Prepping Your Car For Old Man Winter

2018 Chevrolet Traverse

Old man winter is just around the corner and that means it’s time to get your car prepped for the frigid temps and the snow and ice that could follow.  Some things you can do yourself, others could require a trip to a service shop. But they’re all important when it comes to preparing for and driving safely in often dangerous winter conditions. This is especially true if you have any winter road trips planned.

Know Your Vehicle

It sounds simple, but every vehicle handles differently, so take the time to know how your car handles in ice or snow. Especially if it’s a rental. Also get up to speed on how all-wheel drive works, if you have it. We have an AWD video explainer here.

Check The Tires

Tires are the most important safety feature on your car, but as I’ve written about before, they are often ignored.  One thing you can do yourself is check your tires for proper air pressure. It can drop in cold weather. Trust me, you cannot tell by looking if a tire is low. Get a good gauge and check them all, including the spare. Many people never know their spare is flat or very low on air until they actually need it. Make sure too your jack is in working order, and do your homework on where the jack goes and how to change a tire. Also, check them for wear and tear and if you are not always diligent with tire rotations, this is a good time to do so, it can extend your tires’ life. While the tires and wheels are off, it is also a good time to gauge brake wear. If you drive in wintery conditions regularly, consider getting snow tires.

Get Your Car Serviced

You can do check some of these things yourself or take your car in for a seasonal check up. You want to have the service technicians check your car’s battery, tires, timing belt, and wipers, plus make sure fluids are filled:

  • Check Battery:
    • Cold weather can zap battery power and you already need more of it to begin with when temperatures drop. Most repair facilities will do a battery check for free or a very nominal fee, and it only takes a second. Have them inspect the charging system and belts and tighten connections. If you are under 20% life left, go ahead and replace it. It will be cheaper to do it now than once it actually fails.
  • Check Fluids: 
    • You don’t want to get a warning light while on the highway due to low fluids.
      • Coolant: Check coolant levels to make sure there is enough to keep your car from overheating OR to make sure if you are in a cold climate you have enough protection to keep your engine from freezing up. A 50-to-50 mix of coolant to water works in most regions of the country.  It’s usually pre-mixed that way if you buy it at the store — or simply have a mechanic filler ‘er up.
      • Other Fluids: Check power steering fluid, your automatic transmission fluid level, brake fluid, and windshield washer fluid. Make sure you have plenty washer fluid because you can go through it quickly in a snowstorm.
  • Check Timing Belt
    • If your car has a timing belt, and you are within 5000 miles of the factory suggested mileage to change it out, go ahead and do it before you head out on that trip. In a huge majority of cases, if the belt breaks at highway speeds, you will ruin the engine to the point it is not repairable. This is a sure-fire way to ruin a trip.
  • Check Exhaust System
    • You don’t want exhaust fumes inside your vehicle’s cabin. Have the service shop check for leaks or problems.
  • Clean or Replace Windshield Wipers
    • If you are getting streaks, try cleaning first with a cotton ball and rubbing alcohol. Run the soaked cotton ball up and down the rubber edge of the wiper blade itself. If you are still getting streaks or they are not doing their job, replace them or have a service shop do so.
  • Check Heater/Defroster
    • Make sure the heater works as well as the defroster.
  • Check Lights and Turn Signals
    • It’s critical headlights, taillights, brake lights and turn signals work in heavy fog or snow. Replace any lights if needed.

Pack A Winter Emergency Kit

Last, pack a few things just in case there are problems: a flashlight, gloves, plug-in cell phone charger for the power port or cigarette lighter, an insulated blanket,  drinking water, jumper cables, and some sort of reflective road warning device in case you can’t get all the way off the road. Also, carry some fix-a-flat, which I hate and would only use as a last resort. It’s not uncommon for people to run over something in the road and end up with two flats at once. Using the spare and the fix-a-flat, you can probably get to safety.

All these things won’t take much time or cost a lot of money, but could make driving in the winter safer for you.

Photo Credit: Chevrolet

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