Cold weather is hard on cars. It makes things that you thought were just fine stop working, break, snap or freeze up. I’m worried that some people haven’t formally gone through the checklist to make sure their vehicle is ready.
I went over this checklist with my mom and thank goodness she was already set. Are you?
There’s still time to save yourself from a break-down or worse. Do it today.
Get your car checked out and tuned up. Make sure they check your battery, antifreeze (50-50 mix of coolant to water), rear defroster, wipers, washer fluid, leaks, tire pressure… everything.
- Check your tire pressure. Tire pressure drops by one pound per ten degrees so if you’re driving around in sub-zero weather your tires may be dangerously low.
- Keep a jug of high quality windshield washer solution in your trunk for refills.
- Invest in heavy winter wipers that keep ice from forming on the blade. Remove them in the spring so they don’t stress your wiper motor unecessarily and remember to turn them off before shutting off the engine so they don’t freeze to the windshield.
- Keep your gas tank full. If you get stuck or stranded you’ll need the heater to keep you warm. You can run it at idle for as long as it takes. It won’t hurt anything.
- If you have to weather the storm inside an old rusty car, crack the window so you don’t fill the car with carbon monoxide. And if you’re in a blizzard, new car or old, get out every once in a while to clear the snow out of the tailpipe.
- Sandbag. Put a bag or two of sand or kitty litter behind your rear axle if you have rear-wheel-drive. It will increase the traction of the rear wheels. Start with 20lbs and see how it drives. You can add more from there if it still squirly. Too much weight will lift the front end. Put it in the middle front of the trunk, not in the passenger compartment. It could become a projectile in a wreck. Don’t bother if you have front-wheel-drive because the heavy engine is already sitting over the powered wheels.
- To make sure your freezing cold car always starts in the morning (and you have instant heat), hook your engine to a block heater. This is an electric heater that keeps your engine warm while it’s parked. It plugs into a regular AC outlet overnight. Just remember to unplug it before taking off! I vividly remember my dad forgetting that…
- Understand your car. If you have teenagers or other family members driving your car, make sure they know what kind of steering system and tires they are driving on. Cars handle differently if they have front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive, part-time or full-time 4-wheel drive; antilock brakes, traction control or stability control. Practice driving on snow in an empty parking lot to see how it handles different situations.
- Buy good snow tires if you must drive in the snow. Even if you can only afford 2 of them, they are better than nothing to get around before the streets are plowed or even for increased traction when braking or turning on packed snow. If you are only getting two, mount them on the wheels that are driven by the engine. For all-wheel drive you really need four snow tires.
- Consider chains for your tires. If you’re someplace that permits or requires chains, make sure you’ve practiced putting them on. Keep them in the trunk. Instead, there are ladder-like devices (one is called Tiger Paws) that unfold and allow your tire to grip it if you’re stuck in the snow or ice.
- Clean your car completely of snow and grime before setting out. Don’t be like me, as a teenager, just wiping a small peephole in the drivers side windshield and heading off to school. Yikes. Visibility is key in nasty weather, especially so you don’t hit another car or pedestrian. Clean off the whole car including every window, mirror, and headlight. Besides it is the law in most states. If I sound like your mother, it is only because I care.
Print this out and check off everything. Then, at least your car is ready on the outside. Next, make sure you have your winter emergency car kit put together. Hopefully you don’t run into any trouble. But just in case, do you know what to do if you are standed in your car?
Now I remember why I moved to Arizona.
Do you have a tip or two? Please share them in the comments area!