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Winterizing Your Vehicle for Rain and Snow: The Ultimate Checklist

January 5, 2018

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Winter is upon us, and that means plummeting temperatures and unfavorable driving conditions. Cold weather is hard on your vehicle's systems, and you need your vehicle running at its peak during those icy winter storms so you don't end up late for work or stranded in a snowy parking lot.

Make sure your car is prepared for the worst of the season by performing a few routine checks:

Inspect your battery for problems

Battery capacity diminishes in extreme cold by as much as 20%, and that's a big deal for older batteries that might already be underperforming as a result of their age. Another plague to batteries is corrosion. Battery terminals, posts and cables will display a fuzzy, gritty white, blue or green substance.

Because cold weather increases electrical resistance in most of your vehicle's circuits, they draw harder on the battery than usual in the winter. And since the ignition motor is one of the most demanding electrical components, you can be sure that if your car had a weak start in the fall, it's going to die on one of those cold winter mornings. Have your battery tested now, before it fails, and consider replacing it sooner rather than later.

Make sure your coolant is topped up

Engine coolant is just as important in the winter as in the summer, but unless you have the right water-to-antifreeze mix in your radiator, you could be in for big trouble.

Antifreeze, as the name implies, prevents engine coolant from freezing in extreme cold, and it helps insulate your radiator from corrosion. If the solution is too watery, your radiator might freeze up, causing your engine to overheat.

You can check the antifreeze concentration yourself, but many local shops will also do it for free. Keep in mind, too, that coolant should be flushed and replaced once every two years (or roughly every 20,000 miles).

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Check your wiper blades and washer fluid

Blades that do well in warm weather may struggle in snow and ice. Investing in a set of winter blades is wise for drivers who expect to encounter these conditions, because they're engineered to remain flexible in extreme temperatures.

Meanwhile, all drivers should ensure that they're using washer fluid rated for sub-freezing temperatures. The alcohol concentration in winter formulas is higher, so it doesn't freeze as easily on your windshield or in your reservoir, and it can even help de-ice windshields while driving in sleet or snow.

Ensure your brakes won't fail you

It's especially dangerous to drive with worn brake pads during the winter, because moisture from wet and snowy streets lubricates your wheels as you drive. That means you apply more brake pressure to stop over the same distance — probably without even noticing it. If your brakes are already close to the danger zone, they're more likely to fail.

If it's been awhile since your last brake job, have your system inspected to make sure you're not overdue for new pads or rotors.

Make sure your tires are in good shape

You might have learned in school that air expands with heat and compresses with cold. Well, that means that as the temperature drops, so does the air pressure in your tires. Be sure to check your tire pressure more frequently in the winter, because under-inflated tires wear unevenly on their shoulders. This increases the chances of a blowout and reduces the responsiveness of your tires on wet and icy roads.

If your vehicle isn't equipped with four-wheel drive, chains are also a necessary precaution if you live in a snowy area or plan to travel to one. Find the right chains that fit your tires and keep them ready, along with a tarp and gloves, for installation at a moment's notice.

Put together an emergency kit

Even when your car is running great, unexpected breakdowns and snowstorms can still leave you out in the cold. This can quickly become a dangerous situation, so take precautions and equip your vehicle with appropriate emergency supplies: heavy blankets, extra clothing (including socks, scarves, earmuffs and winter hats), waterproof boots, instant hand and foot warmers, basic rain gear and a compact shovel.

Should you have to camp out in your vehicle for several hours, dig your tires out of the snow, or venture out into the elements to seek help, you'll be very glad you thought to pack these things.

The best way to be sure your car is ready for winter, of course, is to have it properly checked over by the professionals. We're eager to help with that, too. Contact us today, and we'll be happy to put you in touch with a certified technician who can keep your vehicle running strong all year long.

About the Author

Kimberlea Buczeke is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

1 User Comment

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By , January 22, 2018
This is a well thought out article. Thanks for the tipz.