The crisp mornings of mid-November are a stark reminder of what will soon become months of winter-driving uncertainty. Preparing your vehicle for colder weather is the best way to avoid a slippery situation in the snow. Here's how to get your car ready
Clean Your Vehicle Inside And OutExterior surfaces are particularly vulnerable to winter's charming qualities, such as snow, ice and road salt. It's ideal if you can use the fair fall days leading up to the frigid months to thoroughly wash your vehicle. To start, undertake a complete do-it-yourself detailing of your car. Be sure to include a car wax that coats the body panels before the first snowfall -- specifically, before temperatures drop below 55F. This preventative measure will shield paint surfaces from snowy bombardments, and it will also make snow and ice easier to brush off.
On the inside, remove any garbage before vacuuming the seats and floor. After vacuuming, additional attention with an upholstery cleaner will have your cockpit looking spick-and-span and more welcoming for passengers. To rid your car of that stale, climate-controlled atmosphere that the colder weather brings, try an air-freshener -- even a man's car shouldn't smell like a gym locker. Finally, it's also a great idea to swap out your carpeted floor mats with a set of water-resistant vinyl or rubber mats.
Test Battery And Electrical SystemCold weather is a vehicle's electrical system enemy -- especially the vehicle's battery. Combine this with the increased power demands of defrosters, windshield wipers and heating systems, and a car battery really has to be ready to meet the brutal winter challenge. A simple battery test means running your vehicle's headlights before starting the engine. If you notice that the headlights get brighter once you start the engine, more elaborate battery tests might be needed.
Metering voltage with a voltmeter or measuring electrolyte levels for an unsealed, low-maintenance battery are two examples of such tests. If your tests show the voltage lower than 12.4V or if electrolyte-specific gravity resides below 1.225, a recharge or replacement of the battery is likely required.
A well-insulated cabin offers much needed shelter from frigid winter winds, so ensuring your heating system is functioning properly should be a top priority. Run your heating system to ensure its operation before the actual time of need -- trust us, you do not want to be trapped in a cold car in the months to come. Also check the window defroster system by testing the defroster strips in the windshield and rear windshield using a voltmeter. Another major electricity consumer is the vehicle's lighting, which will be running longer due to the much shorter days. Make sure your headlights, taillights, back up lights, and signal lights (including your hazards) illuminate with a visual check during a dark day or at night.
Maximize Winter VisionDarkness and blizzard-like snowfalls, coupled with shorter periods of sunlight, dramatically reduce a motorist's vision during the winter. A working set of windshield wipers and an ample supply of winter washer fluid are the best ways to optimize limited visibility. Ensure that your wipers have a clean wipe across the windshield -- if you replace your wiper arms, also make sure that they don't lift from your windshield at higher speeds (some larger, Teflon wipers tend to lift with higher winds).
Similar to the theme of tires, windshield wiper varieties are predominately featured for all-season use. While a high-quality windshield wiper is the way to go, wiper performance can be affected by snow and ice buildup along the wiper springs. For optimal winter visibility investing in special winter wipers equipped with protective shields that protect the wipers' mechanism is an excellent idea. Summer washer fluid must be replaced heading into the colder months since it is not made for the colder temperatures and may become frozen and useless. When buying winter washer fluid, look for a brand with a deicer agent.
Be Equipped For The RoadWhile it may be a given, it's still extremely important to mention the basics in winter car equipment: You will need a snowbrush and an ice scrapper. Remember, a soft-bristled snowbrush is less likely to damage your paint and plastic scrappers won't scratch your windshield and windows as easily as metal ones. Other tools suited for unpredictable winter conditions include a collapsible shovel, a well-stocked emergency kit and a set of jumper cables.
For mountain regions, add a set of tire chains to your trunk as it may be the only way you'll be able to drive. As well, in case your vehicle becomes immobilized in deep snow you can either buy of set of traction pads or use some scrap pieces of carpet to help you escape those arctic traps -- but make sure you read the instructions carefully prior to using the traction pads as they often have spiked bottoms and can be quite dangerous.
When taking a long trip (a common practice during the holiday season) include items such as a blanket, a flashlight, candles and a lighter, flares, and an extra bottle of windshield washer fluid in case of unplanned circumstances or roadside stops.
Understandably, this winter gear might represent a burden for trunk space, but your preparation may be a relief for you later on.
Tire TalkBecause all-season tires are an economical and practical choice for many motorists it took recent tire technology advancements to recapture consumer interest for winter tires. And even then, some drivers swear by all-seasons even though their winter performances are scarcely up to par with that of the winter treads. The reality is that winter tires are the way to go.
If you opt for winter tires, store your summer tires in opaque plastic bags. To reduce moisture from damaging the rubber, press as much air out of the bags as possible or use a vacuum to suck out the air before sealing the bags with tape. For storage, find a place that maintains a cool, but stable temperature, such as a basement or heated garage.
Whichever tire you choose to use this coming winter, make sure you conduct regular visual checks on the tires tread surface, and monitor the tire pressure on a monthly basis as well. Remember, every 10 degree drop equals 1 PSI lost in your tires' pressure and that means loss of traction and control on your part.
Check And Change FluidsCheck the coolant system. To determine whether or not your vehicle is operating with a proper coolant level, it sometimes only requires a small visual check at a marked level indicator on a semitransparent overflow reservoir. For North America, a 50/50 mixture of water and antifreeze coolant is typically recommended for year-round driving (check your car's owners manual for specifics or go by the indications on the antifreeze). After checking the coolant, proceed to examine coolant hoses for leaks or wear -- visually inspect all the connections and use clean rags or paper towels to ensure there are no leaks. Make sure you also search for leaks around other reservoirs in the engine compartment, such as your brakes and oil.
The change in seasonal temperatures may also dictate a change to a thinner viscosity engine oil to more efficiently lubricate moving parts in colder conditions. Since this is not the standard for all vehicles, check your vehicle's owner manual for fluid requirements.