Baby, it’s cold outside. With temperatures below freezing, this winter thus far is turning out to be a very cold one. In fact, some meteorologists are saying this winter may turn out to be the coldest on record in over 100 years (let’s home they are wrong with that prediction)! One fact remains, regardless of the cold, life doesn’t stop…we still have obligations we must take care of and jobs we must handle. Because life doesn’t stop, being stranded in the cold because of car issues is not an option, and while less than ideal it can even be life threatening. But since you cannot stay inside the entire winter, we have compiled 10 things you need to do to keep your car in its safest condition for your travels.
- Change your windshield wipers: This is one of the easiest items to forget when it comes to car maintenance and also one of the easiest issues to remedy. Wipers are quite affordable and are the difference between effectively seeing the road or not, so the moment you see streaks from your wipers or they don’t seem to be working as well, change them. During the winter months, if may be especially helpful to purchase the winter wipers, which are covered in rubber coating that prevents ice from collecting on the blade. Just remember to take them off in the spring and convert back to standard wipers since winter wipers are heavier and long-term use can wear out your wiper motor faster. When using your wipers in the winter, remember to turn them off before you shut off the engine. Water can freeze up overnight leaving your blades frozen to the windshield otherwise. In fact, some people will even go a step further and flip their wipers outward after they turn their car off, thus going the extra mile to ensure their wiper blades don’t get stuck overnight.
- Warm your car up before you head out: Climbing into a freezing car isn’t fun and for older cars it isn’t always idle for your engine to take off cold either. That being said, it isn’t a good idea to let your car sit in idle for too long either – a couple of minutes up to ten minutes should do. Idling your car for too long causes buildup on the spark plugs which makes them less efficient, while it also wastes gas (costing your more money).
- Do not neglect your tires: Two things here to help you handle the winter driving better; first, check the air in your tires. The pressure in your tires is reduced by one PSIevery 10-degree drop in the temperature so if you haven’t checked the air in your tires since the summer or early fall, your tire pressure could be very low and creating a very real hazard for steering and performance troubles. It’ a good idea to keep an emergency maintenance kit in the car and include a portable air pump and pressure gauge in that kit. Secondly, consider purchasing snow tires. While the cost can be expensive, you will see a marked difference in your car’s performance and handling. “Summer tires” begin to hinder performance once the temperature falls below 44 °F. This performance hinderance can affect proper braking.
- Put gas in your car often: We know that its cold outside and the last thing you probably want to do is stand out in the cold more often to put gas in your car, however; in the winter it is much better to fill up frequently. In fact, a near empty take can cause problems, such as freezing and crystallization of ice in the fuel lines. Additionally, if you end up stranded in the winter, you’ll appreciate having the gas necessary to keeping your car warmed up and engine idling. If you are stranded, make sure to keep snow or other objects cleared away from the exhaust pipe (ever heard of carbon monoxide poisoning?). If you are in an older vehicle, jalopy, or otherwise suspect you have an exhaust leak, it wouldn’t hurt to crack your windows a smidge, too.
- Keep your windshield washer reservoir full: One can easily go through a half gallon or more of washer fluid trying to deal with snow or other mess on their windshield. For this reason alone, it’s a good idea to keep the reservoir full and a spare bottle of fluid in the trunk. Additionally, don’t skimp on the good stuff as you don’t want to get fluid that might freeze. You can also supplement the fluid with concentrate if the temperature are too extremely cold to help inhibit freezing.
- Clear the ice and snow of your car completely: Good visibility is vital when driving, especially in snowy or slick weather. Don’t just clear of a small section of your windshield but ensure that all windows are completely cleared off with your ice scraper. DO NOT pour hot water on your windshield to speed up the process or to get our of having to use your ice scraper as you run a very high risk of cracking your windshield that way.
- Perform regularly scheduled maintenance and repairs as needed: Bad hoses, belts, water pumps and spark plug wires can leave you stranded in the winter, it’s better to bite the bullet and fix them.
- Make sure your battery can handle the cold: Your battery can leave you stranded simply because it’s old and lousy or it could leave you stranded because your charging system isn’t working well, and the battery isn’t getting charged properly. Have your mechanic check the battery and charging system. If you find that you need a new battery, get the strongest and best battery you can find that will fit in your car. Two things to remember about batteries: First, the battery that started your car easily in the summer may not have enough oomph to do it in winter. In winter, the engine is harder to start, because the oil isn’t as “fluid” as it was last July. And secondly, batteries lose power as the temperature drops so not only do you need MORE power to start the engine in winter, you also get LESS power from the same battery. Batteries are rated by a measure called “cold cranking amps” (CCA), the maximum number of amps that the battery can deliver at zero degrees (F) for 30 seconds. Good, powerful batteries are rated at or above 600 CCA.
- Check your cooling system: It may sound counterproductive to need your cooling system in the dead of winter, but it is important for your engine to stay cool even in cold weather. Make certain the antifreeze will protect your car at the winter temperatures you’ll experience in your area. For most areas, you’ll need a 50-50 mix of coolant to water. You can purchase this premixed to this ratio at most places that carry antifreeze. Its always a good idea to have your fluid flushed before winter, too, because the other primary function of antifreeze is to keep your cooling system from rusting. The rust inhibitors in antifreeze break down over time and need to be renewed. So, at a minimum, change your engine’s coolant at the interval recommended by your manufacturer. Besides, draining out the coolant and refilling the system also removes dirt and rust particles that can clog up the cooling system and cause problems, regardless of the season.
- Change your oil: In the summer and warmer months people tend to use a thicker oil such as 10W30. However, in the cold this weight of oil may be too thick and thus take longer to move to and through your engine. It is a good idea to have your oil changed to one that is better suited for the colder weather. Your mechanic can help you determine that right viscosity of oil for your vehicle based on your specific car and the season (check out this article from Popular Mechanics).
While this list is certainly not an exhausted one (more here), these are some very easy and practical things you can do to ensure you vehicle is running properly during the winter months. Doing these 9 things can make the difference in you arriving safely at your destination or become stranded on the side of the road in the freezing cold. If you do not have a mechanic that you trust, feel free to contact any of the Collision Works locations for a recommendation. Additionally, if you live in the Wichita, KS area, our CW Automotive Service & Repair Center can help you with any and all of the above-mentioned items. Protecting you, your family & your investment is our primary concern.