Car Care: How to Winterize Your Ride

Whether you’re working from home this winter or happily sheltering in the glory of a warm fire, you’re going need to go out eventually. How ready is your car? Here are several items to prepare your car for winter. Now and in the midst of winter, so that you aren’t caught off guard. The goal is to travel safely for the holidays—shopping, visiting relative, attending parties. Or just for your routine snowy work commute. The tips below include things you can do yourself as well as those things best left up to professionals in order to make driving your car in winter safe for you and your family.

Be honest. To prepare your car for winter, you should look at all the vehicles you’ll be driving and take stock of what needs to be done. Putting off a new set of tires? Do you know how old your brakes are? Do you have any idea about your fluid levels? And when was the last time your cars saw the original car dealer or mechanic? Get those repairs done now. It may not seem like a lot of money when you consider safety, since people spend around $400 every year on car diagnostics, scheduled maintenance, and tune-ups. You’re not alone if you think prepping your car for snowy weather is on the radar especially in temperate zones of the U.S. These areas, like the west, Midwest and northeast are where the winter weather can go from sunny and cool to blizzard conditions in less than eight hours.

Things to Do Now

prepare your car for winter

Windshield wipers. Replace those windshield wipers if they haven’t been replaced within a year. Annual replacements are recommended anyway. Think about it, they’ll be doing their heaviest work during the winter months. They’ll be clearing away ice, snow, and sleet. While you’re at it, refill the windshield wiper fluid. Now’s the time to buy an extra container of windshield wiper fluid to stow in your garage. Sold in gallon jugs, the fluid is available everywhere (even the supermarket) for about $5-$10, depending on the brand you choose. Some are specific de-icing formulations that are best for the winter’s colder months. Hint: Make sure you tuck a decent ice scraper (or two) in your car and/or in your briefcase or bag.

Protect you and the car. During the winter getting from your doorstep to your vehicle (and back again) can be the most treacherous part of your day. On your car the better less exposure to the elements. If you really want to go all out, why not hide your car during wicked winter moments. Winter is the best time to leave your baby in the garage. Now’s the time to clean up the garage so you can safely keep your car inside. A car in the garage means you don’t need to step outside and be exposed to the frozen elements. Many companies can haul away large items in your garage. If you live in the city, look into local parking garages. The expense of monthly parking garage fees may be worth the price of a safe, dry car. In addition, think about either hiring crews that can keep your driveway cleared or investing in a snowblower.

If you’ve already done this—smart thinking! But since the asphalt can get dug up by snowplows, before winter is here, check out local paving contractors. These professionals can advise you about the state of your driveway. They can give you estimates on whether or not your driveway needs a resurfacing or attention to specific trouble spots. You’ll need to address those spots before they turn into giant potholes.

prepare your car for winter

Antifreeze. Your car’s life’s blood is just as important in the summer as it is in the winter. Since antifreeze is located in the radiator and the average the car owner isn’t trained (or comfortable) with auto repair, let the professionals check it. Antifreeze is also toxic. A 30-to-70 mixture of water to ethylene glycol, this solution has a high boiling point and a high freezing point. Just like blood in your body, antifreeze is pumped through the engine where it absorbs excess heat. It then runs through the radiator, positioned at the front of your car, to release heat to the outside air. To

Tires. Air pressure is important when you think about how to prepare your car for winter. If your car is an older model—with say, over 100,000 to 200,000 miles on the odometer, if may be time to upgrade to a new set of tires. Most tires have a life of seven to eight years. When you go to the dealer or your auto mechanic for an oil change, you can have them test the tread. This diagnostic test can detect the depth of the tread. In most instances, they will volunteer that information as your car will not pass inspection without. Most states require tires to have a tread depth of at least 1/16 inch. Safe tread depth means that you’ll have better traction on snowy roads.

Check spark plugs. This is where you want to forgo reviewing auto body supply products online. Let the professionals do this. Not all spark plugs are rated for 100,000 miles. Some car makers recommend replacement at 30,000-mile intervals—typically the time when your dealer recommends a more thorough inspection with diagnostic testers. You should follow the spark plug service intervals shown in your car’s owner’s manual to figure out when to replace them. Your spark plugs are part of the ignition process and if faulty, your car is unlikely to run.

Update the energy source. Your battery is to your car what your heart is to your body. If your battery stops, so does your car. A car battery can last up to seven years. During your annual check or service interval for your car (when they change the oil, check the belts and top off the fluids), ask if the battery can be tested for charge. Batteries operate on chemical changes within their cells, cold weather affects the speed of those changes and slow them down.

