Winter Car Maintenance 101

Winter Car Maintenance 101

For those of us living in cold climates, snow and ice are just around the corner (or may have already hit if you live in Denver or the Northeast coast!)  Below are some basic steps you can take to winterize your car so you are prepared for that first storm in your area. 

1)     Consider using snow tires.  The condition of your snow tires is critical during the winter.  If the tires are worn or high performance tires, braking, acceleration and handling all suffer on slippery roads.  As a result, the likelihood of a crash increases.  Check with your local tire suppliers to find out which snow tires are best suited to your vehicle.  But remember, even with the proper tires, it is important to reduce your speed and increase your distance between vehicles when driving in poor weather conditions.

2)    Check your tire pressure.  Properly inflated tires will increase the traction between the tire and the road, making for a safer driving experience, especially on slick surfaces.  Your tire pressure generally will decrease as the temperatures drop, so be sure to check your tires now to ensure you are driving in the safest conditions possible.

3)    Confirm the proper oil viscosity for winter driving.  Oil tends to thicken as it gets colder and if it’s too thick it will not do the best job of lubricating your engine.  Check your owner’s manual to make sure you are using the proper viscosity for your climate.

4)    Inspect the wipers and wiper fluid. They usually work effectively for approximately 1 year.  Vision is generally impaired during winter months with snow, sleet and slush.  Look for wiper blades specifically designed for winter use.  Also, make sure your wiper fluid reservoir is full.  Consider adding a deicer so you are prepared for icy conditions.  Test your defroster and heater to ensure they are working properly. 

5)    Inspect your belts and hoses.  Although belts and hoses in modern cars last longer, it is still important to inspect them for wear and tear.  Cold weather can accelerate the demise of a belt or hose so make sure they are in good condition.

6)    Check your battery.  Very cold temperatures can reduce a vehicle’s battery power by up to 50%.  Make sure your battery’s posts and connections are corrosion free and that your battery has all the water it needs.  If your battery is older than 3 years, have it tested at a certified automotive repair facility. 

7)    Do you have a four wheel drive vehicle?  Check to make sure it is working properly.  Be sure the system engages and disengages easily and that there are no strange noises emanating from the drive train when the system is in use.  Ensure that the transmission and gear oil levels are correct.  Finally, make sure that all household members are aware of how to activate the system.

8)    Check antifreeze mixture.  The ideal mixture of antifreeze (coolant) and water inside your vehicle’s radiator is 50:50.  This will protect your vehicle in temperatures as cold as -34°.  The composition of a radiator’s mixture can be tested using an antifreeze tester, which can be purchased at any auto supply store.

9)    Fill your gas tank.  Keep your gas tank full to prevent the gas lines from freezing.  Also will ensure you have enough gas in the event you are sitting in traffic from an accident. 

10) Carry an emergency kit in your car.  A roadside kit does not take up much space in your trunk and can prove invaluable in an emergency.  Below are some items to consider including:

  • Flashlight, flares and first-aid kit.
  • Jumper cables, tool kit and tire chains.
  • Blanket, warm clothes, boots and gloves.
  • Paper towels.
  • Bag of abrasive material, such as sand, salt or kitty litter to use as added traction when a tire is stuck in the snow.
  • Snow brush, ice scraper and snow shovel.
  • Windshield wipers and washer fluid.
  • Extra food and water.