Winter can present a lot of danger to driving. Slick roads, cold harsh weather, cars that don’t start, and more can wreck a day rather quickly. There are a few things that a lot of drivers overlook that could save many headaches, and even save a few lives. Be smart about winter driving. Read these 10 quick tips to make sure you are prepared and you aren’t making any dangerours mistakes.
Number 1: Warming the car up
The debate over warming your car up is age old. Years ago, when cars had carburetors and much more primitive fluids and systems, letting the car idle was almost a necessity before driving. These days, cars can drive away right after starting thanks to fuel injection‘s precise control over how much fuel is burned in the engine.
That said, fluids like oil and transmission fluid thicken with cold temperatures, and don’t get moving quickly in the cold. Give your car 15-30 seconds to run before you take off to let the fluids circulate. After that, make sure you drive the car gently for the first 10-15 minutes or so until it gets completely up to temperature. Also, try to avoid short trips that don’t get the car warmed up, or at least driver 20-30 minutes a couple times a week to keep water and condensation from building up in the oil.
Number 2: Tire Pressure
Check your tire pressure. Your tires can lose 1 PSI of air pressure for every 10 degree drop in air temperature because the air condenses when it is cold. That means that if you topped your tires off to 35 PSI last month when it was 80 degrees out, it is down to only 30 PSI when the mercury drops to freezing. When it warms back up in spring, you may need to let a little air out as the temperature climbs. Properly inflated tires are safer, handle better, and last longer. We will check and adjust your tire pressure free any time you come in for service if you ask us!
Number 3: Emergency Supplies
Winter is harsh and brutal. Car breakdowns aren’t fun any time, but they can be downright dangerous if you are unprepared for the cold. Keep some emergency supplies in your car just in case. We recommend buying a basic car emergency kit from any department store or auto parts store that has things like flares, reflectors, an air pump, and a handful of other important tools.
Keep the emergency kit in your car year-round, but add a few extra things for winter. Blankets, water, and food are really important to your survival. Protein bars like CLIF bars will stay good in the car and will provide some good nutrition if you get stranded. Keep water in the car, because you can get dehydrated even in the cold. We also recommend some candles for heat, light, and in case you need to melt snow for water.
Number 4: Battery
This is one most people are aware of. The cold weather places a lot more strain on your car’s battery, and a weak battery may just not get you rolling on a cold morning. Get your battery checked and replace it if necessary. Heat in the summer actually does more harm to batteries than cold does, but when the temperature drops, the car needs more power to start because the oil is thicker and everything is a little tougher to get going. Don’t get caught with a weak battery. We can test and install them for you in just a few minutes.
Number 5: 4-wheel drive
4-wheel, or all-wheel drive can really help out in sticky situations, especially when snow piles up. With power going to all four wheels instead of just two, the car has twice as much opportunity to get traction and keep moving. Keep in mind, that 4×4 button is not an invincibility button. You still need to have good tires on your vehicle and slow down. 4-wheel drive doesn’t help you stop any better, so slow down and leave extra room.
Also, don’t wait until you are stuck in the snow and late for work to learn how to use your 4-wheel drive or test it out for the first time. Read your manual, learn how to operate the system, and make sure it works before you need it in a pinch. Engage your 4-wheel drive at least once a month all year long to make sure it works. Bring it to us and we can inspect, test, and maintain it for you so it never lets you down.
Number 6: Fuel
Always keep at least a half-tank of fuel in the winter. If you are one of those people who ride the E line all the time, don’t do it in the cold. The first reason is obvious. Running out of gas and hiking to the gas station will be a lot more miserable trudging through 8 inches of grey roadside slush, or if you get stuck in the snow, you want enough fuel to keep the car running and the heat going. The second reason is that some gas stations may run out of fuel if tanker trucks get delayed by a snowstorm and can’t fill their pumps. You don’t want to take that gamble.
Fuel has to get impossibly cold to freeze. Like 40 degrees below zero cold, which has never happened in Ohio. Water, on the other hand, freezes at 32 degrees, which happens daily for 3 months a year. Just like a cold glass develops condensation, your fuel tank can get some moisture in it. If the fuel level drops low enough, condensation can form in your fuel lines, and freeze keeping fuel from getting to the engine, and you aren’t going anywhere until it thaws.
Number 7: Traction
Everyone knows ice and snow make everything slippery. Most of us have gotten in our cars and been stuck in a snowy parking lot literally spinning our wheels. The first tip is to have good tires on your car with fresh tread. Winter tires with a Snowflake symbol on them are the best. Good all-seasons should suffice most drivers. If those don’t get you out of a slick spot, having a few things on hand can help.
Kitty litter. Keep a bag of kitty litter in your car. Don’t spring for the scented stuff, just the cheapest stuff on the shelf will do. If you are stuck, try throwing a few handfuls under your tires. It often will provide enough traction to get going. Cardboard is also great. A basic moving box folds flat and doesn’t take up any space. Stick a piece under each tire to get some traction and get moving. Old rugs or carpet remnants will work well too, and you can use your floor mats in a pinch. In case you get sunk in deep snow, a plastic shovel can help get down to dry ground. Metal shovels can puncture tires and damage your car, so we advise plastic.
Number 8: Wipers and Visibility
Put fresh wiper blades on your car before winter to make sure you will be able to see through rain slush and snow. Also, keep them clean. If road salt and grime build up on them, they will just smear and not clean. Fill your washer fluid up with a winter fluid that won’t freeze. Prestone and Rain-X make great fluids with deicer to help remove frost.
If you are expecting snow or ice, cover your wipers or lift them up off the windshield so they don’t get frozen down. Also, never run your wipers on an icy windshield. The ice will ruin them. Keep a good scraper handy and make sure you scrape side windows, rear windows, and mirrors too. There is no reason to drive around without being able to see clearly. Take a few minutes for safety’s sake.
Number 9: Plan Ahead
Don’t get caught off-guard. Set your alarm a half hour earlier than normal in the winter. Wake up, if the roads are clear, you can go back to sleep. If weather is a mess, you have the extra time to slow down and be safe. Get your car serviced now and make sure you won’t get stranded in the cold. Plan trips ahead of time, and try to avoid making mad rushes to the store or having to make unnecessary trips in the snow. If you can, try and bring your work home with you at the end of the day. That way, if the roads are unsafe, you can delay your drive into the office until the roads are clear.
Number 10: Consider Animals
Animals don’t like to be cold any more than we do. When you park, your car is nice and warm, and many animals may see it as a good place to sleep. Before you start your car up to leave, tap your hood a few times or honk the horn to make sure a cat or other little critter hasn’t crawled up in the engine bay for shelter. It only takes you a second, but it could save an animal’s life.