Preparing Your Car for Winter Driving

"Car in snow"While it is important to take proper care of your vehicle all year long, it is especially important to keep things in top shape during the wintertime. In Utah, you can expect snow from October to April—about half of the year. You can take advantage of the warm, summer months to perform the bulk of the routine maintenance on your car, such as tire rotations and oil changes.

Although no one can predict the future, you will benefit from always expecting the unexpected. In accordance with Murphy’s Law, car problems will occur whenever they are most inconvenient. While there is nothing you can do to completely ensure your car a mechanic-free winter, you will be much better prepared if you gear up for winter before the cold weather actually arrives.

In the How Stuff Works article, “How to Prepare Your Car for Winter,” author Jennifer Geiger writes the following:

“Just as you dress yourself in extra layers and winterize your house to protect it from the cold, your car needs extra preparation to make it through the winter as well. But getting ready is only half the battle. Winter driving conditions also mandate driving differently. Snow and ice need to be taken seriously and prepared for . . . This winter, make sure your car is as prepared as you are. Going the extra mile by getting your vehicle ready for winter and learning what it takes to drive safely through ice and snow could save your life.”

Read our suggestions below for tips on how to prepare your car for winter driving and how to stay safe in the snow:

  • Begin preparations during the summer and fall: Before winter rolls around, take your car into the shop (or, if you’re a car maintenance guru, pull your car into your garage) and have all the basic maintenance checks done. Check the status of your battery, your brakes, your thermostat, your heater, your antifreeze, your defroster, your tires, your power steering—essentially anything that could malfunction and leave you stranded on any ice patch of freeway late at night. Even if you “don’t feel like spending the extra money right now”, it is important to focus on preventative measures. It is better to spend an extra few hundred dollars now to prevent a few-thousand-dollar catastrophe in the upcoming months.
  • Buy the right tires: Tires will make or break your winter experience. It is crucial that your tires have enough tread on them to last through the winter, otherwise, you will be slipping and sliding on every little patch of ice. Keeping your tires properly inflated, but not overly inflated, will also be a key to your winter driving success. If you know you will need new tires by the time the snow arrives, check out this list for ideas.
  • Prepare your windshield: While driving, your windshield is your window to the outside world (literally). If your windshield is in bad shape, you will have a difficult time navigating through tricky weather. Buff out any large scratches and have any cracks replaced. If the damage is too deep, consider replacing your windshield altogether. Your wiper blades are also key—if they are worn out or broken, they will not be strong enough to lift chunks of snow and ice from your windshield. When in doubt, purchase blades that are specifically designed to cut through snow and ice. Once the windshield elements on the outside of your car have been inspected, keep an eye on your windshield wiper fluid. Oftentimes, the fluid can freeze during the winter. When shopping, look for a fluid that is designed to withstand freezing temperatures and stock up on it—your eyes will thank you. Also make sure to inspect your car’s spray nozzles before driving. If they have become clogged, use a pin to clear the passageway. A spray nozzle that cannot spray windshield wiper fluid is of no use to you.
  • Light the way: In the wintertime, the sun sets early. Should you encounter an emergency on the road, your car’s lights will be your way of communicating with other drivers and pedestrians. Perform a complete inspection of your vehicle’s lights every single time you get behind the wheel. Make sure both your front and rear lights are functioning properly, and double-check that your hazard lights are operational. If other cars on the road cannot see you from far away due to a burned out light, they may be unable to stop or swerve in time when they approach you on the road. Keep your lights on during rain, fog, and snow to help your car be seen on the road.
  • Gas up: It is always tempting to let your fuel gauge needle approach that little “E,” especially when money is tight. In the winter, however, it is especially helpful to keep your gas tank at least halfway-filled at all times. With more fuel in the tank comes reduced condensation, which means your car will start more easily each time you turn it on. Less idle time means less wasted gas, so it’s really a win-win situation for your vehicle.
  • Keep your car stocked: No one wants to be a stranded, roadside victim during below-freezing temperatures, but to be prepared for winter driving means being prepared for winter driving emergencies. The obvious tools, like ice scrapers and shovels, should always been in your car. Add some blankets, flashlights, water, snacks, matches, extra clothes, firewood, and a comprehensive first-aid kit. Should the worst happen, you should be prepared to spend a full night and day in your car waiting for rescue. Packing the above-mentioned basics can help you avoid freezing and starving during drastic conditions.
  • Learn basic mechanic skills: This does not just apply to winter-driving, but should also apply to driving year-round. Knowing the basics about changing tires, checking oil levels, and gauging tire pressure & tread can allow you to be a proactive problem solver should you encounter trouble on the road. By knowing how to fix small issues, you can avoid having to wait for help during the least-opportune moments.
  • Increase your visibility: Winter car accidents can result from simple laziness. Take an extra few minutes to fully scrape off your car each time you drive. Never leave large chunks of snow or ice covering your mirrors, windshield, headlights, or roof. Not clearing off your car drastically reduces your visibility, making you and the other cars on the road much more prone to accidents.
  • Slow down: Driving safely during winter storms can help ensure you do not find yourself literally using your head as you fly through your windshield due to reckless driving. During the winter, stick to one plain and simple rule: slow down. Even in Utah, where drivers “should be” accustomed to driving in the snow, many people have no idea how to drive in cold elements. Just because you are a confident snow driver does not mean the other drivers around you are. Do not attempt to speed or quickly maneuver between lanes during times of low-visibility and slippery road conditions. Follow the flow of traffic, and plan for extra commute time to and from work, school, and other errands.
  • Be gentle while you drive: Your car requires extra time to “think” and react during the winter, particularly if you are in a vehicle with AWD or 4WD. Accelerate smoothly and gently, turn slowly and not sharply, and brake early. Quick, thoughtless turns and accelerations will vastly increase the likelihood of your car spinning out and into traffic, which is the last thing anyone wants. Anticipating slick conditions and slow traffic patterns is the key to staying safe on winter roads.
  • Know how to get yourself un-stuck: Every time it snows, cars can be seen spinning out of control and getting themselves stuck on the side of the road. If you find yourself stuck, do not attempt to overcorrect the problem. Spinning your tires wildly will only dig your vehicle deeper and deeper into the snow. Instead, straighten your wheels as much as possible and accelerate very slowly. If you are truly unable to get out of the situation, turn on your hazard lights and call for help. If your car slips on a patch of ice while you are driving, remain calm and turn your steering wheel in the direction of the spin while keeping your feet off the breaks. The absolute worst thing you can do in this situation is panic and attempt to steer your car back into control by fighting the skid.

When you are driving during Utah’s winters, it is crucial to your safety, the safety of your passengers, and the safety of the other drivers on the road that your car be in good condition and as prepared for the elements as it possibly can be. One of your best weapons against the snow and ice, however, is to simply be a defensive driver. Do not attempt to push your car past its limits, and do not attempt to be the fastest or most confident driver on the road. Take your time, concentrate, and remain calm to achieve the best rough-weather results.

Source: How Stuff Works

Photo copyright to Sergey Galyonkin

Ken Christensen
Partner, Founder at Christensen & Hymas
Ken Christensen is the founding partner of Christensen & Hymas. He is an avid cyclist, loves baseball, and enjoys spending time with his family in the outdoors.

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