5 Steps to Get Your Car Ready for Winter

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Your home isn’t the only asset you should be preparing for winter. Car owners also need to get their vehicles ready for the winter roads before the season officially changes.

“It’s not too late to winterize your car,” Phil Reed, senior consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com, tells MainStreet. “But, if you haven’t done it yet, you should do it now.”

“You can have a rough winter that’s not rough on you as a driver if you just follow some simple steps,” Alex Nunez, automotive senior editor for ConsumerSearch.com, says. Here’s what he and a few other experts suggest owners do to make sure their cars can handle the snow and salt this winter.  

Treat your tires.

Those who live in very snowy areas or plan on traveling to them during the next few months should seriously consider putting snow tires on their vehicles.

“[Snow tires] don’t just have a different tread,” Nunez says. “They’re actually made from a different compound designed to provide a better grip in cold temperatures and during slippery situations.”

Reed agrees that there’s a huge advantage to having snow tires, especially if you live an area that gets a lot of snow, but understands that at around $100 apiece, many drivers won’t be able to make that kind of an investment

Still, he cautions, anyone who’s been meaning to replace their tires should do so before the winter weather has a chance to wreak havoc on the roads. At the very least, car owners should check their tire pressure, which tends to drop in colder weather.

“You need to maintain proper tire pressure, so the tires run as advertised,” Nunez says.

According to Brandy Schaffels, senior editor for TrueCar.com, a car’s correct tire pressure should be listed on a tag in the driver-side doorjamb. If it’s not there, however, owners should look in their car’s manual.

Check your owner’s manual.

The correct tire pressure shouldn’t be the only thing you check in your owner’s manual as the new season approaches. Some cars, particularly older models, require a lower-viscosity oil in the winter to avoid excessive thickening in cold temperatures, Reed says.

Nunez adds that some cars may require a different anti-freeze – mixtures that keep engine coolants from freezing – as the temperature lowers. He advises all consumers to check to make sure there is enough antifreeze in the vehicle.

“When waters freezes, it expands,” Reed says, adding this can do serious damage to your entire engine.

Check to see if any repairs are in order.

“Breaking down in the winter is a lot worse because the conditions are more extreme and visibility can be a real issue,” Reed says.

As such, he advises drivers to open up the hood of the vehicle to check that all belts and hoses are in working order. Those with older vehicles should even consider taking their car to a local mechanic to make sure nothing is in dire need of repair.

Another part that warrants close inspection is your battery, which Reed says should be replaced every four to five years anyway.

“In very cold weather, batteries lose some of their oomph in terms of starting power,” Nunez explains. He adds that consumers should also check and replace any faulty windshield wipers.

Reed says you can tell if a wiper needs to be replaced by releasing some wiper fluid. If the wipers leave streaks, they should be replaced. A pair of new windshield wipers costs around $20, Reed estimates. He reminds owners to check the wiper on the back window as well. 

Put together an emergency kit.

You should have an emergency kit in your car at all times, but if it’s been a while since you’ve rifled through it, double-check all the essentials are at hand. This includes, at a minimum, according to all experts:

  • A working flashlight
  • Flares
  • Jumper cables, preferably with a back-up battery attached so you can restart your car yourself
  • Tire changing equipment
  • First-aid kit

Nunez suggests keeping some blankets and non-perishable food in your trunk as well, since winter breakdowns can last longer than in the summer months. Additionally, Schaffels suggests that parents with babies put some extra formula in their kits as well.

“If it does take you six hours to get home, you’re not stuck in the car with a baby who needs to get fed,” she says.

Have other essentials on hand.

In addition to your emergency kit, however, drivers should make sure to have some other items on hand. This includes an ice scraper, a small shovel for digging yourself out of ditches, lock de-icers or even some sand or kitty litter.

“This gives your car weight,” Schaffels says. “You can also put it on the ground to get more traction if you’re stuck in ice or snow.”

These items can be kept in the car, but keep backups in your garage or even at the office.

“If your locks freeze, these items might be hard to get at,” Nunez says. “You want to be able to clean your car off quickly and not be stranded.”

Need to make some repairs before the seasons change? MainStreet rounded up 10 ways you can save on car repair!

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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