Winter weather driving tips

Winter weather is unpredictable. When else can you experience all four seasons in 24 hours? Rapidly changing weather is challenging to predict and can leave you stranded if you are not prepared. In the last ten years, we have experienced several significant snow and ice events that moved in rapidly and caught weather forecasters and motorists off guard. As a result, hundreds of motorists were stranded and abandoned their cars on the roadways and interstates. Motorists spent hours outside trying to walk to a shelter or waiting on police or other assistance in many cases. Taking the time to think about winter weather and preparing your vehicle should be done with the change of season. If not, you should at least make provisions if you travel in places where winter weather happens more frequently. You can take some simple preparation steps to save you significant angst and exposure if you experience a winter weather event.  

Triple-A recommends taking the following Winter Car Care Checklist:

  • Battery and Charging System – Have a trained technician test the battery and charging system. A fully charged battery in good condition is required to start an engine in cold weather., if necessary, replace weak batteries.
  • Battery Cables and Terminals – Check the condition of the battery cables and terminals. Ensure all connections are secure and remove any corrosion from the terminals and posts.
  • Drive Belts – Inspect belts for cracks or fraying. Don’t just look at the smooth top surface of the belt, but turn it over and check the grooved underside where most belt wear occurs.
  • Engine Hoses –Visually inspect the cooling system hoses for leaks, cracks, or loose clamps. Also, squeeze the hoses to check for any that may be brittle or excessively spongy feeling and need replacement.
  • Tire Type and Tread – Changing to snow tires on all four wheels will provide the best winter traction in areas with heavy winter weather. All-season tires will work well in light to moderate snow conditions, providing adequate tread depth. If any tire has less than 3/32-inches of tread, it should be replaced. Uneven wear on the tires can indicate alignment, suspension, or wheel balance problems that should be addressed to prevent further damage to the tires.
  • Tire Pressure – Check tire pressure more frequently during winter months. As the temperature drops, so will the pressures in the tires—typically 1 PSI for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The proper tire pressure levels can be found on a sticker on the driver’s side door jamb. And, don’t forget to check the spare.
  • Air Filter – Check the engine’s air filter by holding it up to a 60-watt light bulb. If light can be seen through much of the filter, it is still clean enough to work effectively. However, replace it if the light is blocked by most of the filter.
  • Coolant Levels – Check the coolant level when the engine is cold. If the coolant level is low, add a 50/50 solution of coolant and water to maintain the necessary antifreeze capability. The level of antifreeze protection can be checked with an inexpensive tester available at any auto parts store.
  • Lights – Check the operation of all headlights, taillights, emergency flashers, turn signals, brake lights, and backup lights. Replace any burnt-out bulbs.
  • Wiper Blades – Blades should completely clear the glass with each swipe. Replace blades that leave streaks or miss spots. In areas with snowy conditions, consider installing winter wiper blades that wrap the blade in a rubber boot to prevent ice and snow buildup that can prevent good contact between the rubber blade and the glass.
  • Washer Fluid – Fill the windshield washer fluid reservoir with a cleaning solution with antifreeze components for cold weather use.
  • Brakes – Have brakes inspected by a certified technician to ensure all components are in good working order.
  • Transmission, Brake and Power Steering Fluids – Check all fluids to ensure they are at or above the minimum safe levels.
  • Emergency Road Kit – Update the car’s emergency kit for winter weather. If you plan to travel to areas with heavy snow, the kit should include the below-listed items. However, drivers can customize the list based on what they think they will need.
  1. Bag of abrasive material (sand, salt, cat litter) or traction mats
  2. Snow (or small) shovel
  3. Snowbrush
  4. Flashlight with extra batteries
  5. Window washer fluid (cold weather mix)
  6. Ice scraper
  7. Cloth or roll of paper towels
  8. Jumper cables
  9. Gloves, hats and boots
  10. Blanket(s)
  11. Warning devices (flares or triangles)
  12. Drinking water
  13. Non-perishable snacks (energy or granola bars)
  14. Extra clothes
  15. First-aid kit
  16. Basic toolkit (screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench)
  17. Mobile phone and car charger (and external battery pack)  with essential numbers programmed in it, including a roadside assistance provider

You should also consider the following items as a car emergency kit:

  • A small supply of necessary medications
  • Pet supplies (food, treats) if applicable
  • Matches and flares
  • A basic tool kit, including a sharp knife and electrical tape
  • Tire chains or cables
  • A filled spare tire, changing equipment, and compressed air
  • Add a tourniquet and splint to first-aid kit
  • A small, type ABC fire extinguisher. It’s also important that you learn how to use it.
  • A paper map in case you lose data signal or can’t see snow-covered signs 

With a little preparation, you’ll be ready for cold, wet, or even snowy conditions.

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