This post is part of the Fall Car Care Month series. The Car Care Council’s Fall Car Care Month during October is part of a consumer education campaign to teach drivers about the benefits of regular vehicle care, maintenance and repair. For more information, visit carcare.org.
As a native Floridian, my seasonal knowledge is quite limited: When I moved to Milwaukee, I thought that the apartment I was renting had a thermostat, that it of course had conditioning. Needless to say, when temperatures peaked in July, I was sweating bullets. Months later, when I found myself freezing when the pilot light burnt out, I had no idea where to locate it (we don’t have basements or furnaces in Fort Lauderdale, after all).
So, when I saw that Mother Nature had gotten an early start this year, blowing winter weather into the Northwest and Midwest regions this past week, I knew we were overdue for a post about winterizing your car.
The tips below will help you prep your vehicle for optimum performance and safety in snowy and icy conditions. They would have helped me greatly for my first (and only) winter in the Midwest. (I did have to have my boss pick me up the first time it snowed, after all.)
To the winter veterans out there, let us know what you think is the most important winterizing tip.
If you do one thing:Put together an Emergency Kit now. Safety comes first. Winter requires some specific emergency items which you may not already keep in your trunk. At the bare minimum, be sure to add the following items to your road emergency kit: drinking water, a flashlight, a small shovel, a blanket, warm clothes (gloves/boots), and an ice scraper. Also, keep some salt or kitty litter in your trunk for added traction if you find your car stuck.
Amazon.com sells a number of winter car emergency kits, like this AAA 65-piece kit, available for $28.54 plus shipping.
Under the hood
- Get a fresh oil change for the winter. Because engine oil’s viscosity varies according to temperature (it thickens up in colder temperatures), you should switch over to thinner oil in the winter. Check your owner’s manual for the recommended oil viscosity grade.
- Check the battery. Make sure all connections are secure and that there is no corrosion, which you should clean off safely. Check the battery’s fluid level and top off with distilled water if necessary. If your battery is aging (4 years or older), go ahead and replace it.
- Check engine coolant to make sure the antifreeze mixture is correct. A 50/50 mixture of antifreeze to water will ensure that the coolant doesn’t freeze.
- Inspect belts and hoses for wear and tear.
- Keep your gas tank full. Prevent fuel lines from freezing by keeping your tank full. This will prevent condensation from building up and introducing unwanted water in the tank that could sink into the fuel lines and freeze.
- Keep tires properly inflated. Air pressure drops in colder temperatures. Proper inflation will help maximize traction in wet and snowy conditions.
- Inspect tread on all tires and replace if necessary. Don’t try and make it through the winter with bald tires. The more tread left on the tire, the better traction your car will have in winter weather.
- Don’t forget about your spare. Make sure that your spare tire is free of damage and inflated to the recommended PSI.
- Use snow tires, if appropriate. Snow tires have more tread than all-season tires and work well for some regions. However, they wear more rapidly and may not grip as well as all-season tires on well-cleared roads.
- Test 4WD (four-wheel drive) systems. Because 4WD is not required all the time, it’s best to test the system to make sure it is properly functioning before winter arrives, as it is when you will need it most
- Inspect wiper blades and replace as needed. Visibility is essential to safe driving in snowy and icy weather. Wiper blades typically have last for six months to a year, depending on how often they are used.
- Check defroster and heater to make sure they’re operating. Both help prevent frost buildup on the windshield, improving visibility.
- Use winter wiper fluid, and keep plenty on hand. You’ll go through wiper fluid rapidly during winter. Store an extra bottle in your trunk. Winter specific wiper fluid will resist freezing in cold temperatures and help deice the windshield after a freeze.
- Replace broken exterior lights. Don’t put off replacing a high-beam or taillight.