Cold weather can damage your vehicle, your driving experience, your comfort, even your safety and those of your passengers.
The different driving hazards caused by freezing rain, snow, ice, slush, and frigid temperatures can create dangerous driving situations, leading to breakdowns and expensive repairs even without a life-threatening accident.
These easy maintenance tips will winterize your car – outside and inside.
Carry an emergency kit with gloves, blanket, flares, a shovel, flashlight, extra batteries and cell phone charger.
Make a list of emergency contacts with important phone numbers, including your auto insurance company. A list of passwords to your most important internet accounts – such as email – is a good idea, too.
Be sure to include some non-perishable snacks like power bars or trail mix, and even a bottle of water.
I’m a skier, and there’s a loud whistle attached to my parka. It’s a good idea to carry one in your emergency kit, too.
Tires lose pressure as temperatures drop. Even if winter conditions are mild, remember to check your pressure once a month.
Always check tires when they are cold, since pressure changes even between your driveway and the nearest gas station.
Worn tires in winter weather is especially dangerous. Your stopping distance increases, and so does the chance of a skid. Even skidding into the curb even at a slow speed can cause thousands of dollars in damages, including to your steering and suspension.
If driving where temperatures consistently approach freezing, consider a winter tire like the Michelin X-Ice Xi3, built for superior traction and handling in winter conditions.
Inspect your headlights and brake lights to ensure they’re fully functioning, which are especially important during winter fogs or heavy snow.
Also, clean headlights and taillights of grime that can reduce their brightness. A soft cloth and ordinary dishwasher liquid will work, or you can purchase a specialty cleaner.
Battery capacity decreases significantly by cold weather. If it’s bad enough, your car won’t start.
Have your mechanic check it to ensure it’s at peak performance. Or, if you a voltmeter in the garage, do it yourself. . It should read at least 12.4 volts or higher. Anything lower should be replaced by a professional.
Also check the components around the battery are in good shape. This includes the connections, posts, fasteners and cables. If you notice any corrosion, you use a stiff wire brush to clean it off.
Be sure you have a reliable jump starter cable should you ever need someone to give you a boost.
Buy washer fluid with antifreeze solution to protect visibility and ensure windshield blades are in good working order.
It’s a good idea to replace wipers every six months, especially before cold winter months.
If you live in an area with a long winter of freezing temperatures and heavy snow or rains, consider winter wiper blades.
These have a tougher tensile strength to sweep off ice and snow more effectively, plus a protective rubber layer, which allows them to keep working even against the elements. Another advantage is that they are less likely to freeze in bad weather than all-season blades.
Heater & Defroster
Make sure the heater and defroster are in proper working condition for occupant comfort and visibility.
Use a dry Teflon spray or a silicone spray to lubricate door and trunk locks, window tracks and more. Open and close everything a few times to properly spread the treatment, and make sure it’s working.
Lubricate door locks. This will prevent lock cylinders from corroding. So even if your keyless fob battery dies, you can still use your key and avoid getting locked out of your car.
Lubricate the hood latch. Vehicles ahead of you will be spraying salt all over your front end all winter, potentially causing the hood latch to corrode. If that happens, you won’t be able to open the hood to fix any problems that might arise.
Lubricate window tracks. During winter, freezing water can seep in, which creates a drag when the windows are opened, which can damage window regulator cables. It could save you around $300 in repairs, according to one estimate.
Wash and Wax
It sounds counter-intuitive to wax your car before an excursion that includes snow and ice, but fresh coat of wax before the snow flies can actually help protect against damage from salt and dirt.
Also be sure to wash your car regularly, to get rid of corrosive road salt. Pay special attention to the under-carriage.
Using winter mats in your car can go a long in keeping your car’s interior clean during the snowy, slushy months. Clean them regularly, too.
This Michelin graphic is from 2017, but the tips are valid any time, winter or any other season.
This article was published originally in 2018 and updated annually for winter driving,
including for the 2023/24 winter season.
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter is a journalist with 20+ years of experience as a newspaper and magazine writer, radio & TV news producer & reporter, and author of guidebooks and smartphone apps – all focusing on travel, automotive, the environment and your rights as a consumer.
ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter currently serves as President of the International Motor Press Assn. (IMPA) , is a former Board Member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and a current member of the North American Travel Journalists Assn. (NATJA)
Contact me at email@example.com.
Copyright (C) Evelyn Kanter