Cars we’re driving today are the safest they’ve ever been. Not only are they more reliable, but they come with a bunch of electronic systems that are silently aiding you as you drive. Even so, it’s still a good idea to prepare your car for safe driving in the winter!
This process might seem overwhelming, especially to those who don’t have a hands-on relationship with their cars. In reality, preparing the car for winter is easy! Here’s everything you need to do.
Check your Coolant
If there was only one thing you could check before the cold weather sets in, it should be your engine coolant. As the weather gets colder, your engine will have to work harder to get up to optimal working temperature. The type of coolant you have in your car, age, and level are all essential in preventing ice formation within the engine itself. You know what happens to pipes in your home if they’re exposed to freezing temperatures. The same can happen to an engine.
Long-life coolants exist and are often presented as the be-all, end-all solution that you can use and forget about. However, every coolant slowly loses its properties. Over time, its boiling point slowly starts to drop while its freezing points begin to creep up.
It is highly recommended that you change your coolant every two years. Make it a part of your regular maintenance and only use coolants recommended by your car’s manufacturer.
Inspect your Brakes
Having brakes in good working order is imperative if you plan on doing any serious winter commuting. Check your pads, your rotors, and don’t forget to check the fluid. Change the fluid every two years.
Brake fluid is hygroscopic, meaning that it is continuously attracting moisture. After two years of use, the fluid is contaminated with enough water to significantly reduce its boiling temperature. In other words, you’re risking losing your brakes on a steep downhill. Tips like these are important to internalize as they directly impact your safety and the safety of your passengers.
Tires – Going with a Winter Set will Change your Driving Experience
You’ll often hear car enthusiasts ramble on how suspension impacts handling and how this or that set of shock absorbers can make a difference. While they are correct, none of that matters if you don’t have a good set of tires on your vehicle, especially during the winter. Just like a house needs a good foundation, your car needs the right tires.
Check your DOT and see how old your tires are. Tires should be changed once they’re six years old, even if the tread is decent. The compounds used to make tires will eventually start to crack and potentially even rot. Worn out, old tires are a safety risk you shouldn’t ignore.
Why Winter Tires?
There’s more to tires, though. As temperatures begin to drop, the rubber compound used to make the tire starts to harden. This is why we have winter and summer tires. The whole idea behind winter tires is to use a much softer compound that won’t go stiff when temperatures hit below zero. A softer tire equals more grip on icy roads.
All-season tires are somewhere between winter and summer tires. They are generally not all that great for either of the two seasons, but they do a sufficiently good job. If you’re looking to get the best possible performance out of your vehicle during the winter, you should have a dedicated winter set of tires.
Check the Battery
Car batteries are another essential piece of the puzzle we call cars that often tend to go belly up in the winter. All batteries, including the one in your phone, will experience a drop in performance when temperatures hit below zero. That’s just how they work.
When your phone experiences a drop in performance, you’ll just have to charge it sooner. With car batteries, you might have issues starting your car.
Check the battery even if it seems to be working just fine right now. The best way to do this is to go to any auto parts store or car mechanic worth their salt. These places will have a specialized tool that measures the current state of the battery, how many cranking mAh it offers, and more.
Being able to see the road and other vehicles on the road is imperative during the winter. The only way you can achieve that is by having a proper set of windshield wipers. Our friends over at eEuroparts.com have an excellent write-up on why wiper blades matter and which brands to look for.
Wiper blades, just like any other type of rubber, goes stiff over time. Endless heat and cold cycles will make them lose the ability to wipe rain and snow off the windshield. The best thing you can do right now is switch to modern silicone wiper blades.
Brands such as Valeo and others offer a whole range of new blades that will deliver a clean windshield even in the worst of conditions. A good set of wipers will allow you to see more of the road as well as any obstacles you might encounter.
Many people don’t know that there are summer and winter types of windshield fluids. The difference between them is in the content. Winter type is loaded with additives and chemicals that remain liquid even at -5 F or colder. If you live in an area that sees many sub-zero days, winter fluid is a must.
The consequences of using the wrong kind of liquid range from an extremely dirty windshield to broker fluid reservoir and potentially broken nozzles. Using winter fluid rated for cold temperatures is much cheaper than having to deal with any of those repairs.
In-Car Equipment Tips According to Survival Experts
Once you’ve checked all of the above, it’s time to look inside the car. Depending on where you live, it could be a good idea to carry an emergency kit with you. People who live in remote areas up north should have the following in their cars:
- One or more candles
- Spare cold weather clothing and/or a heavy blanket
- Small, folding entrenching tool
- Road flares
- Emergency food (optional)
Most of these tools and items are essential if you break down in a remote area. When help is hours away, exposure becomes a real safety risk. If you think it can’t happen to you, recount how many blizzards and reports of snowed-in cars have you heard of last year alone?
A simple candle can increase the temperature in your car by several degrees. That extra bit of heat could be a real lifesaver! The rest of the items are self-explanatory. You’ve got tools that are designed to help you get unstuck, be seen in a snowstorm, stay warm and hydrated.
Keeping food in the car is a no-no for many drivers, but there are emergency rations that virtually can’t be spilled while you’re driving. Toss a pack of emergency rations in your trunk and forget about it. Best case scenario, you’ve wasted a few bucks. Worst case scenario, you’ve got critical nourishment available in your car.
Road safety is all about being prepared. Checking everything we’ve listed above is a surefire way of exercising safety and arriving at your destination. That being said, always keep your vehicles well maintained, no matter what season of the year.
A well-maintained car is a safe car. Driving in the winter isn’t difficult, but it brings on several risks. By preparing your vehicle for winter using the tips mentioned in this guide, you’re ensuring that your driving skills are enough to get you out of whatever tricky situation you might find yourself in.