The holiday season has officially begun, and along with it comes warm fires, caroling, and harsh winter weather. The cold climate, snow, sleet and ice can have many implications on your safety, and one of the places we see this most is on the road. Every year, thousands of cars slip, slide, and get stuck, so here are a few tips for preparing your car to keep you safe.
Pack an Emergency Kit
No matter what shape your car is in, there is always the possibility of being stranded on the side of a road. Ice may make some roads simply impassable, or blizzard conditions could quickly take away all visibility. If this happens, your priority should be staying safe, healthy and warm. Make sure that in your car (within reach, not in a closed trunk) you have an emergency kit. Water and snacks are absolutely essential as you may be stuck for a while before you can move or until an emergency vehicle can get to you. You may also want to include the following:
Emergency Kit Checklist
Look for Recalls
Any time during the year, it’s important to make sure all the parts in your car are working at their best. Check online to see if your vehicle has been affected by any recalls. Many of the recent recalls have to do with ignition switches, airbags, and other safety features, which could become dangerous on the road.
Check Your Fluids
Windshield wiper fluid, oil and coolant all need to be checked before winter hits. Make sure your wiper fluid has anti-freeze or similar cold-deterrent properties; pure water won’t help your windshield if it’s frozen in the pipes. Plus, be sure to fill up before any long road trips. You’d be surprised how much wiper fluid you use during the winter!
Similarly, check to make sure your coolant has antifreeze. This is incredibly important to reduce the risk of freezing around your radiator. Most mechanics recommend that coolant is a 50/50 mixture of water and antifreeze for the best results.
Oil viscosity changes depending on the temperature. If your oil becomes too thick in the cold, it can’t do a very good job of lubricating the engine. In fact, you may want to switch to a thinner oil during the winter months, if you live in an area where the temperatures drop significantly. Check your owner’s manual or talk with a mechanic to see what oil is most appropriate for your vehicle.
Test Your Windshield Wipers
Most windshield wipers are made to last for about a year under normal conditions. However, it’s important to check your wipers periodically, to ensure that your vision stays clear during a storm. When checking, look for any cracks in the plastic or metal, as well as tears in the rubber blade. You’ll also want to test the wipers to make sure they don’t skip across your windshield, leaving streams of water behind.
If you notice any issues with your wipers, the best thing to do is simply replace them. Even if you’re unsure, consider switching to winter wipers, which can handle snow and ice better than summer blades. Plus, most auto-parts shops will install them for you, so you don’t need to do it yourself.
Inspect or Switch Your Tires
If you have year-round tires, now is the time to inspect them. First, remember that when the temperature dips, your tire pressure will too, so it’s extra important to keep sufficient air in your tires. Many gas stations will let you fill your tires for free, so if you notice that your pressure is low, it’s pretty easy to remedy. You should also make sure you still have enough tread on your tires. One way to do this is the Lincoln method: you place a penny with the top of Lincoln’s head facing in, and if you can see all of his head, it’s time to get new tires.
If you have Summer tires, the reality is, they just won’t keep you as safe on icy, snowy roads. Winter tires are made from a different type of rubber, which stays soft at lower temperatures. They even have a more intricate tread pattern for extra traction. AutoExpress has a great video showing the difference in braking, accelerating, and executing turns with summer vs. winter tires.
Whether you live in an area buried by snow each year, or a town that sees just a dusting, it’s imperative to stay safe on the road this winter, especially if you drive long distances to see family around the holidays. So get your car in shape, fill your emergency kit, and get ready to hit the road safely!