Stay safe: preparing your car for winter
If you live in sunny Florida or Southern California, you probably won’t find much use in this article. But if you live in a state that knows what winter is like, or plan on visiting friends or family who live in a colder climate, the following tips could literally be life-saving. We remind you that winter is here, and your car knows it!
During the cold months it is much more difficult to get the car started and the road conditions are worse, so it’s highly important to have everything working properly before then. Vehicle trouble is never fun, but during winter problems can be deadly – just imagine that your car breaks down in a rural area when the weather is freezing and you have poor cellphone reception.
So, have a look at the pre-winter checks recommended to all car owners or their mechanics.
- Winter tires – are not optional in a climate with ice on the roads. Not only do you need to change from summer to winter tires, but also to check your car’s tire tread; you can try the so-called “quarter test”. Take a standard U.S. quarter and push it in between your car’s treat at several different points. If, when you put it upside down, you see the top of George Washington’s head peeking out from between the grooves at any location, the tire has one-eighth or less an inch of tread left, and yes, that means it’s time for replacement. Moreover, you should also check the car’s tire pressure monthly, as cold weather will make the air in the tires contract.
- Antifreeze – this is the juice that goes in your radiator and is vital for your car’s protection during winter. Your car contains a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze. Make sure the level is full and the mixture is close to this 50/50.
- Windshield wipers – bad wipers are the last thing you want on the roads sprinkled with salt that is kicking up onto your car’s windshield. You can test your car’s blades by the simple gesture of running them in the rain or after applying windshield-washer fluid. If they fail to clear the windshield in one pass, replace them. Keep in mind that costlier blades typically have water resistant silicone or Teflon, thus work better than the budget versions. As in everything else, you get what you pay for.
- Windshield washer fluid – you will be using a lot of washer fluid, so make sure you have enough. Don’t fill your washer fluid reservoir with anything except washer fluid, this won’t freeze.
- Battery – if the vehicle doesn’t start, you won’t be going anywhere; have your battery professionally tested.
- Engine – if you’ve noticed problems like engine stalls or difficulty starting the vehicle, the time is perfect to take your car in for service. The cold weather will only make these things worse.
- Headlights and taillights – it’s essential to see and be seen during winter’s shorter daylight hours. Check all of your car’s headlights and taillights, replace any burned-out bulbs, and clean off road grime. Furthermore, of your car is more than three years old and you notice that the headlight covers have gotten cloudy, consider “headlight restoration”
- Brakes – it’s enough to keep in mind that the braking system is the vehicle’s most important safety item.
- Engine Oil – be diligent about changing the oil and filter at recommended intervals. Dirty oil means trouble in winter. If you live in a cold climate, you can even consider changing to “winter weight” oil. Since you’re here, have your technician check the fuel, air, and transmission filters.
- Emergency kit – put in your trunk or in the back of your car a blanket, a snow shovel, flashlight, matches, a bottle of water and a few protein bars, flare, and a whistle. Let’s hope you won’t need them, but better to play it safe than sorry. Exactly as with the renter’s insurance – you pay it and hope to never use it, but when you need to, you’re glad you were prepared.