Winter is here and with it is the coldest weather of the year. Chillier temperatures and shorter days bring with it specific driving challenges, therefore you should winterize your car if you have not done so yet. Besides winterizing your ride, this is also an ideal time to modify your driving habits. With adequate preparation, you will have confidence when conditions become dicey. The following are important tips for safe winter driving.
Winterizing Your Car Starts With An Inspection
It is a solid idea to give your car a thorough inspection twice annually. There is no clearer time to do this than in the fall, before the cold weather sets in, and again in the spring before the heat takes over.
Even if you live in a moderate climate, the days are shorter in the winter months, so you will likely utilize your headlights often. That is why checking the headlights, daytime running lights, fog lamps, turn signals, and tail lamps is essential. Replacing bulbs is a job you can likely handle yourself. On the other hand, numerous automotive service centers will perform a comprehensive check at no cost. However, even if it does cost you a modest payment, the safety benefit is invaluable.
Examine the Coolant (Antifreeze)
Beginning with the obvious, ensure that your coolant (antifreeze) has sufficient freeze protection for the climate. Correctly blended antifreeze also adds an important measure of corrosion protection to the car’s cooling system.
The standard 50:50 ratio between water and antifreeze may become watered down if you continually add water (instead of coolant) when topping it off. Further, antifreeze should be replaced regularly per your owner’s manual.
A mechanic will employ a regular antifreeze/coolant testing tool to immediately gauge whether the concentration of antifreeze is acceptable for safeguarding your engine. If the recommendation is for a “flush and fill”, this is money perfectly spent. This step might save your engine block from cracking due to water freezing within.
Check Belts and Hoses
Next, examine the belts and hoses, as the failure of either will leave you marooned and without warning. Watch for any indications of cracking, splitting, breaking, or bulging. Further, if there is too much “play” with the belts, tightening the same may not be enough. Replace no instead of worrying about a problem later.
Safety Check: Tires
The next checkup covers the tires. If you live in a region that requires it, winter tires may need to be fitted for the season. If you live in the mountains, you may need to keep a set of tire chains in your trunk. If not, you should verify you have sufficient tread for your climate.
When checking the cooling system, confirm the engine thermostat is working as intended. A malfunctioning thermostat can make a car overheat, but a lesser-known challenge in colder weather is that it will take the car longer to warm, making it unpleasant to drive, and causing a decline in fuel economy.
Next, make certain the defroster is operable. You never know how much you will need a defroster until you miss it. Also, something that is easily overlooked is the windshield washer fluid. When properly blended with an antifreeze solution, it will not freeze, and it can prove vital for clearing the windshield.
Up next, a cursory inspection of the brakes, suspension, and lights is always a great idea. If your wipers are no longer up to the task, or you cannot recall the last time you replaced them, do it now.
Winter Safety Tips: What to Keep in Your Trunk
As always, you will want to keep essential winter-related safety items in the trunk. This is another requirement that varies by the driving conditions you may encounter. In any case, a basic list of winter safety items could include:
- Thermal Blanket
- Sandbags or kitty litter
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Drinking water (leave room for freezing)
- Non-perishable snacks
- Ice scraper
- First Aid Kit
- Jumper cables
Additional Car Winterizing Tips
Ahead of the next cold snap, take the following steps:
- Smear a dab of petroleum jelly on the door weatherstrips to keep your doors from freezing shut. Also, a nominal shot of WD40 keeps door locks from freezing.
- If your door locks do freeze, heat the metal key with a cigarette lighter before putting it in the lock to help thaw it. Never force the key.
- Pull your sun visors down to a vertical position when you run your defroster to help trap the warm air against the windshield.
Your floor mats can supply traction in an emergency. Place them in front of the drive wheels and slowly pull out.
Winter Driving Considerations
Remember that it is winter, and the usual foul weather driving rules apply. Finally, turn on your headlights, leave extra space between you and the car in front, and reduce your speed. If your vehicle begins to skid, take your foot off the accelerator, and do not slam on the brakes. Gradually turn the wheel in the direction you want to go, but do not overcompensate by swinging the steering wheel too far in the other direction.