Is your car ready for winter? While it is important that you are prepared for winter driving, it is also important that your car is up for the challenge. Frigid temperatures may harm your car, but if you’re sufficiently prepared, then you should avoid most problems with ease. Here is a list of winter car tips you should be doing to avoid falling into unpleasant situations during tough road conditions.
1. Check Your Tire Pressure and Consider Snow Tires
Wet or icy roads can cause dangerous accidents in the winter, so it's very important to make sure your tires are equipped to handle adverse weather conditions. If you use regular tires on your car, check the air pressure on each tire. Cold weather causes air pressure in your tires to drop. For every 10 degree dropping in temperature, your tire’s air pressure will drop about 1psi.
Note that some people usually leave their tires unattended or let the pressure drop down in winter, with the reason that the car will be softer and gripper. However, while the first reason is quite reasonable - the consequences are second to none. The second factor is usually true on soft surfaces (sandy, muddy or heavy snow), on paved roads. Normally, pressure tires are still the "standard" criterion. It not only helps to improve tire life, but also saves fuel.
After the tire is returned to the manufacturer's specified state (refer to the specifications usually printed/ glued to the wing door of the car), you should make sure all four valves (as well as the side tires) have a good cover. The lack of cover will cause moisture to fall inside the tire and cause gas leakage as well as many other unpleasant consequences.
If you live in a place that experiences extreme cold winter temperatures, consider snow tires. If you don't swap all four tires to snow tires, the difference between snow and summer tires can cause other problems for your vehicle. Snow tires are made of a softer rubber than all-season tires which allows them to retain flexibility in the bitterest of cold. Snow tires also have tread patterns specially designed to grip into snow and ice.
2. Check Your Battery
If your car batteries last for about three to five years, it is time to get a new one. You can replace it in the fall when batteries typically go on sale. Cold weather is tough on your engine and cause it to work harder, and this puts more pressure on the battery. Very cold temperatures can reduce a vehicle's battery power by up to 50 percent. The chemical reactions required to generate power in a car battery slow down in extremely cold temperatures. At 5 degrees F, a fully charged lead-acid battery has only half its rated amp-hour capacity.
Check the battery cables and clamps, and clean up any corrosion from battery acid - you can clean it off easily with baking soda, water and a toothbrush. If the level of battery low, remove caps on top and fill the holes with distilled water, being careful not to fill past the bottom of the cap.
3. Check Your Oil and Adjust the Viscosity
In order for your engine to run, it needs proper lubrication from oil. Unfortunately, cold weather reduces the oil’s effectiveness. The viscosity - or thickness - of the oil greatly affects your engine's performance. If the oil is too thick, it will flow too slowly between parts and your engine will get too hot. The colder it is outside, the thicker the oil gets so you can overcome this problem by filling your engine with an oil of a lower viscosity. To find out the proper viscosity (that’s the thickness or thinness of a liquid) of oil you need in the winter, check the owner’s manual for your car, and it also might specifically suggest a thinner oil type depending on the season.
There are varying opinions when it comes to how often someone should get an oil change for their car, and most technicians recommend that you change your oil every 3,000 miles or once every three months.
4. Check Your Anti-freeze Mixture
Antifreeze protects your engine from both freezing in cold weather and heating up on hot days, and it also cuts back on corrosion. The mixture of anti-freeze and water in your radiator should be about 50:50- ratio is considered the norm and will keep fluids from freezing at temperatures as low as -34 degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s easy to check the status of the mixture with an inexpensive antifreeze tester, which you can pick up at any local auto parts store. Pay attention to the amount of antifreeze. If you don’t, the coolant can freeze and the engine will get extremely hot. Chances are you'll blow a gasket or two, and the cost of replacing them with labor can be expensive. If the mixture is off, your cooling system should be drained and refilled or flushed. Be sure you’re equipped to dispose of your old antifreeze properly if you do this yourself. It can’t just be poured down the drain.
