Breaking down on the road in frigid wintertime weather is no joke, but thankfully, a little preventive maintenance goes a long way toward preventing such a miserable mishap. It’s never too late in the season to make sure your vehicles are prepared to endure a long, cold winter.
1. Change your engine oil. If winter weather drops below freezing where you live, change your motor oil to a thinner, less viscous mix. Oil thickens as it gets colder — and if it’s too thick and goopy, it won’t lubricate the engine efficiently. Check your owner’s manual for recommendations on specific oils to use for your vehicle and climate.
2. Check coolant levels. It may seem counterintuitive, but your car’s coolant is the same fluid responsible for keeping things from freezing up in the winter. A 50/50 ratio of coolant to water is considered the usual mix; buy premixed antifreeze at any gas station or car supply store.
3. Check your battery and battery cables. The brutal temperatures of winter demand more from your battery, so give it a good once-over early in the season. Make sure cables are attached snugly, and use a brush to clean off any corrosion on the posts or connections. If your battery is not permanently sealed, check the water level inside and refill with distilled water as necessary. If your battery is more than a couple of years old, you might want to take it to a service shop to test its ability to hold a charge — better safe than stranded!
4. Air up your tires. Tires generally lose about 1 pound per square inch of pressure for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit that the temperature drops outside, so winter weather can leave you with puny air pressure. Check it early, before slippery weather arrives; your owner’s manual will show you recommended pressures for your vehicle.
5. Consider mounting snow tires. If you have to drive in slippery conditions, snow tires could be a smart investment. Consider a more robust tire for winter driving, or you might even need a tire with nubs designed to bite into snow and ice. Be cautious about mixing snow and regular tires, which can cause wear and performance issues — and don’t forget to change back to regular tires at the end of the season.
6. Make sure you can see out. Does your windshield washer fluid contain an antifreeze solution to keep it from freezing? Be sure to keep an ice scraper on hand to clear snow and ice buildup. Inspect your windshield wiper blades and replace them if they’re worn or torn, and be sure to keep an ice scraper handy to remove ice and snow so you can see clearly every direction.
7. Get your belts and hoses inspected. Cold temperatures are hard on belts and hoses, which may break or tear more easily in the winter. Inspect them all for wear and tear early in the season, to make sure they can stand up to frigid weather.
8. Do you have an emergency kit? If you don’t already keep an emergency kit stashed in your trunk, the threat of being stranded in a winter storm makes putting one together now a wise idea. A useful emergency kit could include a blanket, extra gloves, an extra set of warm clothes and boots, a plastic jug of water and some food, a flashlight, a first aid kit, paper towels, spare windshield wipers, flares, jumper cables, a basic tool kit, tire chains, a tire gauge, a fully aired spare tire and tire-changing equipment, a small shovel, and a bag of something like sand, salt or kitty litter you can sprinkle to add traction if you get stuck in snow.