It's time to get yourself and your vehicle ready. Cold snaps not only expose the weaknesses of dying batteries and balding tires; it's also when you might pay the price for a lack of maintenance. Fraying or glazed belts, bulging hoses, and cracking ignition wires are just a few of the issues that could leave you stranded in damp or cold weather.
And those are all basics that might be spotted in any good mechanics' inspection. Get one, and you'll likely save the added cost, as well as frostbite and inconvenience, of a winter breakdown. If you've been lax in maintenance over the summer, don't press your luck.
Whether this winter you're going up to ski resorts, through the woods to a snowbound weekend cabin, across stretches of Interstates for the holidays, or just to and from work, you'll need a properly maintained car in tip-top shape.
Then, consider the following advice for winter motoring:
Get the car ready. Have your vehicle inspected, make sure wipers are replaced and washer fluid filled, and pack some emergency basics.
Before you leave. Clear all snow off the vehicle, scrape the windshield if necessary, carefully loosen the wiper blades, clear off the nozzles, and be sure you can use the mirrors. And before the snow arrives, don't forget to pack all the tools you'll need, like brushes and scrapers.
Watch your tires. Tires need more frequent checks during winter's extreme weather and temperature swings, so check them visually every time you set out, then check pressures once every couple of weeks, ideally; it's a good time to give them a closer look for wear as well. One other idea: invest in a good set of winter tires.
Check your fluids. Don't forget to pop the hood and check oil and coolant levels at least every other time you fill up.
Take it easy. Get out early and allow lots of extra time if the roads are slippery. Remember, when you're out driving, keep it slow, and stay smooth.
Click to page two to see AAA's in-detail recommendations for getting ready for winter, as well as what you should keep in your vehicle's emergency kit:
Winter Car Care Checklist
- Battery and Charging System – Have the battery and charging system tested by a trained technician. A fully charged battery in good condition is required to start an engine in cold weather. AAA members can request a visit from an AAA Mobile Battery Service technician who will test their battery and replace it on-site, if necessary. AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities can also test and replace weak batteries.
- Battery Cables and Terminals – Check the condition of the battery cables and terminals. Make sure all connections are secure and remove any corrosion from the terminals and posts.
- Drive Belts – Inspect belts for cracks or fraying. Don't just look at the smooth top surface of the belt, but turn it over and check the grooved underside where most belt wear occurs.
- Engine Hoses –Visually inspect the cooling system hoses for leaks, cracks or loose clamps. Also, squeeze the hoses to check for any that may be brittle or excessively spongy feeling and in need of replacement.
- Tire Type and Tread – In areas with heavy winter weather, changing to snow tires on all four wheels will provide the best winter traction. All-season tires will work well in light to moderate snow conditions, providing they have adequate tread depth. If any tire has less than 3/32-inches of tread, it should be replaced. Uneven wear on the tires can indicate alignment, suspension or wheel balance problems that should be addressed to prevent further damage to the tires.
- Tire Pressure – Check tire pressure more frequently during winter months. As the temperature drops, so will the pressures in the tires — typically 1 PSI for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The proper tire pressure levels can be found on a sticker located on the driver's side door jamb. And, don't forget to check the spare.
- Air Filter – Check the engine's air filter by holding it up to a 60-watt light bulb. If light can be seen through much of the filter, it is still clean enough to work effectively. However, if the light is blocked by most of the filter, replace it.
- Coolant Levels – Check the coolant level when the engine is cold. If the coolant level is low, add a 50/50 solution of coolant and water to maintain the necessary antifreeze capability. The level of antifreeze protection can be checked with an inexpensive tester available at any auto parts store.
- Lights – Check the operation of all headlights, taillights, emergency flashers, turn signals, brake lights and back-up lights. Replace any burnt out bulbs.
- Wiper Blades – Blades should completely clear the glass with each swipe. Replace blades that leave streaks or miss spots. In areas with snowy conditions, consider installing winter wiper blades that wrap the blade in a rubber boot to prevent ice and snow buildup that can prevent good contact between the rubber blade and the glass.
- Washer Fluid – Fill the windshield washer fluid reservoir with a cleaning solution that has antifreeze components for cold weather use.
- Brakes – Have brakes inspected by a certified technician to ensure all components are in good working order.
- Transmission, Brake and Power Steering Fluids – Check all fluids to ensure they are at or above the minimum safe levels.
- Emergency Road Kit – Update the car's emergency kit for winter weather. The kit should include:
- Bag of abrasive material (sand, salt, cat litter) or traction mats
- Snow shovel
- Snow brush
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Window washer solvent
- Ice scraper
- Cloth or roll of paper towels
- Jumper cables
- Gloves, hats and blankets
- Warning devices (flares or triangles)
- Drinking water
- Non-perishable snacks (energy or granola bars)
- Extra clothes
- First-aid kit
- Basic toolkit (screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench)
- Mobile phone and car charger with important numbers programmed in it, including a roadside assistance provider