Winter can be hard on humans who have to deal with snow, ice, and frosty temperatures, but it also does a number on our cars. On top of extra wear and tear, wintry road conditions pose safety issues for those driving in inclement weather.
Here’s a checklist of things to know about cars if you’re moving North, or live there already.
One of the most important aspects of safe winter driving is having good snow tires. The hassle of having them put on and off as the seasons change is well worth the effort, as winter tires will greatly improve traction in snow and ice since they are softer than regular tires.
Even good all-seasons will stiffen up in really cold weather, rendering them useless on slick turns. A good rule of thumb is to put them on once temps start to drop below 7 degrees consistently, and then off when temps rise above that.
They may not seem like a significant part of your vehicle, but good windshield wipers can be lifesavers on rainy or snowy days since they help give you a clear view of the road.
Always buy the right size, and if you aren't sure, it will be in your owner's manual. It’s not a bad idea to have a spare pair, especially since they tend to snap or break during ice storms or when you go to clean your car off. Tip: keep them pointed up if you know a snowstorm is coming.
Always make sure your car fluids are topped up, especially in winter when the car’s system has to work overtime. This includes getting regular oil changes, which is a great time to get the mechanic to top up anything else that’s low.
Antifreeze, brake, and transmission fluid will all thicken in the cold. Wiper fluid won’t thicken, but it may freeze—check the label and make sure you get the kind that can handle the coldest temperatures your area experiences. Keep the gas tank full to help your engine run smoother. This can be a lifesaver in an emergency.
Road salt is used by municipal salt trucks to clear highways and roads of snow and ice, and it’s highly corrosive against the undercarriage of your car, which can lead to rust. Once a car starts to rust on the underside, it’s only a matter of time before it starts to take over the whole car.
One of the best ways to combat this is to get your mechanic to do an undercoating spray that will protect your car’s most important parts during the winter season. Best to do this at least every couple of years or as recommended.
If you do see any rust spots starting anywhere on your car, don’t delay in dealing with them. The sooner the better, since rust spreads quickly, and winter weather can further the damage.
Ideally, you want to do this during a warmer season before any heavy rain or snow is in the forecast. Small amounts of rust removal can be an easy DIY task: here’s a complete guide on how to deal with rust spots.
Your battery is your car’s lifeline, and once temps drop below freezing, it’s harder for it to send the proper amount of current to get the car started. Newer batteries that are in good shape will fare the best.
Depending on how much you drive, you’ll want to replace them every three to five years.
Pro Tip: Park in a garage, under a canopy, or even close to a tree to give your battery a better chance at starting when it’s really cold.
If your car doesn’t have a heater that works, you’ll want to get one that does. Get to know your car’s heating and cooling system before winter weather hits, as it doesn’t just serve to keep you warm, it helps your car, as well.
The defrost button is essential in getting front and back windows cleared, as well as defogging any condensation. Heated seats will be a bonus if you can get them!
Last, but not least, get yourself a good snow brush! Having a brush and scraper combo is ideal so you can wipe away snow and scrape away any ice. Start your car and run the defroster right away which will help thaw any snow and ice on the windows.
Begin clearing from the roof and work your way down, brushing off all windows, door handles, side mirrors, as well as around the gas tank. Driving with excess snow flying off your car is dangerous and can warrant a ticket.
Snow can be beautiful, but it also demands to be respected. Cars that are well-maintained with winter in mind will run the smoothest, not only in lifespan but also in terms of safety every time you hit the road.
Remember not to “gun it” first thing in really cold temperatures, either. Even newer cars will appreciate easing into it and letting things warm up before putting the pedal to the metal. Winter is a time to slow it down.