5. Keep Your Gas Tank As Full As Possible
Will you let your gas tank run on fumes until the very last moment when only to fill it up with about $15 worth of gas? Fill up often! Keeping gas in the tank is more important in winter than in summer. Cold and constantly shifting temperatures can cause condensation to form on the walls of a gas tank in the red, and soon water will drip down and into the gas. It will eventually sink to the bottom, since water is heavier than gas, which is bad news - if water finds its way into the fuel lines, it will freeze up, blocking any flow of gas to the engine and effectively halting your travel plans. Any repairs that have to be made can be costly, too, so despite high gas prices, having a full tank of gas not only prevent moisture from freezing in the gas lines, but it also helps your wallet.
6. Make Sure Your Heaters and Defrosters Are Working
This sounds normal, but it makes sense to check them before you get in a storm or go out into extremely cold weather. In winter with fog, moisture from inside the car condenses on the glass and makes it very difficult to see. Being unable to see behind you could create unsafe driving conditions. Water vapor coming in from an open window - or even from your breathing - can fog up a window. Defrosters solve this problem by blowing warm, dry air over the glass.
If you're sure your defroster unit is functioning properly but there's still a problem with too much fogging, check for air leaks around the doors and windows bringing in extra moisture. If your heater isn't working, you may have a faulty heater coil. Although replace heater coils are expensive, it will be worth it during cold winter mornings if you don't want to freeze behind the wheel.
7. Change Your Windshield Wiper Blades and Refill Your Wiper Fluid
Imagine driving on the road at night, and a sudden storm of freezing rain passes over, beating your windshield with sheets of water. You need to see the road to drive safely so you click your wipers on, but nothing works- pieces of rubber flap uselessly against the glass, and the blades' scraping doesn't make the view outside any clearer. Working windshield wipers and a solid supply of wiper fluid will ensure that you have a clear line of sight even in the nastiest snowstorm. Your wiper blades are made out of rubber, and with time they'll crack, split and deteriorate, so you need replace it every six to 12 months. Filling up your wiper fluid is also a plus, as fluid can assist in breaking up snow and ice on the windshield.
You might consider buying wiper blades designed for winter weather to help cut through snow and ice. Use fluid with a winter mixture that will not freeze at the coldest winter temperature and maintain the proper fluid level.
8. Examine Your Car's Belts and Hoses
Cold weather can weaken the belts and hoses that help make your engine run. Make sure the belts and hoses get checked for wear and tear - even if you’re driving a modern car. The belts and hoses under your car's hood are typically checked when the car is due for a tune-up (usually every 30,000 miles). Cold temperatures can weaken belts and hoses, and if something snaps or breaks while you're out on the road, you’ll have to wait for a tow truck - the only way to get moving again.
9. Do You Have Four-Wheel Drive?
If so, it is important to check the status of your 4WD system and be sure it’s working correctly before the winter starts; especially if you do not use their 4WD systems during the summer, now’s a good time to review how to operate it. Four-wheel drive can provide better traction when driving on snowy and icy roads… that is if it’s working correctly.
A functioning system can improve tire traction on snow and ice, decreasing the possibility of getting stuck. 4WD varies depending on the vehicle, so check the owner's manual for the best environment in which to use it and how to engage the system. Be sure that the system engages and disengages easily, and that all drivers in your household know how and when to activate the system.
10. Pack an Emergency Kit in Your Car
You never know when you’ll get stranded on the side of the road in a hellacious blizzard. The simplest thing you can do to fight the cold weather is to keep a few essential supplies and tools with you as you drive. An ice scraper is a necessity, since you and your car won't be going anywhere with frozen snow blocking your view.
Flashlights and flares are helpful if you're stuck on the road late at night when visibility levels are low. Even if you're wearing a coat, an extra pair of gloves, boots or even a blanket can keep you warm and dry if your heating unit isn't working properly. In addition, you should also bring medical supplies, winches, dry alcohol, beacons, reflective lights and especially food, water ... to ensure personal safety and deal with bad weather or traffic jams.
We think these tips above are the most important things that you have to memorize to winterize your car. If you know other tips to preparing for and keeping your car in good shape during the winter, share them with us!