One thing I learned while I lived in the south is that people seriously neglect the maintenance on their cars when they are not forced to do it. In Florida, you can drive on your tires YEARS past when they should have been replaced. I have seen tires down there that I would not have believed held air if I was not seeing with my own eyes. I’m talking about seeing entire bands through the rubber. In the north, 3/4 of your year involves ice on the roads (slight exaggeration). If you have tires that are not tip-top shape, then your car will literally just not leave the driveway. Not that you don’t want it to! It just physically won’t move…
Anyway. Here is my list of things you should check/accomplish before the weather outside gets frightful, and frightful it will get friends….
I would say the most important item on the list. Since tires are what connects you to the road it’s important that they are in good shape and are the correct tires for your current conditions. Most cars will come with “all weather” tires and that’s fine. But even all weather tires wear down. You can use the “penny test” to check if you need new tires. Below is a really simple article by Firestone showing you how to do it. The best part is that all you need is a penny. If you don’t have a penny, then no worries because you need a lot more than that to buy new tires. http://www.firestonecompleteautocare.com/penny-tire-test/ In all seriousness, this is how most people end up in a ditch, or worse, in an accident. Check your tires and make sure they are ready to rock. If you have a sports car that has tires designed for summer weather, you could consider getting a separate set of winter tires (and rims) for your ride. Obviously, this is the far more expensive option, but with places like Tire Rack and Discount Tire Direct you can buy complete wheel and tire sets that are already balanced and ready to mount. All you need to do is swap them out. Additionally, Discount Tire Direct teamed up with EBay and are using their interface for ease of shopping and better prices. Lastly, check for cracks, bulges, nails, etc., all over the tire. You will not want to deal with a blowout in the winter time.
This isn’t just as simple as getting an oil change. Well, it kind of is, let me explain. As you know oils come in different weights. The viscosity of oil is a measurement of its resistance to deformation. Basically, the more viscous something is, the thicker it is. Temperature plays a big role in viscosity as well. The colder it is the more viscous an oil becomes. So if you are using a high weight oil and it gets REALLY cold then you will be putting extra pressure on your oil pump, and worse yet, you my not be properly lubricating your motor. So if you are getting close to an oil change you may want to consider a lower viscosity for the colder months of the year. Also, included in fluids would be your antifreeze and even your wiper fluid. If you have been adding water to you radiator (big no-no) then now is the time for a flush and refill with the proper mixture. Additionally, you can get wiper fluid that has antifreeze in it so your wiper tank does not turn into a block of ice and you cannot use it. Oh, and it will also split that cheap plastic tank in half too.
Wiper blades get their own category because they are arguably as important as tires. I only say that because what good are healthy tires if you cannot see where you are driving? If it’s snowing there are times where you cannot see the lines in the road, and sometimes you can barely tell where the road is!! Having good, weather appropriate wiper blades combined with antifreeze wiper fluid will give you the best vision for driving in inclement weather.
Batteries are one of those things that get ignored until they don’t work, like refrigerators or roommates. In winter, the cold weather takes a toll on your battery. One that works just fine in the summer might have issues starting your car in winter. This issue is due to your cold cranking amps being stunted by the cold. Additionally, your car requires MORE power to start in the winter. You could take your battery out and go get it bench tested for health. However if you are not exhibiting any other issues then just making sure the connections are clean should be good enough. You can get a battery post cleaner at any car parts shop or online. Here is what they look like, you can click the image to pick one up on Amazon (affiliate link).
This is a bit of a catch all. These are the types of things that should be done anyway but sometimes they get neglected. Things like inspecting your tie rod ends, ball joints, transmission fluid, drive belt(s), etc. If you need to get any of this done, especially if you plan to do any of it yourself, get it done BEFORE it gets nasty out. If you have hit your knuckles while working in the freezing cold then you know what I mean. You so not want to have to deal with maintenance in the cold. For instance, my dad’s truck had a cooling line rupture in the dead of winter. My mom was driving and she was alone. Luckily, she’s a badass and was like, “WTF ever, I’ll just drive it home.” So she did. Anyway, the point is my dad spent 5-6 hours outside (truck won’t fit in the garage) replacing the water pump, thermostat, and all cooling lines on the rig. Now, I cannot speak for him, but I assume it was not a super fun time.
Now, in a perfect world we would always be on top of all of these things. But life frequently gets in the way. We end up relying on our cars day after day but not taking care of them. Most of the year that’s really not that big of a deal. If we break down we call roadside assistance or press our On Star or MBrace button and someone comes right by to help us out. But in the dead of winter, things become much more complicated and much more dangerous. Please do your part to make sure that your car is safe for yourself, your family, and the thousands of people that you drive past everyday.
Be safe this winter season and don’t forget to have fun!