The weather outside is about to get frightful. Here are some simple steps you can take to make sure your sleigh is up to the challenge of winter driving.
Get the right kind of oil change. Are you approaching the time for a 30,000-mile full service for your vehicle? If so, don’t procrastinate. Among other things, the service should include an oil change, and the oil used should have the right viscosity, or thickness, for your vehicle at this time of year. Oil tends to thicken as it gets colder, and if it’s too thick it won’t do the best job of keeping your engine lubricated. Check your owner’s manual for guidance about which oil to use in different climates and temperatures.
Make sure you can see. An easily overlooked part of your winterizing program is your windshield. Windshield wiper blades usually work effectively for about one year, so be sure to invest in some new ones if you’re due. If you have ever driven behind another vehicle kicking up wet, dirty road snow, then you already have a true appreciation for windshield washer fluid. For best results in clearing off cold, heavy grime, select a washer fluid with an antifreeze solution. Also check to see that your heater and defroster are working properly so you can keep the windshield nice and clear.
Give your battery a little TLC. It isn't only your engine that doesn't like to start in the winter. This is an ideal time of year to make sure your battery’s posts and connections are corrosion-free and that your battery has all the water it needs. Check over the battery cables for cracks and breaks. The terminals should fit snugly with no loose connections. If your battery is more than three years old, have a certified repair shop test its ability to hold a charge. Granted, you might be able to find a Good Samaritan to help you jump-start your vehicle in the middle of a blizzard — but wouldn’t you rather avoid such a scenario altogether?
Examine your belts and hoses. When you have that full service done on your vehicle, make sure the belts and hoses get checked for wear and tear — even if you’re driving a modern car. Cold weather can do a number on belts and hoses, so they deserve attention.
Check your engine coolant. You car's coolant system is not intended only to keep your engine from overheating. It is also responsible for protecting your valuable engine against corrosion. Before the weather gets too cold, make sure you are using coolant with ethylene glycol to help protect your engine. Every vehicle requires a certain ratio of coolant to water, and your owner's manual or repair technician can explain what your engine needs. Adjusting this ratio is an important step in winterizing your car, so if you need help, ask someone who is experienced and knowledgeable.
Check your tire pressure. Your tires must be properly inflated to ensure you’ll have the best possible traction as you drive along — and traction is often severely jeopardized in wet, snowy or icy conditions. The air pressure in your tires has likely dropped as the weather has gotten colder, so it’s important to see where things stand now. (You can generally expect that you’ll lose 1 pound per square inch whenever the temperature drops by 10 degrees Fahrenheit.) Your trusty owner’s manual will tell you what your target tire pressure should be.
Think about switching to snow tires. Driving in snow can be very difficult and sometimes dangerous; still, the reality is you need to get to work. When it comes to really dealing with winter weather, your tires are out there mixing with the snow, sleet, and ice. You might want to improve traction by investing in winter tires and using them over the next few months instead of your usual all-season tires. Mounting the right tires on your car or truck can give you a huge advantage when trekking through snow.
Do you have four-wheel drive? If so, it’s important to check the status of your four-wheel-drive system and be sure it’s working correctly — especially because most drivers don’t use their 4WD systems in the pleasant summer months. Be sure that the system engages and disengages easily, and that all drivers in your household know how and when to activate the system.
Frozen out. Door locks can freeze in cold weather and if you try to force them open it could break your key. The old fashion cure was warm water, but if you're not at home and don't have any warm water nearby lock de-icer can be a life-saver. Discount stores, auto parts stores, and even hardware stores sell products for de-icing. Think about where you keep it, however, because if the de-icer is in the glove box of your frozen-shut car, then it won't help you any. Stock a tube at home in the garage and also in your desk at work. That way whenever your locks freeze up, you'll be able to solve the problem.
Just in case. If you don't already have an emergency kit in your car, consider putting together a few basics and stowing them in the trunk. Naturally, you'll want to be sure your spare tire is in good shape with all the tools to change it out. But you might also want a few other emergency items in case you slide off the road and get stuck in a snow bank:
· Engine oil
· Washer fluid
When you take the time to winterize your car, you become more comfortable driving in cold, snowy climates. A short commute quickly becomes difficult when your vehicle isn't equipped to handle snow and ice. By planning ahead, you can make winterizing your vehicle an annual ritual in the name of safety and vehicle reliability.