How to Winterize a Car
Cars and Old Man Winter do not get along. The cold, salt and poor road conditions create a number of hazards for both drivers and cars. By taking some steps to learn how to winterize your car, you can keep your car in better condition and make driving in winter safer for you.
How to Winterize Your Car – Winter Tires
If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow, snow tires are an obvious consideration. If your area is not prone to snow, you still need to be sure your tires are in good condition because worn tires are less able to grip on slippery roads. The same is true for high-performance tires. These should be switched for standard tires in good condition in areas not prone to snow.
If your tires are acceptable for the winter, be sure to check the pressure in them to be sure you will get the best possible traction on slippery roads. This also helps protect from wheel damage that can occur from potholes. The correct tire pressure can be found on the tire itself and in your driver’s manual.
If your vehicle has four-wheel drive, make sure the system is working. Just turn on the four-wheel drive and be sure it engages and disengages normally, without any clunks or disconcerting noises. Check the transmission fluid is at the proper level.
Getting caught without four-wheel drive in the first big storm can get you stuck in the snow. Remember that the four-wheel drive feature can help you get better traction in propelling you forward on slippery roads, but it will not help you stop any quicker than standard tires. Because of the better traction, many drivers travel too quickly in the snow and find themselves unable to stop when traffic ahead slows down suddenly.
Check the Oil
Many people like to switch to a thinner oil viscosity in the winter months. Check your owner’s manual and see what viscosity of oil is recommended for your vehicle. This could be 5W-30, 10W-30 or 10W-40. You only need to replace the oil with the recommended viscosity at the time of your oil change.
Be sure your antifreeze is at the appropriate mixture. It should be half coolant and half water. Auto parts stores sell cheap tests that are easy for anyone to use. Adjust the mixture by adding coolant or water until the mixture is correct. If the antifreeze was not changed last year, change it this year. It is recommended that you replace the antifreeze every two years. This is also a good time to have the system pressure-checked for leaks.
There are many parts of your car that should be inspected before Old Man Winter comes knocking. Check the belts and hoses for fraying or wear. Look at the windshield wipers and see if they need replacement.
Take a look at the car’s battery. Check that the terminals are snug and that the battery fluid is full. If it is below the cap level, refill it with distilled water. The connections should be clean and free of corrosion. Use care when working around batteries. The shock from a car battery can kill.
The cold can reduce a battery’s power by fifty percent. Batteries more than three years old should be tested to ensure they can hold a full charge. Be sure the engine is off and check the hydrometer. Some batteries have one built in. Otherwise, you can buy one at the parts store. A full charge will be between 12.6 and 12.8V. Half charge is between 12.2 and 12.4V. If it is anything less than this, replace the battery.
Junk in the Trunk
Some places are so snowy that chains need to be kept handy. Put them in the trunk before it starts snowing so you will have easy access to them when you need them. This is also a good time of year to check your first aid kit, jumper cables, flashlight and other emergency equipment to be sure everything is in good condition and working order.
When you live in areas that are susceptible to strong snow storms, certain emergency equipment should be kept in the trunk. Make sure you have a sleeping bag to keep warm should you be caught in a heavy storm lasting several days. Have an emergency crank radio so you can get updates about the weather. Make sure you have a change of warm clothes and extra gloves as well. You should keep food and water for such an emergency and a pay-as-you-go cell phone so you can make emergency calls for help.
In less snowy climates, you can get by with just a spare tire, jack, a snow brush, an ice scraper, the cell phone and extra gloves. You should also have lock deicer for sleeting conditions and extra windshield washer fluid in case you run out. Because snow and ice can sometimes damage wipers to the point where you cannot see to get home, so having an extra pair of wiper blades in your trunk is also a good idea.
It is also a good idea to keep some traction materials in the trunk in case your car becomes stuck in the snow. Have a shovel and bag of sand or non-clumping kitty litter available. Some people will keep a ½” x 6” board or an old rug as well. With these on hand you can get out of almost any snowing situation.