Winter weather presents both challenging outdoor conditions and potentially hazardous driving conditions. Cold temperatures, plus ice, snow, and freezing rain can cause slippery roads and wreak havoc on your vehicle if you’re not prepared. If you live in a place with moderate to severe winters, keep reading to find out 10 tips for winterizing your car, truck, or SUV.
10 Winter Weather Driving Tips
Get a Winterizing Service
One of the first things to do in preparation for winter weather is to take your car in for a winterizing service. If you have some mechanical ability, you can also do most of these things yourself. The main thing to get checked is your battery. Low temperatures decrease your battery power, which can make an already-weak battery have even more problems. The next areas to check include the following:
- Cooling system and proper antifreeze ratio and levels
- Belts and hoses
- Spark plugs
- Windshield wipers
These are all things to keep on top of at any time in the year, but getting stranded far from home in cold and hazardous winter weather is far worse than in milder times of the year.
Install Winter Tires or Studs
Not all places allow studded tires, or if they do, only for a certain period of time. Studs do help your tires grip the road better in ice or snow. Another option is winter tires. Non-winter tires tend to harden in below-freezing temperatures, which makes it more difficult for them to grip the road. Winter tires are designed with different compounds that resist hardening in freezing temperatures.
Winterize Your Wipers
In the service section, it was recommended that you check and replace wipers. However, you can go a step further and install winter wipers. Similar to winter tires, these wipers are designed with rubber compounds that resist ice-hardening the blades. Make sure to remove them in the spring, or whenever it stops freezing in your area, as the blades are heavier and can tax the wiper motor. Another step you can take is to use wiper fluid formulated for cold conditions, ice, and snow.
Prepare a Winter Weather Safety Kit
Even if you don’t think you’ll be traveling long distances in bad weather, it’s a good idea to prepare a winter safety kit and keep it in your car for emergencies. You never know when you might get stuck on the road due to a sudden weather system coming in. The kit should contain the following items:
- Jumper cables
- Flashlight with good batteries
- First aid kit
- Road flares
- Phone charger
- Knit hat and gloves
Make Sure Your Gas Tank is at Least Half Full
In the winter, it’s more important to keep your tank at least half full. One reason is that having more gas in the tank resists condensation. The second reason is that if you get stuck in bad weather or snarled traffic due to bad weather, you can make it through without running out of gas. The third reason is that running your engine and the heater might be your only warmth if you get stranded and are waiting for help.
Check Your Tire Pressure Often
Changes of 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the outside temperature can mean a fluctuation in tire pressure of 1 PSI. It’s important to check your tire pressure more often in the winter for this reason. Look to your driver’s side door jamb for the correct cold PSI for your vehicle. Don’t go by the number on the tires, as that is simply the maximum load.
Know Before You Go
Any time that you prepare to head out in winter weather, you should check the road and weather conditions. Temperature and precipitation can affect traction. For example, zero degree weather will give you better traction on ice or snow versus 32-degree weather. Higher winter temperatures make surfaces more slippery.
Have A Winter Weather Emergency Plan
Go over what to do if you ever get stuck in a winter storm. Don’t leave your car, as it may be your only available shelter. Put out road flares if necessary. Keep your dome lights on to attract attention. Don’t run your car engine for a long period of time, as it might cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
Drive Appropriately For Conditions
The majority of accidents in winter weather are caused by drivers who are not driving for conditions. Remember that you’ll need more stopping distance on slippery roads. Even if you have a 4WD, it won’t help you stop if you’re driving too fast. Driving slower will make it easier to stop. If you have a manual transmission, you can downshift for engine braking instead of using your brakes.
Know Your Vehicle and Carry Chains
Some vehicles are harder to drive in winter conditions than others. For example, if you own a two-wheel-drive pickup truck, you’ll want to keep something heavy in the bed to increase traction for the rear tires. Rear-wheel-drive sports cars are among the worst vehicles to drive in snow. If you don’t own a 4WD, it’s also a good idea to practice putting chains on your vehicle, so that you can do it in an emergency. Chains might be the only thing that can get you out of a hazardous situation. If you’re traveling a pass, you might encounter a chains-required order before you can get over it.
Ultimately, if you can avoid traveling in hazardous winter weather, that’s the best choice. More vehicles on the road simply make conditions worse and also makes it harder for emergency crews to work. If you absolutely must go out, use the previous nine tips to be prepared. If you have a 4WD vehicle, take that instead of a car or 2WD pickup.