This past weekend was a cruel reminder to many of us located in the northern half of the U.S. that after a pretty mild fall, winter is coming. Subzero temperatures turned what had been rain into snow and ice, turning roads into a treacherous way to get from point A to B.
While we can't prevent the weather, we can prepare ourselves and our cars so that we are able to perform optimally - and safely - if we are forced onto the road in snowy or icy weather. I spoke with Richard Reina, product training director of CARiD.com and an auto enthusiast for more than 30 years, and he provided four basic tips anyone can use to ensure their car is best prepared for winter driving.
Many of today's vehicles have either front-wheel-drive or some kind of all-wheel-drive functionality. While a terrific technology that provides a boost in traction, we still aren't breaking the laws of physics. Sudden ice storms, low visibility, or bad driving by "the other guy" are not always going to be combatted by these drive systems. If you live in an area that's particularly snowy, and/or are not the most confident winter driver, the best thing you can do is buy a set of winter tires.
These tires aren't just for snow - today's rubber compounds are designed to provide maximum traction in the coldest temperatures, so it's not just about the grippy tread pattern. If you plan to keep your vehicle awhile, consider getting your winter tires mounted on dedicated wheels. This will make the seasonal switch much easier as you won't need to go through 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 from the sand, salt, and other stuff that gets mixed in with snow. If you haven't replaced your wiper blades this year, you should do that now as well to ensure you can move snow and ice. Lastly, with shorter days and longer nights than normal, remember that your exterior lights help you both to see and be seen. Take a quick walk around your car to ensure all your bulbs are working and shining brightly. You'd much rather change it now than in the single digit cold of February - trust me.
Much of what's needed under the hood falls into the "preventative maintenance" category, where you try and take care of any issues that may occur before they do. There is nothing fun about your car breaking down on the side of the road, but it's even worse when you're stuck in a snow storm.
Some of this you can do on your own, like topping up the washer fluid. If you've been using a 50/50 mix during the summer, switch to 100% from the bottle, and buy an extra to keep in your trunk. Oil and filter service should be done, as cold-weather driving is strenuous for the engine. Check the radiator antifreeze level, as it's the hot 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 also keeping a blanket, flashlight, portable shovel, and non-perishable snacks tucked into the trunk make us feel better.
If you take care of only the tires, the wiper blades, and the 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.