You rely on your car to get you safely from here to there. So, when temperatures drop, snow falls, and streets become slick, it’s even more important to make sure your car is road-ready.
The good news is that careful driving and good car maintenance can help you stay safer on the roadways this winter.
6 Ways to Winterize Your Car
1. Swap out your summer tires
Safe driving starts here. Even if you have all-season tires, which offer some traction in mild winter conditions, they’re still not designed to grip in snow and slush. Winter tires, both studded and stud-less, are specifically designed to perform in cold, snowy conditions.
States vary in their rules regarding use of studded snow tires. Alaska permits tires with metal studs during some months of the year. Most western states, including Washington, California, and Arizona, allow studded tires, but with some restrictions; check your local regulations. And when you do switch tires, make sure to check the tire pressure.
You may also want to consider buying and carrying tire chains to help you navigate areas with deep snow. These aren’t a substitute for winter tires but provide extra traction when needed.
2. Refill your windshield wiper fluid and replace your wiper blades
Good wiper blades are essential to good visibility, so make sure yours are in good condition. Winter blades are heavier and have a special protective coating that helps avoid slushy buildup. In cold months, use a wiper fluid that includes a deicer and check the levels regularly.
3. Make sure your defroster is working and replace cabin air filters if needed
If you’re experiencing issues with your defroster, a clogged air filter could be the culprit. Clogged air filters prevent warm air from getting to the cabin, leaving you in the cold with a foggy windshield. Plus, dirty air filters pump dust and allergens into your vehicle.
4. Change your oil and have your car serviced for winter driving
Low-viscosity oils flow more smoothly, for more reliable engine starts in freezing weather. If you know how, you can change the oil yourself, or have a mechanic do it. Take this opportunity to also check belts, hoses, and cables, and top off the antifreeze.
5. Have your battery and brakes checked
Cold weather is hard on your car’s battery and having a car that won’t start on a frosty winter day can be a real inconvenience. Get both your battery and brakes checked before the weather turns frigid. A brake check is easy to schedule when you switch to winter tires.
6. Pack an emergency kit
Winter driving can be unpredictable. Keep emergency supplies in your trunk, including an ice scraper and brush, first aid kit, blanket, water, snacks, flashlight, hat, gloves, jumper cables, and a mobile phone charger. If you carry tire chains, toss in a small tarp to keep yourself dry when putting them on.
Other Safe Winter Driving Tips
- Keep your gas tank and wiper fluid full. You never know when a mountain pass will close, or you’ll get stuck in traffic because of an accident. Play it safe and fill up before you venture out.
- Clear your windows before you drive. Avoid the temptation to start driving with an iced or fogged-over windshield, and clear the ice and snow before you take off. It helps to use an anti-fogger, available from auto parts store, on the insides of your windows. And if your wipers are frozen to the windshield, don’t force things. Give your defroster enough time to warm things up to avoid damaging the blades or wiper motors.
- Clean your headlights regularly. Give yourself the benefit of being able to see clearly, and help others see you. Consider using an auto water repellent to keep headlights clean. Replace the lens covers if they become cracked or filmy.
- Monitor your tire pressure. Since chilly weather deflates tires—you can lose up to 1 PSI for every 10-degree drop in temperature—you’ll want to check your tire pressure more often during winter. Pick up an inexpensive pressure gauge at your local auto parts store and make it a habit to check your tire pressure at least once a month. The standard cold tire inflation pressure for your tires can usually be found on the tire itself, in your car’s owner’s manual, or on a sticker located on the driver’s side door. Remember to also check the pressure on your car’s spare tire, so it’s ready if you ever need it.
- Use all-wheel (AWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD) when it makes sense. 4WD is not intended to be used all the time, but it’s very helpful to have when roads are covered in snow or ice. Some all-wheel-drive and crossover vehicles are geared to automatically give you better traction when it’s needed. But many older vehicles have manual controls where you must be in neutral or park before engaging the 4WD. Check your vehicle’s manual to make sure you know how it works.
- Watch the weather. Safety first; there are times when you simply shouldn’t be on the roads. Don’t let the pressure of a busy schedule force you to make risky travel decisions. Many vehicles display outside air temperature. Be extra cautious and watch for icy conditions, especially if the outside temperature is hovering around 32° or just below freezing.