Preparing Your Car for Winter

Nov 19, 2021

As we experience fewer warm days and move into late fall, most of us start to make preparations for the winter. We take out our winter coats, check our hats and gloves, and start to weatherproof the windows, doors, etc.  But, how many of us remember to prepare our car for the winter?

Get your car ready for the cold and ice. Keep up to date on periodic service on your car as recommended by the manufacturer, and do the following every fall.

  • Check the radiator system, including checking the antifreeze level.
  • Replace the windshield-wiper fluid with a wintertime mixture and keep a jug of wiper fluid in the car for refills on slushy days.
  • Replace the worn or cracked windshield wiper blades. If the blades are squeaking or sticking to the window, it may be time to replace them.
  • Check the windshield for chips and/or cracks, and have it repaired or replaced if any are found.
  • Make sure the tires on your car have adequate tread and air pressure. Replace any worn tires and fill low tires with air to the pressure recommended for your car and tires.
  • Test all the interior and exterior lights, replacing any burnt out bulbs.
  • Top off your gas tank and get into the habit of keeping the tank near full to help avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines.
  • Check that the following are working properly: heater, defroster, brakes, brake fluid, ignition, emergency flashers, exhaust, oil, and battery.

If you must travel during icy or stormy conditions, ensure that your winter emergency car kit is up to date and keep it within easy reach of the driver’s seat in your car.

  • Cell phone with a car charger
  • Extra hats, coats, mittens, socks, and blankets. Boots if you’re not wearing them.
  • Windshield scraper
  • Shovel
  • Battery-powered radio with extra batteries
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Water and snack food
  • An up-to-date first aid kit with any necessary medications and a pocket knife
  • Tow chains or rope
  • Tire chains
  • Canned compressed air with sealant for emergency tire repair
  • Cat litter or sand to help tires get traction and salt or ice melt
  • Jumper cables
  • Hazard or other reflectors
  • Bright colored flag or help signs and/or emergency flares
  • A whistle
  • Road maps
  • Any medications that you will need if you get stranded for a few hours or more

Even the best drivers can get stuck. If it happens to you, here are some important reminders:

  • Only leave your car when you absolutely must and watch carefully for oncoming traffic.
  • If possible, pull off the road and turn your hazard lights on or tie something bright to your car’s antenna to signal that you need help. Then wait inside your car until help arrives to avoid exposure to frostbite and prevent hypothermia. Only leave your car if you absolutely know where you are and how near you are to a safe haven.
  • If you have a charged phone and reception, call 911 for help and describe your location as best you can. Don’t wait to make this call—your cellphone battery may die or the reception may change.
  • Check your tailpipe to ensure there’s no snow covering your tailpipe in order to prevent carbon monoxide buildup inside the car. Check the tailpipe every once in a while to ensure that fresh snow isn’t blocking it.
  • Staying active inside your car will help you keep warm. Clap your hands and tap your toes to keep your circulation moving and prevent frostbite, but don’t do so much that you sweat.
  • Dehydration can make you more susceptible to the effects of cold. Melt some snow to stay hydrated. Do not eat snow without melting it as snow can lower your body’s temperature.
  • Conserve your vehicle’s battery. Use lights, heat, and radio sparingly.
  • Run the engine for about 10 minutes every hour to keep the car warm. Turn on interior lights when your engine is on so you can be seen inside your car. Open a window a few inches for ventilation and clear snow from the exhaust pipe to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Remember that cold weather puts your heart under added stress. If you’re not used to exercise, shoveling snow or pushing a car could put you at risk of a heart attack.

Staying home during a storm is the safest choice, but is not always possible. If you must be on the roads, let someone know that you are traveling and when you expect to arrive.  (Remember to let them know when you arrive safely.)