Things to Do Later

Build your emergency list. If in the case of accidents, half the battle is being prepared. If you’re alone, it’s absolutely critical to have the things that are going to keep you safe until help arrives. You should have the number of the American Automobile Association or a local car towing service. The AAA is an organization that, with an annual membership fee, offers roadside assistance that includes battery, tire change, and towing. For example, if your car has skidded off a snowy road one evening, AAA can put you through to a dispatch service who in turn, can alert the nearest 24-hour towing service. They’ll either get you back on the road or tow you to the nearest gas station. But if your emergency was something that was not your fault or a-hit-and-run, you’ll also be best prepared if you have the numbers of a few auto accident attorneys at your fingertips.

Creature comforts. In the case of an accident or getting stuck in snow, you may be stuck inside your car for quite a while. You can put together a small box of items that can increase your chances of being moderately comfortable—unless you’ve suffered a personal injury. Pack a blanket or afghan—wool is best. Wool is an insulator, as well as a water-repelling fabric. Bring fluids, a few water bottles. Pack wrapped non-perishable snacks. Human beings tend to need more energy in colder weather. Don’t go overboard with packing food. A box of unopened granola bars is enough. But to prepare your car for winter you’ll need to consider if you’ll have anyone else in the car with you—kids, friends, or your dog. There’s always a chance we won’t be driving alone during the winter months.

High end safety. As a holiday gift to yourself, discard the thought of having to prepare your car for winter. Think: luxury vehicle rental. Don’t think that these types of rentals are reserved for little convertible sports car that looks great in the summer but are useless in the winter. Luxury cars include tough options though like, Land Rover, Lexus, and BMW SUVs. Originally built for rough terrain and safari tours, Land Rovers are incredibly driveable in snowy weather. Classic luxury cars like BMWs and Mercedes Benz, offer SUVs like the Mercedes Benz GLS 450 SUV. These classic cars are loaded with powerful engines and comfortable interior space that certainly comes in handy while driving winter.

Where do you park your car? It’s possible to run into foul winter weather while driving, but watching where you park is essential for safe winter travel. Make sure you park on a dry, or as dry as it can be, flat area. Parking as close to your home as you can also means you can get to safety as soon as possible. If you live in the city with any alley or spaces for parking—especially if the city needs to clear the streets for snow removal, park as close to your home or apartment as you can. And think about your safety and keeping your car safe. That includes avoiding parking on the street to make sure the car isn’t damaged or scratched. It’s a small but frustrating thing to think of patching a damaged door and you have to paint car colors different than its original shade.

Safety first. When brakes go on your car, you should change your door locks. In order to prepare your car for winter, take a trip to your local auto body store. Often, brake replacement depends on the driver and the terrain. If you live in and commute to a large city, you’ll want to replace your car’s brake pads as soon as you reach 8,000 to 10,000 miles per year. That’s because you’re in a crowded, stop and go kind of traffic environment.

prepare your car for winter

If you drive more miles but you set your car to cruise control, then your brakes are in better condition. You use your brakes a lot more in urban driving than on straight, open roads. The average brake pad replacement costs around $150 to $300 per axle depending on the car—trucks cost more–brake pad materials. The good news is that many cars have thickness sensors for brake pads. That squealing noise? That’s your nudge to get the brakes attended to. cars have built-in wear sensors that scrape against a brake disc when the pads needed replacing.

Repairs and replacements sooner rather than later. There are times when you put off repairs or replacements because the cost is tough, money is tight and it’s unlikely you’ll get a promotion any time soon. You need to prepare your car for winter. So how to get a hold of money fast? You can consider a line of credit via your credit card, bank, or credit union. Maybe you need to get a loan. At one time hard money lenders were thought of as predatory. But a hard money loan is just a short-term loan secured by real estate. These loans can give you quick cash so you can pay for the repairs and replacements that prepare your car for winter.

And now for the bad news. If you don’t do anything for winter this year, you may be lucky and not need to prepare or change. But there are several things that can happen if you’re not prepared. First, without proper tire tread, it’s more likely that you’ll slip on icy or snowy roads. When you ignore the chore and don’t prepare your car for winter, you could also fail inspection. If your headlights aren’t replaced, and are too dim won’t help you and won’t be able to legally drive your car. Low fluids in your car—whether you’ve neglected your antifreeze, brake fluid, and windshield wiper fluid—prevent your car from operating properly. Low or old oil causes the engine to poorly function and you’ll fail the emissions test. Lastly, for your family’s sake, it’s critical to prepare your car for winter, no matter the cost.

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