Everything you should do to get your car ready for winter
Be prepared before roads turn treacherous
For a number of lucky people in the world, autumn is now in full swing. The changing leaves are at their peak color and temperatures are plummeting when the sun goes down. It's the perfect time to take a scenic drive through all the beauty, but it's also an early warning of much colder days soon to come.
Snow and icy conditions can be the most dangerous to drive. While accidents can occur in any weather, winter is not the ideal season for a breakdown or wreck in the middle of a frigid wasteland. It's crucial to take extra precautions to minimize winter's brutal impact.
Here is everything you should know to ensure your car will power through the winter driving months.
Check the tires
Winter tires aren't always necessary, but they're recommended. The rubber of all-season tires hardens in cold temperatures, which causes a loss in grip. The rubber of winter tires is manufactured to be softer and holds on better to snow covered roads.
Tread depth should be between 5/32" and 6/32" of an inch, leaning towards the latter. More tread = more grip = less sliding.
There are debates whether under inflation or over inflation is better in the winter. Remember that tire pressure drops in colder temps because the air inside the tire condenses. It's best to follow your car manufacturer's suggested PSI and to check it more often in winter.
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Ensure your car is in tip-top shape
Double check that both front and rear defrosters work, as well as the heater. Make sure the headlights, brake lights, flashers, and interior lights are all in working order.
Top off the windshield wiper fluid because this helps de-ice the windshield (and rear, if your vehicle has this option). Low fluid levels and water build-up can freeze in bitter temps and can cause the reservoir to crack. Check the wipers too and replace if necessary. You can't have those conking out on you in the middle of a blizzard
Examine all mechanical aspects or take it to a trusted mechanic for a general checkup. The battery should be healthy and without corrosion. Change the oil if needed. The owner's manual might suggest a different oil viscosity for wintertime use. Monitor other fluids like the coolant, transmission, engine, brake, etc.
Check hoses and belts for significant wear. Finally, keep up to date on any recalls that might pop up and have them fixed immediately.
Items to keep on hand
If you don't already have some safety necessities in the trunk, now's the time to pack them in. Some regular items suggested to keep in your trunk are: first aid kit, spare tire and jack/inflation kit/fix-a-flat, jumper cables, flashlight, multi-tool, and an extra cell phone charger or power bank.
For winter you should have a few extra things, especially if traveling further from home: a blanket, extra warm clothes (gloves, hat, jacket), windshield wiper fluid, traction mats or sand/kitty litter, ice scraper with brush, shovel, matches, and your medications.
Get it washed and keep it clean
With snow, slush, and ice on the roadways comes the annoyance of salt and other de-icing agents. Letting these build up on the bodywork may cause rust and stains. Wash your car frequently and dry completely (I've had the doors freeze shut!). Consider a good wax to prevent heavy buildups.
Change out cloth floor mats for rubber ones to protect the interior from your wet, slushy boots. Throw those cloth mats in the trunk in case you need to use them for traction if you get stuck.
Give your car a little extra attention
If you're at home more this year or you don't drive often in the winter, be sure to start your car at least once a week to keep fluids moving. If you live in a cold enough climate, some can freeze or become slushy. It gives a little love to the engine too. Even here in Pennsylvania, winters have become so cold that cars refuse to start. Give yours added attention and a quick lap around the block just to keep it moving.
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Watch out for small animals
Lastly, ensure that no animals have made a home under the hood. In the wintertime, small creatures are attracted to cars for shelter, especially if you don't drive often. Pop the hood and do a once-over around the engine for any critters. Slip out the cabin air filter because this is a place where nut-gathering creatures store their food.
Peep under the car too and make sure no one's pet Fluffy is cooped up behind a tire or taking a catnap under there.
Bonus winter driving tips
Now that your car is equipped to take on the winter roads, you should be too. If you've never driven in snow, or you're not experienced, take a friend and practice in an empty parking lot. Familiarize yourself with how the brakes behave on slick streets. Each vehicle type will perform differently. Smaller, lighter cars may slide more than a heavy car. Rear-wheel drive is trickier to hold on to than front-wheel or 4WD.
Drive slow and keep extra distance to the car in front of you. By now, you should be used to social distancing, so this should be no sweat.
Plan your route and check for road closures. Note alternate routes, even if you use GPS. These upcoming holiday months include road trips to visit family, so check the weather before you head out. Communicate with family or friends when you leave, your expected time of arrival, and the route you're taking so that someone knows of your whereabouts.