Those of us who live in the northern half of the United States are accustomed to the drill: every year, the approach of winter means the possibility of driving in treacherous weather conditions (we can hear you Floridians smirk).
Deep down, you know there are preventative maintenance items your daily driver needs, but the exact list of things to look after escapes you.
Don’t worry! That’s why we’re here.
We will help walk you through the best winter maintenance tips so you can survive until spring comes ‘round the corner again.
Many of today’s vehicles have either front-wheel-drive or some kind of all-wheel-drive. While both do wonderful things for traction, they cannot break the laws of physics. Sudden ice storms, low visibility, or bad driving by “the other guy” are not necessarily overcome by these drive systems. If you live in an area that’s particularly snowy, and/or are not the most confident winter driver, the number-one driver’s aid is a good set of winter tires.
Note that we don’t call them “snow tires” anymore.
Today’s rubber compounds are designed to provide maximum traction in the coldest temperatures, so it’s not just about the tread pattern.
If you plan to keep your vehicle awhile, consider getting your snow tires mounted on dedicated wheels. Although the initial cost seems high, the ease and expense of making the seasonal switch is greatly reduced. If, on the other hand, you have a leased vehicle, or will likely trade for something else soon, you can purchase tires and accept the trade off of paying a little more for the mounting and balancing every six months.
If you haven’t waxed your car’s paint yet this year, now is the time to do it. A fresh coat of wax will protect the paint, not so much from the snow, but from the sand, salt, and other stuff that gets mixed in with it. Second, most experts recommend replacing your wiper blades twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. If you forgot to do it last April, get it done now.
Lastly, with shorter days and longer nights than normal, remember that your exterior lights help you both to see and be seen. A quick walk-around will confirm if any bulbs need replacing. You’d rather do that now than in January when it’s minus 10 degrees with the wind chill.
Much of what’s needed under the hood falls into the “preventative maintenance” category. You want to take care of things before they fail. Trust us, there is no joy in being stuck at the side of the road, especially when winter’s fury is blasting you.
The DIY items here start with topping up the washer fluid. If you’ve been using a 50/50 mix during the summer, switch to 100% from the bottle. Personally, we always buy solvent in quantities of two, and keep one in the trunk. Oil and filter services should be done, as cold-weather driving is strenuous for the engine.
Check the radiator antifreeze level, as it’s the coolant which delivers interior heat.
Jobs for which you’ll likely need professional assistance include testing said antifreeze for proper temperature protection; testing the battery’s condition to help ensure it’ll get your motor running every time, and giving all under hood systems (belts, hoses, other fluid levels) a once-over.
INTERIOR / PERSONAL CARE
Snow, slush, and salt on your shoes will quickly damage your vehicle’s carpeting. A good set of rubber floor liners will pay for themselves in the protection they provide. Because you can never be too prepared, be sure to carry a snow brush, ice scraper, and personal emergency kit as well. We’re not paranoid, but keeping a blanket, flashlight, portable shovel, and non-perishable snacks tucked into the trunk will make us feel better.
If you take care of only the tires, wiper blades, and fluids, you will still be ahead of most of the driving population in winter preparedness. If you attend to everything on our list, you’re almost guaranteed to make it through the winter unscathed.
Our best advice is to print out this list and use it annually as your winter check sheet.
By Richard Reina, Product Trainer at CARiD.com.
Richard has been an auto enthusiast since the age of two when his dad taught him the difference between a Chevy and a Ford. Since then, it’s been cars all the time. He enjoys restoring and driving old cars, with a special love for anything Italian – he currently owns a 1967 Alfa Romeo. Richard is also passionate about all music, especially classic rock and Jazz. He is a big Beatles fan.