Is Your Vehicle Winter Ready? How to Prepare for Cold Weather Driving

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When frigid winter weather arrives, are you ready to drive safely through snow, sleet and ice? Preparing your vehicle for cold conditions now helps avoid breakdowns, accidents and delays later. This comprehensive winter car checklist covers everything needed to winterize and protect your ride against seasonal hazards.

With freezing temperatures on the way in northern states and Canada, don’t get caught off guard. Follow this guide on winterizing and driving preparedness to make sure you and your vehicle are ready to take on ice, snow and extreme cold safely this winter.

Complete Winter Car Maintenance Checklist

Carrying out preventative maintenance and checks now pays off by reducing wintertime breakdown risks. Here are 8 key areas to address:

1. Battery and Charging System

Extreme cold decreases battery performance and power. Have your battery tested to ensure sufficient amps and reserve capacity for cold cranking power. Look for signs of corrosion, cracks or leaks. Also examine cables, clamps and connections for tightness and corrosion.

Tip: Let the engine warm before driving to allow the charging system to top off the battery after overnight cold drainage.

2. Tires

Verify tire tread depth is above 2/32 inch for sufficient traction through snow. Replace any worn tires. Also be sure tires are properly inflated, as air pressure drops 1 PSI for every 10° Fahrenheit. Underinflated tires are more prone to blowouts.

Tip: Consider snow tires for added traction and safety. Chains offer a last resort option when needed.

3. Brakes

Extreme cold reduces braking power. Have your brake pads, rotors and calipers inspected before winter sets in. Look for any leaks in the brake lines or ABS system as well. Top off brake fluid and make sure it meets the DOT 3 or DOT 4 specification for cold weather performance.

Tip: Gently pump brakes when first driving to build friction and steering response.

4. Wipers and Fluids

Replace any worn or cracked windshield wipers and refill wiper fluids rated for -30°F or below temperatures. You’ll rely heavily on effective wipers to clear snow and ice all winter.

Also top off coolant, transmission, power steering and other fluids to recommended levels using cold weather formulations. This prevents freezing and viscosity changes.

5. Lights and Battery

Make sure all exterior lights are in working order, and replace burnt out headlight and taillight bulbs. Consider converting to LED bulbs to produce brighter light using less energy. Also inspect and aim headlights to provide maximum night visibility through snow and fog.

For emergencies, store an extra phone-charging battery pack with jumper cables in the vehicle.

6. Engine and Filters

Dirty or worn spark plugs and air filters make starting difficult in cold weather. Replace the engine air filter and have spark plugs swapped for optimal cold weather performance. Also change the oil to 5W-30 or 0W-30 synthetic oil, which flows better in cold temperatures than standard 10W-30.

Tip: Let the engine idle for 1-2 minutes before driving to circulate the warmer oil.

7. HVAC System

Test heat, defrost and dehumidify functions to ensure the HVAC system can clear frost and keep windows fog-free. Replace the cabin air filter as needed. Refill any refrigerants if levels are low to maximize defrosting capabilities.

Tip: Park facing east if possible so the morning sun helps thaw ice on windows.

8. Emergency Kit Supplies

Restock any depleted emergency supplies in your winter vehicle kit including gloves, blanket, flashlight, first aid kit, exterior flares, jumper cables, traction mats, ice scraper, snow brush and shovel. Also check expiration dates on food/water.

Tip: Keep a phone charger, batteries and portable power bank handy.

Addressing these key points minimizes winter breakdowns, keeps your vehicle safe to operate, and prepares you for slick roads. Next let’s cover best practices for driving defensively in severe winter weather events.

Winter Driving Safety Tips and Precautions

Once your vehicle is winterized, focus on driving extra cautiously for conditions. Follow these winter driving safety tips:

Lower Speeds

Posted speed limits are meant for ideal conditions only. Slow down well below speed limits when snow or ice is present. Accelerate and brake gradually to avoid skids. Match your speed to visibility conditions if snow or fog limits sightlines.

Increase Following Distance

Leave 6 seconds or more of following distance from the vehicle ahead. This expanded gap minimizes chain reaction fender benders and allows more room to brake gradually. Avoid tailgating.

Know Your Brakes

Don’t pump antilock brakes. Apply steady, firm pressure if you have ABS. Begin gently pressing non-ABS brakes to gauge wheel traction before applying firmer pressure. Brake earlier than usual, especially on turns and intersections.

Turn and Brake Carefully

Make smooth steering inputs to avoid fishtailing or spin outs. Feather off the accelerator through turns. Avoid hard braking while turning. When braking on snow or ice, do so in a straight line rather than in the turn.

Watch for Black Ice

Roads may still be dangerously slick even when snow has stopped falling. Take it slow when temperatures remain below freezing after precipitation since black ice is difficult to see. Drive most cautiously on bridges, overpasses and shady areas prone to ice.

Don’t Power Through Deep Snow

If you get stuck trying to power through deep snow, you risk stalling and being unable to restart an engine in frigid temps. Avoid driving into snow deeper than the ground clearance of your vehicle. Wait for plows to clear roads before attempting to drive after heavy snowfall.

Stay In Control

Avoid abrupt steering, acceleration or braking maneuvers than can cause skids on slick surfaces. Make adjustments smoothly and slowly to remain in control. If your vehicle does begin to skid, carefully steer in the direction you want the front of the car to go.

Stock Emergency Supplies

Pack extra cold weather gear, snacks, flashlight, phone charger, flares, sand/salt, window scraper, blankets, first aid kit and other essentials in your vehicle. Having these items will prove invaluable if you become stranded by a breakdown or snowstorm.

Stay Vigilant

Constantly scan ahead for any upcoming slippery areas, traffic hazards, or vehicles stuck on or alongside the roadway. Avoid distractions and give the road your full attention. Hands-free talking only. Make any upcoming turns simple.

Driving defensively and slowing down is key to safer winter travel. Always maintain extra following distance around plows and salt trucks clearing snow, as they travel well below speed limits and make wide turns. Patience and allowing additional travel time is required.

What to Do if Stuck in a Winter Storm

Despite best efforts, you may still get caught in a serious winter storm or stranded when roads become impassable. If stuck in a blizzard or severe weather event:

  • Pull safely to side of the road out of traffic lanes
  • Turn on hazard lights and hang a distress flag from the window
  • Run the engine only if needed for heat; keep exhaust pipe clear of blockage
  • Stay in vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you
  • Don’t try walking for help in a whiteout; you risk becoming lost
  • Drink fluids to avoid dehydration
  • Monitor the radio for storm updates and rescue instruction
  • Do gentle exercises to stay warm, changing positions frequently
  • Use blankets, warmth from companions, maps, paperwork, floor mats and seats for insulation
  • Take turns sleeping to maintain energy and mental acuity

The safest place is usually inside a stalled vehicle during winter weather rather than venturing outside. Only leave the vehicle if clearly visible help or shelter is 100 yards or less away, moving slowly and carefully. Don’t panic – stay focused on safely conserving energy and body warmth until plows or rescuers arrive.

Winterizing for Severe Cold and Snow

From ice and snow accumulation to bitter cold snaps, winter brings added risks for vehicle trouble. Take time now to thoroughly winterize your vehicle and drive cautiously during adverse conditions.

Paying a little extra attention upfront helps ensure you don’t get caught off guard by frozen fuel lines, dead batteries or damaged engines when harsh winter weather strikes. Follow the seasonal maintenance and winter driving checklists above to keep you and your passengers safe through whatever this winter may bring.

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