We are going to cover a few tips that can keep your car on the road during winter. It is always best to have a plan when things go wrong and to take care of maintenance that could leave you stranded.
The first thing you want to do is go through all of your standard factory maintenance suggestions. If you are behind on any of them you want to bring them up to date.
This includes everything that is mentioned in your car’s owners manual and we will cover a few of them as they are related to winter driving.
After you experience a few weeks of cold weather and it is normally below freezing you need to update some of your maintenance procedures because the cold will effect them.
Checking Tire Pressure
One of the most important and easiest thing for you to do is check your tire pressure. In the winter your car will take longer to warm the tires and because gasses are reduced in volume when its cold a tire that might have been properly inflated a few weeks ago might have lost some pressure due to the cold.
You will want to check your tires after driving about 5 miles or maybe a bit more. If you inflate the tires when cold you could have an over inflated condition once the tires warm up. It is a difficult tradeoff because when your tires are cold they won’t perform at their best. You might feel the bumps a bit more or it could feel a bit different as you steer.
This is why it is very important to take it easy in the morning when driving in the winter at least for the first 5 to 10 miles.
That will give your tires and suspension time to wake up and work properly.. Think of it as trying to get you to run down to the mail box at 4am without a jacket when its 20F outside. You’re not going to be at your best.
Check Your Battery
If you haven’t checked the date on your battery for a while it probably means it needs replacing. Although your battery may last many years the fact is they normally go bad in 3 to 5 years and smaller batteries will go bad faster.
There is nothing you can do to improve the life of a battery because they are lead plates that are sitting in a plastic box full of sulfuric acid. Eventually that acid will eat through the lead and then the battery is completely dead.
Prior to a complete cell failure you might have problems with starting due to the battery plates being eaten away and the acid being neutralized by this process.
Hard Starting.. or Batteries that require extended charging times or batteries that require jumping or charging after only light use of accessories without the car running … all of these conditions mean your battery is about to die and you better start looking for sales.
Check your Fluid Levels
Again just like tires you want to check your fluid levels when they the car has warmed up. Although I normally check both cold and hot I would not add fluid until the vehicle has warmed up and I know that I won’t be overfilling any fluid.
Brake Fluid should not be a problem as it is stable at most temperatures but you should check the level and add fluid if necessary. Stopping in the winter can be harder and you will want the best performance you can get. Always remember to use the same fluid recommended by your manufacturer. If in doubt spend the extra $10 and get a bottle of Brake Fluid from your Dealer. It may not be any better however they often formulate it with special chemicals to work best with their rubber and plastic parts.
Power Steering fluid should not exceed the hot full line or you could have problems with your steering. Add this fluid after the car has warmed up whether its winter or summer.
Transmission fluid must be the same type as your manufacturer recommends. For Honda Vehicles I suggest that you simply buy Honda Fluid and pay through the nose for it because there have been a number of problems with people not using it in 2000-2010 vehicles that lead to transmission failure. Other model vehicles you have the option of using auto parts store fluids but always make sure you use the exact type fluid and there are at least 3 different types on the market right now.
Windshield Washer fluid should be topped up often with full strength washer fluid that includes an antifreeze component. Never add just water or you could end up with a windshield full of ice or a washer pump or line that is frozen and won’t work when you really need it. It is ok in the summer to cut or add water or even use straight water but not in the winter.
Replacement Windshield Wipers
If you haven’t replaced your windshield wipers for 6 months to a year then it is time to get a new set. Winter snow and ice will destroy weak wiper blades and if the rubber strip comes off the wiper you could be left with a sharp metal tab that grinds a groove in your windshield.
If you have replaced your wipers in the past 3 to 6 months and you believe they are in very good condition I still suggest that you buy a second new set and keep them in your trunk.
I normally always keep the old set that I am taking off in the box the new set came in. I will keep them in my vehicle and possibly a second backup in my home’s garage. This allows me to have a part that is partly functional until I can get a new set.
If you don’t or haven’t started keeping your old set that is still in fair condition you will need to buy a new set set the ball in motion.
Tire Condition and Type
If your tires are near replacement then it is best to make the change at the start of winter. If you live in an area where all season tires are fine for winter then you will need all the tread and grip you can get if it snows or you get ice. Old tires could leave you stranded. If they are in good condition with 50% life then make sure there are no objects like nails in them. You can pickup a nail and not even know for weeks. Just inspect the tread and inflate them to the proper pressure.
If you live in an area that sees a lot of snow then you will benefit from a dedicated set of snow tires.
Snow tires have a more aggressive tread and do not perform well year round. However it is not like you need to throw the tires away at the end of the season.
If you are swapping out all season for snow tires or purchasing your first set of snow tires you want to make sure that each tire is clearly marked for its position on the vehicle.
Radial Tread tires should not be swapped from the left to the right side of the vehicle or the metal reinforcement wires could unwrap and cause premature failure of the tire. Use a white Marking pen and mark the inside sidewall of each tire before you bring it in for a tire change.
Once you have both sets of tires you will need to store them at your home until the season is over unless you drive over the rated number of miles for the tire. Tire garages will normally give you plastic bags for them or a extra large trash bag will work for most tires. Remember to store them in a place they won’t be harmed by weather conditions. Don’t just throw them on the side of your house unprotected.
Cleaning means not just the outside
It is important to take some extra steps when cleaning your vehicle prior to winter. I suggest that you take extra care and clean all the dirt around the opening of the doors and trunk. You should have rubber foam seals that help keep the car air tight. If they are damaged you may need to fix or replace them. If they are in good condition then you want to treat them with a mild rubber treatment like Armor All. I am not endorsing Armor All but it seems there are very few products like it.. So use it on your rubber seals after cleaning them.
It is also a good idea to treat all the rubber parts on the exterior and interior with Armor All and while you are at it clean the inside of your car.. those burger wrappers really aren’t any good when you’re feet are covered with slush.
And Scotchguard is great for your seats and also your rugs but make sure they are clean and dry first.
We didn’t cover every step that you should take but it is important that if you find random a nice day in early winter / late fall that you clean and go through the steps of preparing your car for winter.
I suggest that you keep extra radiator fluid, windshield washer fluid, belts, hoses, wipers that you are replacing. If they aren’t completely worthless keep then in your car or garage. That way you have at least something at hand before you can get to the parts place or a repair shop. I do the same for thermostats, water pumps and basically everything. If i don’t have one new i at least have the old one i can pop on in a pinch.
You don’t want to be doing this in the middle of January when its freezing out. And you don’t want to be worrying about it early in the morning when you are just hoping the car starts and the heat comes on.