Preparing your car for winter weather can help keep you and your family safe through the season. As autumn fades away and temperatures begin to drop, driving conditions may worsen. Winter brings unique driving hazards to roadways. In addition to the increased precipitation many drivers encounter, colder temperatures can cause serious issues to your vehicle. Use this guide to prep your car for winter and help keep your family safe as you drive during the cold months of the year.
Schedule an Inspection and Regular Maintenance
Vehicles in both warmer and colder climates can benefit from a pre-winter inspection and maintenance. Most auto shops offer inspection services that check a car’s filters, fluids, battery, brakes and heating systems. Having a mechanic perform an inspection allows a professional to inform you of any issues in your vehicle that need to be addressed that you may not notice.
Likewise, taking your vehicle in for regular scheduled maintenance helps ensure that your car is running in good order before winter weather arrives. The busy summer season often leaves drivers with little time for regular maintenance on their cars. Scheduling a visit for an oil change with tire rotation is an important step to prepping your car for winter.
Have Your Brakes Checked
Prior to winter, have a professional mechanic inspect your brakes. Your mechanic will check your brake pads for excessive wear. Additionally, the auto shop can check your rotors for warps or cracks that may make your brakes less effective. Have any worn pads or parts replaced so your brakes can provide your car with safe stopping power all winter long.
Get an Oil Change
The miles you spent on the road this summer may have added up and your car may be even be overdue for an oil change. Drivers in particularly cold climates and those in higher elevations, should ask their mechanic about switching to a cold-weather oil. Colder weather leads to thicker engine oil, which can be more difficult for an oil filter to process. Using an oil designed for cold weather helps prevent clogging.
Winter Car Prep for Mild Winters
Drivers who live in climates with mild winters typically don’t need to prepare for heavy snowfall. Winterizing your car for warmer climate winters, however, is still an important step to proper car maintenance and safety. Mild winters usually have increased rainfall and lower temperatures. A sudden temperature drop may lead to icy roadways.
Tire Maintenance for Warmer Climates
Your car’s tires are one of the most important features for safe winter driving. In warmer climates with winter months often bring an increase in rain. Dry climates that do not experience a lot of rainfall during the summer and fall are prone to more dirt buildup on roadways. This dirt creates a slippery, dangerous mess when wet. With roadways more likely to be slippery, the tread on your tires needs to be in good shape. Tires with low tread are prone to hydroplaning and sliding. You can quickly check tire tread yourself using the simple penny method. Using a penny, insert the coin into the tread with Lincoln’s head pointed down. The less you can see of his head, the better. If you can see the whole of his head, it is likely time to replace your tires.
In addition to tire tread, your tires should be checked for slow leaks or low tire pressure should be adjusted. Colder weather leads to pressure drop in tires. Tires with low pressure offer a higher risk of a blowout when driving. Before the cooler weather hits, buy a tire pressure gauge or use a gauge from a gas station to regularly check tire pressure. The proper tire pressure for your vehicle can usually be found in the inside frame of the driver’s side door. Be sure to check tire pressure whenever the temperature drops and add air as needed.
Generally, windshield wiper blades should be replaced about every six months to a year. As the rain or snow begins to fall in the winter months, losing extra visibility from streaking wiper blades can increase chances of an accident. Inspect your car’s windshield wipers for dirt and dust. Even if wiper blades look to be in good condition, take a small amount of water to your windshield and test them before winter. Blades that streak or squeak should be replaced.
Winter Car Prep for Climates with Harsh Winters
Car owners in less moderate climates may experience extreme winter conditions. Staying home when winter weather hits is the safest option, but sometimes driving in unsavory road conditions is unavoidable. Drivers who live in areas that experience harsh winters should take the time to inspect their vehicles and prepare for winter weather well before the first snowflake falls.
Create a Winter Car Survival Kit
No one wants to think about the possibility of being stranded in serious winter weather. Being prepared, however, can assist you in staying safe should you get stuck or experience an accident. Create a winter car survival kit with emergency supplies to help keep you safe on wintery roads. Your kit should include:
- Ice scraper
- First aid kit
- Jumper cables
- Bottled water
- Nonperishable food items
- Car charger or pre-charged battery kit for your cell phone
- Sand or kitty litter for traction in snow and ice
Assemble an emergency kit before winter and keep it in your trunk or backseat. This will allow you to be prepared should you experience car troubles in snowy and cold weather.
Tire Care for Harsh Winter Weather
Similar to mild winter climates, a car’s tires in harsh winter weather provide the first defense against adverse roadway conditions. Drivers in cold weather climates should be prepared for ice or snow on the road. Check your tire pressure before winter hits and regularly throughout to maintain proper inflation. Tires with low tread should be replaced before encountering serious winter road conditions to increase traction.
If you are in a climate that often experiences extreme winter conditions, installing a set of snow tires may be a good choice to keep you safe. Snow, or winter, tires are made from materials that are designed to handle lower temperatures and usually feature increased tread for snowy and icy conditions. Keeping a set of tire chains in your car is not only a good idea, some areas may require chains in winter weather.
Windshield and Wipers
Harsh winter weather can quickly lead to low visibility. Visibility is decreased even more when windshield wiper blades are worn or damaged. Replace streaking wiper blades before harsh winter weather hits. Investing in a wiper blade that is designed to push through snow and ice can help you keep visibility in heavy winter storms. Additionally, drivers in areas prone to icy weather can help keep ice at bay by using low-temperature windshield wiper fluid that won’t freeze in cold weather and helps break up ice buildup on a windshield.
Check your windshield for cracks well before the temperature drops. Freezing exterior temperatures mixed with warmer interior temperatures expand glass. This expansion of windshield glass may produce an even bigger crack in your windshield. Install a new windshield if you notice any major cracks.
Protecting Your Vehicle in Winter
Regardless if you experience mild or harsh winter weather, taking the time to prep your car for lower temps can help keep you safe in any road condition. Have your vehicle inspected and replace or repair any issues your mechanic finds. According to the Federal Highway Administration, on average over 200,000 car crashes per year are caused by snow and sleet while almost 900,000 of average annual crashes are caused by wet pavement. An increase in car accidents makes it all the more important to prepare for winter weather and practice defensive driving techniques in winter months. Additionally, make sure you have the proper car insurance and know what your policy covers. Get a free car insurance quote and see if you qualify for any discounts so you are ready for whatever winter road conditions come your way.