With modern computer controlled fuel injection and 21st-century oil formulations, your car is not as affected by the drop in temperature like it once was. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t changes that have to be made to optimize your car for winter driving. Follow our short list and you will be much better prepared for cold, rain, snow, ice, and the longer nights that come with the winter months.
- Winter Tires - If you live in the snow belt you don’t need us to tell you to get snow tires, or maybe you do? Proper snow tires make a big difference in stopping distances and may be the only thing separating making it home from sliding off into a ditch. Traction control and anti-lock brakes can only do so much, even with fresh all-season tires. There is a much more detailed explanation here.
- Tires Part 2 - If you don’t expect snow, chances are there will still be rain and cold to contend with. Tire pressure will go down as the temperature does, so this is a good time to make sure they are properly inflated to the number printed in your car’s manual or on the door jamb sticker. An underinflated tire is more likely to hydroplane over a puddle and cause a loss of control. Since you should rotate your tires every six months, now is a great time to do that as well.
- Lighting - With shorter days, we all drive more at night in the winter months. Now is a great time to do a walk around and check that all your lights are working. Modern headlight lenses get foggy and degrade with time, so now is the time to polish them up and make them clear again. You can do that yourself in a few hours if you follow this tutorial.
- Battery - Somewhat related to your lights, be sure to have a shop test your car’s battery under load. If you have a car with a failing battery, it may be just fine on a morning when the air is 60 degrees or warmer. But all chemical processes are slower at low temperatures, and the battery will put out less juice as the thermometer drops. Better to catch it now then be stranded some freezing morning or night needing a jump.
- Antifreeze - How old is your car? When is the last time you flushed the radiator or added actual antifreeze? If you are like most people, you have been topping off the cooling system over the years with fresh water, which is fine in the summer. For about $5 you can get an eyedropper type coolant tester which reveals in seconds how much water is in your antifreeze, and what temperature it is likely to freeze at. Be sure to top off with the correct color antifreeze that matches what your car already has, because you shouldn’t mix them.
- Wiper Blades - Now is the time for new wiper blades, even if you haven’t used them since last winter. Rubber dries out during the hot summer months and chances are they aren’t going to work very well when the first storm hits. If you expect snow, be sure to install a set of winter blades that are less likely to freeze, and typically covered with a rubber coat so they can’t get loaded with ice.
- Pack For Emergencies - If you never leave the city you can ignore some of this, but it never hurts to be prepared no matter what. At the very least, you want to keep a bag of kitty litter or sand in your car you can throw down for traction. Also recommended, and easily packed, are some emergency blankets, snack bars, hand warmers and a flashlight. The State of Illinois has a more complete list here, specifically for people traveling through less densely populated areas.