10 Ways to Prepare Your Car for the Winter

As the weather cools and the trees lose their leaves, it comes time, once again, to prepare for the winter. Among those preparations should be a careful, thorough and diligent preparation of your car for the likely changes in road conditions ahead. A car in prime condition for summer driving may not be well-equipped to handle winter chills, freezing rain, sleet, snow and ice. There is a lot that you can do to protect yourself, your family and the other people on the road from the perils of winter road hazards simply in how you prepare your car. Here are 10 ways to prepare your car for the winter that will go a long way to help keep you and those around you stay safe. Remember everyone else in your area is probably preparing their car for winter at the same time as you. So, be sure to book any appointments you need to make with car mechanics or servicing facilities early and purchase all the supplies you will need early while they last and prices are still relatively low.

Check Engine Coolant and Antifreeze Levels

You can pick up an inexpensive kit from any auto supply store to check your own engine coolant levels. The manual for your car, meanwhile, will instruct you on precisely how to check the car’s antifreeze levels on your own as well. Do not skip this part, as antifreeze is what keeps the engine from freezing in cold weather. If you need to add antifreeze, that, too, is easy to do and generally explained step-by-step in most cars’ driver manuals.

Use Winter-grade Oil

You probably already know that not all motor oil is built alike. What some people do not realize, however, is that the right grade of motor oil for you to use in your car most of the time is not necessarily the right or best grade for you to use in your car during the winter. Oil with a lower viscosity is better in cold weather. The first number of the two listed on any motor oil bottle to identify its grade refers to its viscosity in colder weather. For winter, you want to choose a grade with a low number in this position.

Install Winter Tires

The best time to swap out your regular tires for winter ones is before you need to use the winter tires to drive. A general rule of thumb is when the temperatures begin to dip into freezing.

Check Tire Pressure and Tread Depth

Just because you have the right tires on your car, it does not mean they will automatically perform optimally in keeping you on the road and in control of the vehicle. Tire pressure still needs to be checked on a regular basis, even more frequently in winter road conditions. You can check your own tire pressure easily with a simple handheld gadget you can buy at any auto supply store. Many gas stations also have self-operated tire checking stations you can use either for free or a few coins. If the pressure is light in any of your tires, you can fill it up right there as well.

Tread depth is also a critical factor in winter driving. Especially if your winter tires are old or used, be sure they have enough tread before driving them in winter conditions. The quick test is to stick a Lincoln penny into the tread with Lincoln’s head facing inward. If his entire face is visible, the treads are too worn and the tire should be replaced. If his face is partially covered, you should at least keep an eye on that tire for any further wear.

Test Your Battery

Make sure you have a strong battery charge, ideally full, before the temperature drops.

Have Brake Lights and Headlights Inspected

In winter weather, you often need to use your lights even in the daytime. Be sure that you can be seen in front and behind by the other drivers by making sure all your lights work and that their covers are cleaned and clear.

Check Windshield for Cracks

Any small crack or ding in your windshield now can turn into a giant one in cold, rain, snow, ice and the kicked-up rocks and debris more common in winter.

Check that Wiper Blades Work

Check your wiper blades before the time comes when you need to use them. Make sure the motor is working properly, at all speeds, and make sure the blades are sharp enough to clean the windshield completely without leaving spots or streaks. In addition, consider changing out your current wiper fluid for winter-grade windshield wiper fluid. Regular wiper fluid tends to freeze on the windshield in frigid temperatures whereas winter-grade fluid is designed to resist freezing as well as help to loosen snow and ice from the windshield.

Carry a Snow Shovel and Spare Floor Mats

In case you get stuck or snowed in, a shovel may be the only way besides a tow truck that you will get out. Spare floor mats are helpful if water gets into your car.

Put a Winter Emergency Kit in Your Trunk

Last on the list but, arguably, its most important item is an emergency kit for your car that is designed specifically for winter. Not any old emergency kit will do in winter, although every item that you would include in a standard emergency kit should also be in your winter emergency kit, such as flares or other signaling devices, first aid kit and a flashlight with extra batteries. Your winter supply kit should simply include more. Here are the items you should be sure to include in your car’s winter emergency kit, the three aforementioned ones also include:

  • Non-perishable snacks (like jerky, nuts and other high-energy foods)
  • Blankets
  • Change of clothes (long-sleeved, warm)
  • Gloves
  • Candles and lighter
  • Spare ice scraper
  • Cellphone (charged, with charger)
  • Radio
  • Bag of cat litter or sand (to use for traction)