Winter is coming… err, it’s already here. Parts of the country that have never experienced snow have been blanked with a fresh batch of powder in recent months, and as one might expect, people are beginning to lose their minds. However, if you’ve never experienced the icy fingers of winter, you might not know how to properly prepare your car for the season.
With winter comes freezing temperatures, ice, and snow, all of which posses the ability to turn a leisurely drive downtown into an accident waiting to happen. The weather puts unusual strain on your vehicle as well, placing demand on parts and equipment you may have overlooked during the sunny heyday that was summer. Below are a few tips for braving the winter months with your car. Also, we officially apologize for the Game of Thrones reference — some things are just too easy.
Shelter your car
If you have the ability to put your car in a garage or under an awning, we recommend taking advantage of it. Waking up in the wee hours of the morning to scrape ice off your windows isn’t particularly fun or easy, and keeping ice off your paint will preserve your ride’s finish. Parking your vehicle in a warm, dry area will make leaving in the morning immensely easier. If you don’t have access to covered parking, you can buy a cover at any hardware store to keep the snow and cold out.
Check your battery
Car batteries and humans have one thing in common — they hate being cold. Even a working battery can refuse to turn over if it doesn’t like the weather. In fact, low temps can reduce a battery’s power by up to 50 percent. Consider replacing your battery, or, at the very least, take it to the mechanic and get it checked before the worst of winter hits. The tests aren’t always 100-percent accurate, so if you’re concerned, simply opt for a new one or purchase a pair of jumper cables. Either way, keep an eye on your battery posts throughout the year and use baking soda, water, and a small wire brush to keep them free of corrosion.
Schedule an inspection
Just like a visit to the doctor, it’s never a bad idea to bring your car to a licensed professional to make sure everything is in working order. Feel free to skip this step if you can perform the checkup yourself, but with the extra strains of winter, a second opinion is never a bad idea.
A mechanic will inform you whether your car’s various systems and parts — the radiator, brakes, etc. — are in tip-top condition, while ensuring your car’s fluids — antifreeze, brake fluid, oil, etc. — are at the correct levels. We also recommend leaving at least a half a tank of gas in your car at all times to prevent your fuel lines from freezing.
Equip chains or snow tires
Now that the inside of the car is taken care of, it’s time to take your maintenance tasks to the outside. Tires are key to ensuring a safe drive under icy conditions. Make sure the tread isn’t worn down to less than 1/8 inch to ensure proper traction, and be on the lookout for square spots in cold places, which comes from warm air rising inside the tire. The tires will likely round out once you start driving, but if they don’t, you may want to get it checked out as you could have a bigger problem.
Moreover, you should considering buying chains or snow tires if you live in an area that gets a good deal of snow. You typically put the latter option on your vehicle for the entire winter, while you can take the former off whenever you see fit. It’s all based on personal preference. For our recommendations, check out The Manual’s favorite winter tires.
Assemble an emergency kit
While there’s certainly ample you can do to prevent ending up in a dangerous situation, you simply can’t plan for everything. That’s why it’s an excellent idea to pack yourself an emergency kit for the worst case scenario. Consider adding bottled water, food, flares, blankets, a shovel, flashlights, batteries, and a first aid kit. Amazon has a plethora of pre-made emergency packs for sale, and they range from small entry-level kits to more inclusive with cell phone chargers, radios, and folding saws.
Also, consider buying kitty litter to melt ice if you get stuck. These are things that are always good to have in your car, especially if you’re worried about getting stuck in a snowbank.
Purchase sand bags
Believe it or not, sandbags can be your best friend if you have a truck or a car with rear-wheel drive. Purchase two large bags and put them in the bed of your truck or in the trunk of your car. This puts more weight over the drive wheels, giving you more traction when you need it most. Worse comes to worse, you can use the sand inside to get moving if you get stuck in snow or slush. Sandbags are relatively cheap and can be found at just about any hardware store.