This Just in: Winter’s Coming
Although the calendar says it’s still fall, it may not seem like it in most areas of the country where winter weather has preceded the official start of the season. With the holidays upon us, the last thing on your mind is getting your vehicle ready for the winter to come. You undoubtedly have a long list of people to shop for, food to prepare and stockings to hang by the chimney with care. If you don’t also tune your car, however, you may end up stranded by the side of the highway with anything but the thought of sugarplum fairies dancing about in your head.
We prepare ourselves for winter by getting out our winter coats, gloves, scarves and hats. You can also prepare your vehicle for driving in the harsh winter weather in that simple, orderly fashion. Even if you’re not traveling over the river and through the woods, it makes all the sense in the world to take a small break in your winter holiday preparation to winterize your vehicle and maximize your safety on the road.
“Oddly enough,” says Director of Consumer Education Bryan Gregory of Advance Auto Parts, “the best time to actually prepare your vehicle for winter is when it’s still warm outside.”
You may have already missed that window if you live in certain areas of the country, but that’s no reason to not do what you can in order to get your car through the winter. Here, some must-dos that will make the season brighter:
Inspect your antifreeze. Make sure to do it while your engine is cold. Use a tester to check the mixture for its freezing point. Half of the mixture should be distilled water, and the other half should be antifreeze. This is sufficient in most climates -- except in areas of extreme cold, which includes Southern California this year.
Check your electrical charging system. Cold weather makes your battery work much harder, so a battery that started your car just fine through the fall might not be up to the strain of winter. Make sure to see a professional. Advance Auto Parts stores will do it for you for free.
Change your oil and oil filter. Clean, high-quality engine oil goes a long way to protect the motor in cold-start situations. For cold weather, a multiweight oil like 10W-50 makes a lot of sense because it flows easily at low temperatures -- while still providing ample protection from wear. Check for vehicle manufacturer recommendations in your owner’s manual.
Visually inspect all lights. These include marker bulbs, tail lights and third-level brake lights (aka Center High Mount Stop Light, or CHMSL). Headlights and driving lights should get special attention. Lengthier hours of darkness require bulbs to work harder in the winter, causing them to dim or burn out more quickly. Check to make sure that the headlight lens casing around the lights is clean as well.
Check tire tread and inflation pressure. Winter driving requires good traction in snow and ice, so the condition and depth of your tire tread is critical. Bald or severely worn tires are especially treacherous in wet, icy and snowy conditions. Meanwhile, frigid weather can wreak havoc on your tires’ inflation pressure. Check your tire pressure regularly and follow the recommended pounds per square inch (PSI) found on the driver’s-side door post for maximum traction, tire life and fuel economy.
Get your brakes inspected. When it comes to safety, stopping is more important than going. Braking can be difficult in icy weather, so it’s essential that your brakes work properly. Check your brake pads and replace them if necessary. Have your rotors inspected as well.
Your car isn’t just a transportation device in cold weather; it is also your shelter from the elements, so treat it with the care it deserves. The steps you take now could save your life.
Luigi Fraschini is a contributing editor for Driving Today. He writes frequently about auto safety and other auto-related issues.