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Top 5 Tips to Prepare Your Car for Winter Weather

Updated: November 2020

In addition to winter holidays and cheer, the chilliest season of the year often comes along with cold temperatures, ice, snow and ultimately, a heavy dose of slush. But with a little planning, you can prepare your vehicle to handle the inclement weather once it hits.

Gloved hand checking tire pressure in snow.

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Get a tune up

Start by popping the hood to check the wiper fluid level. Car Talk recommends keeping your windshield washer reservoir full during the cold months so you can keep your windshield clear even on the snowiest days. If you live in an area where temperatures get extremely low, you may need deicer or concentrate for your windshield wiper fluid, Car Talk says.

Since oil's viscosity is affected by cold temperatures, you may also need to switch to a winter-grade oil, according to Popular Mechanics. Your engine's oil becomes thinner as the temperature rises, so in warmer climates, a thicker, higher-viscosity oil will help keep your engine properly lubricated. For the same reason, heavier oils aren't as effective in cold, blustery conditions. Check the owner's manual to be sure you're choosing the right kind or talk to your mechanic.

While you're checking your fluids, it doesn't hurt to inspect some other odds and ends under the hood that may fail in extreme conditions. For example, seasonal changes are a good time to make sure your cooling system is in working order, your battery is charged and the rubber of your vehicle's hoses is in good shape, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Check your tires

As the temperatures get lower, so does your air tire pressure. Tires can lose pressure at a rate of about one pound per 10 degrees Fahrenheit of temperature, according to Car Talk. Low tire pressure can dangerously affect your car's handling, so it's important to keep your tires properly inflated.

If you're in an area with particularly severe winter weather, Car Talk recommends considering a set of snow tires, which are made specifically for snowy and icy surfaces.

Check your car's exterior

Check the outside of your car to ensure headlights are in working order – Car Talk recommends cleaning the lenses of your exterior lights and replacing any burnt-out bulbs. You'll also want to make sure the windshield wipers are in working condition, says the NHTSA. Windshield wipers are constantly subjected to the elements, so it's important to replace worn or dried-out wiper blades regularly to maintain visibility, especially if a snowstorm is headed your way.

Create a winter emergency kit

In addition to keeping a year-round emergency road kit in your car, consider adding a special winter emergency kit that includes:

  • A shovel.
  • Gloves.
  • Boots.
  • An ice scraper.
  • Sand or kitty litter (for traction on slippery roads).

Keep your doors from freezing shut

According to Lifehacker, you can spray your car door's rubber seal all around the edges with ordinary cooking spray, use dry paper towel to remove excess drips, and avoid being frozen out of your car, all season long.

While we can't avoid all of winter's driving hazards and effects on your vehicle, with some preparation and preventive maintenance, you can be ready to handle the colder months safely and comfortably.

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Our pages are filled with helpful tips and information about the topics that most of us face in our everyday lives. We focus on safety and maintenance issues with regard to your home, auto, apartment, motorcycle, boat, small business, finances and more. Please recognize that a particular tip may not be effective in every circumstance and that taking preventive measures cannot guarantee any outcome. We encourage you to use your own good judgment about what's appropriate for you and your property and always consider safety.
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