Driving your vehicle when there’s snow and ice on the roads can be a little intimidating — but it doesn’t have to be. Edmunds’ experts have five steps you can take now that will pay off come winter.
SWITCH TO WINTER TIRES
The standard tires that came with your vehicle are likely all-seasons. As their name implies, these tires are suitable for all conditions. But think of all-seasons as jack-of-all-trades, master of none. You’ll get the best grip and stability on snowy or icy roads if you fit your car with dedicated winter tires. These tires are engineered for situations such as heavy snow or black ice.
However, you shouldn’t keep these specialized tires mounted all year. As such, consider buying a set of winter tires mounted on an extra set of wheels and store them until winter arrives. It’s an added expense and hassle up front, but it makes the seasonal switch a lot easier. Consult your owner’s manual for more information on what type of tires to get.
No matter which tires you drive on during the winter, be sure to regularly check their air pressure and ensure they’re set to your vehicle’s recommended pressure. Colder temperatures reduce the amount of air pressure in your tires, and low air pressure can result in suboptimal tire performance and longevity.
GET YOUR VEHICLE INSPECTED
Bitter cold can increase wear and tear on certain parts of your vehicle, particularly if it’s getting on in years. But to the untrained eye, these potential problem areas aren’t always easy to find. The solution? Have a trained mechanic inspect your vehicle. It’s better to get your inspection done early enough so that you can deal with potential repair issues before wintertime fully sets in.
Make sure your mechanic tests your vehicle’s battery if it’s not part of the inspection already. Very cold weather will reduce a battery’s cranking power. If you’ve been noticing warning signs of a low battery such as dim headlights or trouble turning the engine over, it may be time to replace the battery. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
REPLACE YOUR WIPERS AND FLUIDS
Maintaining a clear line of sight can be challenging when snow, dirt and grime constantly build up on your windshield. One easy check that you can perform yourself is examining your windshield wipers to ensure they are in good condition and that they don’t skip or smear. If they do, buying and installing a fresh set of wiper blades is an inexpensive fix.
While you’re at it, make sure there is plenty of fluid inside the windshield washer reservoir. Add de-icer fluid to help melt the frost and ice more quickly. This is a good time to check your vehicle’s other fluids as well. When it comes to motor oil, synthetic oil is typically better suited for very cold temperatures than conventional oil.
CONSIDER AN ENGINE BLOCK HEATER
This one is for the extremists. Your car has to use more energy to start in the morning if you live in an area where the wintertime temperature routinely drops below zero. Depending on the temperature and the condition of your vehicle, it might struggle to start up at all. You can take some of the stress off by using an engine block heater.
An engine block heater plugs directly into your vehicle to keep engine components and fluids warm when it’s not being used. That way, when you hop in for your daily drive, it’s ready to go. There are several different types, and some plug in easily while others need to be professionally installed. But once ready, all you do is connect the heater to a standard electrical outlet a few hours ahead of your outing.
PREPARE AN EMERGENCY KIT
When all of your preparations still aren’t enough, it helps to have a handy set of tools that can get you out of a jam. You should pack an ice scraper to help you clean your windshield in a hurry and a properly sized set of tire chains when encountering deep snow. Don’t forget the gloves — no one wants to fumble around with bare fingers in the blistering cold.
Also consider including kitty litter, or sand, in case you’re stuck in ice or snow. Laying down a few scoops can provide the crucial bit of traction you need to get home. If you have the space, a shovel is a smart choice as well. Other good items to keep stocked include jumper cables, road flares, flashlights, blankets and snacks.
Driving during the cold winter months simply puts more stress on your vehicle, and on you too. Take these steps ahead of time, and they can save you a lot of time and money once the snow moves in.