Winter is a tough time of year where vehicles are concerned. Iced windshields, frozen locks, and getting stuck in mud and snow are all too common winter automotive realities. Follow these simple tips and tricks to make winter driving life a little easier.
A good general rule to start with—always warm up your car or truck before you go driving in the winter. Revving a cold engine causes additional wear, and a warm car with cleared windows is much safer and comfortable to get into.
Ice-covered windows are not only a pain, they are unsafe. Prevent ice from covering your windshields during a storm with these tricks. Put a large, flattened piece of cardboard or the floor mats from your car over the windshield, securing them under the wiper blades when parking during a winter storm. When it’s time to leave again, gently crack the wipers free and remove the covering; your windshield will be clear and ice-free, without any tough scraping. Large garbage bags taped together and laid across the windshield, closed in the doors, protects from ice buildup, too.
We’ve all had it happen: the missing ice scraper. In the absence of this important tool, try using a nylon or plastic kitchen spatula or the edge of a credit card.
To help loosen and melt away a solid or hard-frozen sheet of windshield ice, keep a box of fine grain salt in the car. Pour the salt over the ice and rub it in. Give it a few minutes to work then scrape the ice away.
How many times have you run out of windshield washer fluid and forgotten to buy more? Try this homemade washer solution next time you need to fill up and simultaneously avoid the frustration of frozen wiper fluid during the cold season. Combine two quarts of rubbing alcohol, one cup of water, and one teaspoon of dish detergent. With the alcohol, the mixture should be safe to a freezing point of 30 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit).
Eventually, a frozen set of locks hits everyone. Small cans of lock deicer are sold commercially, but these tricks work as well.
Warm the key with a match or lighter, then try thawing your way into the frozen lock; or, try putting the key in as far as it will go, then burn a piece of twisted paper near the frozen lock and key.
A heat liniment (like those used to calm sore muscles) squirted into the keyhole may warm it enough to free the lock.
Of course, your best bet is prevention, and here’s a simple method: when you lock the car, cover the locks with thin magnet strips. Remove them when you return for frost-free locks, ready to go.
Cleaning and Washing
Salt from sidewalks and roads will collect on your shoes and get left behind on your car’s interior. To get it out of carpets and floor mats, wash them with a solution of one part vinegar and two parts water. The vinegar should break down any salty residue.
Prevention is best when it comes to rust. Try to prevent salt buildup under your car and resulting rust with frequent trips to the car wash during the winter months.
For an at-home solution to removing the salt and mud from your undercarriage, try placing a short lawn sprinkler underneath the car and running it for half an hour. Do this on warm winter days or when the worst is over so you don’t risk the water freezing before it can dry.
It’s a good idea to replace an older battery before it gives you cold weather trouble, but just in case, if your battery is old or questionable, remove it and take it into a warm house or garage at night when the temperature is expected to drop very low. Be careful where you leave it, as batteries are filled with acid that can corrode surfaces. Battery contents are also flammable; keep them away from flames and heat sources.
If you don’t want to mess with removing a battery, or you’re not sure your battery is that bad, back your vehicle into its parking space or the garage so it can easily be reached with jumper cables if the car decides not to start.
We may not like to admit it, but getting stuck in winter ice and snow happens to most of us eventually. Having something to put down for traction can usually get you out if gently rocking the car doesn’t work. For a backup, keep a couple of asphalt roof shingles in your trunk. Other emergency traction solutions include coffee cans filled with salt and sand, boards, a sheet of canvas, or an old rubber bathmat cut in half lengthwise. In a pinch, you can use tree branches or your interior floor mats for traction too.
It can probably go without saying but having your vehicle checked ahead of time can prevent many winter driving problems. Do it yourself or hire a professional to check all your fluids (including washer fluid), wires and plugs, and perhaps most importantly, the radiator’s antifreeze. Also check your tires for traction and proper inflation; deflated or bald tires make driving on ice harder than it needs to be. Make an emergency kit with a blanket, snack foods, and water, just in case you get stuck somewhere for a while, and put together extra lock deicer, washer fluid, jumper cables, cones, and markers or flares for any incidents that may happen away from home.
Use these handy hints to make your winter driving life a little easier, and be prepared for the inevitable unexpected winter obstacles.