It’s cocoa-drinkin’ and scarf-wearin’ and fa-la-la time, baby! You’ve waited all the long, hot summer for that chill in the air, and you’re ready. Get your car ready, too, to ensure that you have a smooth, efficient ride despite that nip in the air.
When you first feel that chill, it’s time to:
Do Some Winter Car Maintenance
Although we say you should do “winter” maintenance, the truth is that there are components of your vehicle that need year-round attention. Specifically, you should be constantly checking, and especially in the winter, the condition of your:
- Spark plugs
These things can be done by yourself but, if you’re not the DIY type, be sure to stop in at your local mechanic when the weather starts to change. It’s the best way to make sure all your car’s parts hold up in the cold weather.
Prepare for Emergencies
Even if you don’t predict getting stuck in the car in a snow-storm, it’s never a bad idea to prepare for the worst during the winter months. You never know when you’ll be called on to take an emergency trip to a hospital states away, and then—Who knew?—you find yourself stuck on a frozen bridge. We pray these things never happen, but if and when they do, you will be ready by packing an emergency kit that includes the following:
- Warm clothes – gloves, hat, scarf, whatever keeps you toasty
- Sand or Cat Litter – No, we’re not crazy. Sand or litter can help your tires grip the road if you get stuck in the snow!
- Ice scraper
- Spade or small shovel
- Extra coolant
- Basic medical supplies – band-aids, triple antibiotic ointment, gauze, ibuprofen, etc.
Don’t Let Your Assets Freeze
An especially frustrating situation is finally getting off work on a wintery Friday only to find your door locks frozen. You attempt to force the key, and it snaps. Plus, your bottle of glycerin you keep for emergency de-icing needs is… under the passenger seat. Not helpful.
Prepare for the possibility that your door locks could freeze by keeping a leak-proof bottle of glycerin or another de-icing agent in your purse, in your desk, or somewhere in the house. If you don’t have glycerin and you’re close to a place with running water, warm or hot water can also sometimes do the trick.
Check Your Battery
Ever notice how the devices in your home that require batteries seem to die early on you in those cold months? Your car battery is no different. This is because batteries (car or otherwise) have reduced capacity in cold weather. Be sure to check your battery’s fluids, cables, and terminals as well as the battery itself to get the most out of it during winter. The battery’s remaining charge can be checked with a hand-held hydrometer, or, for fancier batteries, you can check the built-in hydrometer for remaining charge levels. If you see from the battery’s manufacture date that you need a new one soon, be sure never to buy a new battery with a manufacture date older than 6 months to get the more bang (literally) for your buck. Cables should be checked for tears, cracks, or breaks. Terminals should be checked to ensure tight connections. Fluids can be checked by removing the cap from the refill tube(s) and ensuring that the fluid level is just below the bottom of the cap. If it’s not, refill it.
Check Your Tires
Cold winter air can wreak havoc on your tires, causing them to deflate and wear down more quickly, which ultimately means less traction, less control, and a higher risk or crashes. Check to ensure that your tires’ PSI is at the proper level according to the owner’s manual.
If you live in a particularly snow-heavy area, you may consider snow tires, which have a specially made tread for handling snow. You can also get snow tires with studs for extra grip. Two things to note:
- Be sure to change all four tires to winter tires as a combination of winter and summer tires can cause an unbalanced ride and wear out all tires faster, and
- Only use snow tires if you need them. These are the best option for driving through the snow, but come spring, they decrease fuel efficiency and make handling more difficult. Dress your car appropriately for the weather!
Check Your Fluids
Fluid levels to check include:
- Wiper fluid – Make sure that you have freeze-proof wiper fluid for better visibility!
- Oil – Talk to your mechanic or consult your owner’s manual to see if your area is prone to the type of freezing weather that would make switching to a thinner oil the safest option in the winter months.
- Coolant – Your radiator needs extra love and attention during the winter months. To prevent your radiator from freezing, you must have the proper mixture of water and antifreeze. Make sure you have enough coolant. Also check that you have the right type of coolant by checking your owner’s manual or talking with your mechanic.