Driving in the snow, sleet, and freezing rain makes it difficult to operate your vehicle safely. When you live in a cold weather climate, it’s all but impossible to avoid driving in less than ideal conditions. Taking a few key steps to prepare your car for winter reduces the risk of accident and ensures you’ll be prepared in the event that there is an incident.
Check your tires
Inspect your tires to confirm you have adequate tire tread to handle wet and icy roads. If your tires are worn, invest in a new set of tires before the winter weather arrives. Check the tire pressure as well, adding more air as needed. Most gas stations offer free air pumps. Typically, it’s recommended to set your tire inflation pressure 3-5 psi higher than the normal recommended level during the winter. If you live in a region with a high amount of snowfall, think about switching to snow tires for the winter. Snow tires are made of cold-resistant rubber and have deeper treads to handle large quantities of snow with ease.
Change your oil
When the temperature is cold, the oil in the car thickens, which may prevent it from lubricating the engine, damaging it. Fill your engine with a lower viscosity oil. The number before the W represents viscosity. For example, 5W-30 has a lower viscosity than 10W-40. If you’re unsure what type of oil to use for your vehicle, consult the owner’s manual or talk to your mechanic.
Wax your car
The combination of moisture and road salt is highly corrosive. Over time, these elements eat away at the car’s paint. As the paint gets worn down, the aluminum underneath the paint may get damaged. Waxing your car is the most effective way to protect it from the winter elements.
Standard wiper blades aren’t sufficient for moving large amounts of snow and ice. Switch to winter wiper blades to keep your windshield fully visible at all times. Check your wiper blade fluid as well. During the winter, use a winter wiper fluid that won’t freeze and will actually help loosen snow and ice from the windshield, making it easier to keep your view clear. Fill the wiper fluid tank regularly so you don’t find yourself with an empty tank while driving, leaving you unable to clear your windshield during inclement weather.
Belts and hoses
Assess the condition of your vehicle engine’s belts and hoses. In cold weather, they become more brittle, increasing the likelihood of breakage or snapping. Getting a tune-up before winter is the perfect opportunity to have a mechanic inspect your belts and hoses.
Check antifreeze and engine coolant levels
A vehicle’s coolant system prevents the engine from overheating while also minimizing interior corrosion. When the coolant freezes, you run the risk of damaging your engine. An ideal coolant has a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water. Adding more antifreeze is a very simple procedure. Auto supply stores sell kits for checking the engine coolant level, which lets you know if you have adequate coolant mix. The vehicle owner manual should also have instructions for checking the level.
Keep your gas tank half full
During the cold months, moisture may collect in the gas tank, corroding the interior metal. Freezing moisture leads to significant damage. The simplest way to avoid this problem is to keep the gas tank at least half full. This allows the gasoline to absorb any moisture before it accumulates.
Pack the proper winter gear
Before the winter weather arrives, load up your car with winter road supplies, including an ice scraper, snow shovel, tire chains, gloves, flashlight, road flares, blankets, spare clothing, a few snacks, and kitty litter, road salt, or sand. Pack the emergency supplies in a large Rubbermaid container to stay organized and avoid having spare items strewn around your car.
If you only take one step toward winter car preparation, it should be creating an emergency box for your car. Even under the best of circumstances, you never know when something will go wrong when you’re driving. On dark, short days with sub-zero temperatures, a bad situation escalates into a potentially deadly situation very quickly. The emergency box will keep you and your family safe.