not having to re-mount & balance tires on your 18s every winter. IT’s way cheaper to swap a pre-mounted winter set twice a year than pay for the full swap (5 lugs versus a full mounting and balance)
- The last thing I’ll mention about wheels is try to get painted wheels for Winter time. Northern salt put on the roads to see you safe eats away at clear-coat which is on all of VW’s wheels. Painted wheels will hold up to sale much longer
- On the topic of Tires, I’d recommend Blizzak, X-Ice or Sottozero for your tires.
- Check your tire pressure every week during Winter months and bi-weekly during the Summer. Low ambient temps immediately affect the internal PSI in the tire. Lower pressure equals less traction and lower fuel economy. Keep the pressure up throughout the winter. Keep a digital tire gauge in your car and check it every Monday before going to work.
It’s worth saying that you should have your car inspected by a local shop up on a lift every Winter & Spring to make sure everything is in good condition. Ice can get up in the wheel well and crack the plastic (it’s happened to me two winters in a row) and those clips are easy to replace if the crack isn’t too bad. Give it a really solid pressure washer spray down in the Spring and a detailing session if you can afford it for around $250. I also tend to do an oil change just before Winter as well for additional peace of mind.
I hope this guide helps someone looking to Winterize their Volkswagen.