Unless you live in a year-round warm climate, driving in winter weather is difficult to avoid. So how can you best prepare for the inevitable? Here are some tips on how to winterize your vehicle.
Get your car ready for winter weather
Driving in winter weather can be hazardous — not only for us, but also for our cars. Here are some expert tips on how you can winterize your car to make sure you keep your family safe and your car running in cold temperatures.
Read your owner's manual
Every vehicle make and model is different, so read your owner's manual and follow any specific recommendations for your vehicle regarding winter weather care, says David Melton, Liberty Mutual Insurance's managing director of global safety.
"These will typically include your tire pressure and tread condition, engine coolant, air conditioning system and battery," he says.
Check that air-conditioning system
Yes, it's winter, but you should still have your car's coolant and air-conditioning system checked by a professional. This assures that your heater and defroster will work properly during the cold weather and assures that your coolant will protect your engine and other components from freezing in extreme cold weather, Melton says.
Top off your fluids
Having plenty of windshield washer fluid is an important step in winterizing your car, says Doug Skorupski, technical strategy manager for Volkswagen of America.
"Use an anti-freezing variety if you will be traveling in areas where the temps dip below 32 degrees," he advises. "Also, make sure you are using antifreeze versus water as a coolant. This should be standard, but it is best to double-check."
Know your charge
Have your car's battery checked by a professional to assure it will retain the proper charging level for winter driving.
"This is particularly important on newer cars equipped with numerous electronic components," Melton says. "If you make frequent short drives, it may not allow the battery to charge sufficiently."
Watch your tires
Skorupski also suggests checking the tread on the tires before the winter season.
"Even a little moisture on the ground can significantly impact your traction, especially if your tires have seen wear," he says. "Taking the opportunity to double-check and perhaps replace your tires can save you from a dangerous situation."
After the first cold snap of the season, be sure to check your tire pressure while your tires are not warm from driving. As the outside temperature goes down, so does the temperature of the air inside your tires — causing the air to contract and thus lowering your tire pressure, Melton says.
"Check your tires regularly — at least twice a month — to make sure your tires are inflated to the values specified in the owner's manual or on the tire pressure label usually found on the inside of the driver's door pillar," he says.
Make sure you can see
There's nothing worse than driving in rain and snow with bad windshield wipers. Before winter weather hits, check the condition of your wipers. Most manufacturers recommend changing the rubber inserts every six months. Also, if you drive where heavy snow is common, Melton says you should consider installing winter wipers.
Get an emergency kit
You can spread cat litter or sand under your tires to get better traction when starting from an ice patch or in the snow.
One of the most important things you can do for the safety of you and your family is to have an emergency kit in your vehicle. Should you experience an accident or should your car break down, having an emergency kit can save your life, says Joye Griffin, a Jiffy Lube franchisee.
"A properly packed emergency kit should include a flashlight, extra batteries, water, flares, blankets, a shovel, a snow brush, an ice scraper and tire chains, where they are allowed by law," she says.
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