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How to Winterize Your Vehicle: A Checklist To Ensure Safe Winter Driving

January 22, 2021

1. Inspect Your Tires

There’s only one thing that connects a vehicle to the road: tires. Thus, it is one of the most important things to take care of.


David Bennett, manager of repair systems at the American Automobile Association (AAA), simplified inspecting your tires by saying,


“Do you have plenty of tread on your tires? That’s the lifeblood of the car that will give you traction on the road. If the tread is worn down, you are going to see diminished performance, stopping distances will be longer on slippery roads, ice, snow,” Bennett said. Resistance to hydroplaning will be greatly reduced.


To determine whether there is enough tread on your tires, take a penny and insert it into one of the grooves between the treads. Lincoln’s head needs to be facing you and his head should be upside down. Do this in 10-15 areas of the tire.


If you see all of Lincoln’s head, the tread depth is less than 2/32 of an inch, meaning the tire is dangerous. Then, you must replace your tires.


If a portion of Lincoln’s head is not visible, your tire is ok.”


2. Fix Tire Pressure

A severely deflated tire can easily result in a blowout if a pothole is hit, leaving you stranded on the highway for hours in the bitter cold. Frequently check the air pressure in each tire. Each 10 degree drop in outside temperature can mean a one-pound loss in air pressure. The best time to inspect tires is when the car has been sitting for 30 minutes or more.


3. Test the Battery

One of the most common problems during cold weather spells is dead batteries. Engines are more difficult to start in cold weather. Batteries hate cold weather. Colder temperatures thicken your engine oil making it harder for your engine to turn. A cold engine needs peak power to start. So, while your cars battery may have started your car just fine during the summer months, you might be having issues while the weather is cold.


4. Change Oil

Lighter weight oil is as important to starting an engine in cold weather as is a strong battery. Cold weather thickens engine oil, making it difficult for parts to turn and the engine to start. Check your cars owner’s manual to determine the proper engine oil weight. The basic rule is use thinner oil for cold weather, thicker in hot weather.


5. Add Proper Coolant

Coolant, sometimes called anti-freeze, is a liquid that absorbs engine heat and dissipates that energy through the radiator. It cools the engine in the winter and summer, preventing overheating and extensive, expensive damage to the engine. The coolant also is formulated to resist freezing.


If there is insufficient coolant in the system serious engine damage may occur. Frequently check the amount of coolant in the radiator’s reservoir tank, a small plastic, clear container located near the radiator. A line on the side of the tank shows the proper level. If coolant is needed do not unscrew the radiator cap and add coolant into the radiator.


6. Check Belts and Hoses

Wires and belts need to be checked for cracks and wear, hoses for leaks, and cables for lubrication. Cold temperatures weaken these items — hoses can become brittle and fail. Check and replace what’s necessary before you are stranded on the highway.


7. Choose AWD or 4WD

Both systems offer improved snow traction. Check the owner’s manual to determine if or when maintenance is required. Also, check the manual to determine how to activate the 4-wheel drive system if it has manual controls. You probably haven’t used 4WD since last winter so a quick look at the owner’s manual might prevent expensive damage to the system. For example, must the vehicle be in Park or Neutral before 4WD can be activated?


8. Monitor Brakes

With snow, ice, water and slush on the highway, the car’s brakes need to be in top operating condition. Do you hear a metal-against-metal noise when the brakes are applied? Is the car pulling to the left or right when the brakes are applied? Does the brake pedal pulsate under normal driving when the brakes are applied, and the anti-lock brake system is not activated?


Head to a dealer or an automotive service center for repairs.


9. Change Wiper Blades

Snow, slush, and salt can quickly build up on the windshield, blinding a driver if the wiper blades are worn out.


Replace the wipers if they look dry and brittle or leave streaks of liquid on the windshield.


10. Fill Fluids

How many times have you been driving alongside a tractor trailer or snowplow and the deluge from the tires hitting the sloshy payment blinded your view?


Check the windshield fluid tank frequently. Make sure the liquid selected will not freeze when the temperature hits zero or minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Carry a gallon of windshield fluid so you can quickly refill the container under the hood.



Build a Winter Emergency Kit:

Nobody plans to get stranded. But if you do, you'll want these critical items to keep you warm and allow you to perform some basic repairs. Since most drivers never check the air pressure in their spare tire, your emergency kit should include an inexpensive tire inflator that plugs into your power port. Use it to bring the spare back up to the recommended pressure. Plus, keep a can of Fix a Flat in your car in case you're unable to safely remove the flat tire and install the spare. Next, add a warm winter cap with ear flaps and work gloves. Nothing can chill you faster than handling an ice-cold steel jack and lug nuts with your bare hands. Add a fold-up shovel, an LED flashlight fitted with lithium batteries (alkaline batteries freeze in winter), jumper cables, an extra car cell phone charger, a notepad and pencil, and extra bottle of motor oil.


We hope these tips help elevate your stress about winter driving and help keep you safe this winter season.