Winter driving is not for the faint of heart—especially if you live in a place with lots of snow and ice. Let’s face it: driving in winter conditions can be scary. But with a bit of preparation, you’ll be good to go—quite literally—and a lot safer, too.
What sort of preparation? We’re glad you asked. Here are five steps you can take for safer winter driving:
1. Make the Winter Tire Switch
The tires you use year round are called “all-weather.” In general, these standard tires will do just fine and can stand up to pretty much any weather. But if you want your tires to really hug that icy road, and keep your car stable, snow tires are your best bet. Snow tires are made for winter, and can keep you and your passengers safe, even while driving in heavy snow, or traversing black ice.
There is, however, a caveat: don’t leave your winter tires on after the snow and cold are over. Making the switch between standard and winter tires on a yearly basis is important. If you can afford it and have the storage space, think about purchasing a set of winter tires already mounted on a separate set of wheels. Makes things much easier when it comes time to make the seasonal switch off. Not sure what type of winter tires to purchase? That information should be available in your owner’s manual.
Of course, it’s not enough to have and to properly store your winter tires. Cold weather can lower the air pressure of your tires, so check that pressure on a regular basis. That’s the way to make sure your tires are set to the recommended pressure for your vehicle. Low air pressure, by the way, not only affects the performance of your tires, but how long they last.
2. Get Your Car Inspected
Over time, vehicles—especially older vehicles—may sustain damage as a result of cold winter weather. You may not be able to see the damage and think there’s nothing wrong. That’s why you need a good mechanic to look your car over before winter sets in. You want to get your car inspected in plenty of time to do any necessary repairs before that first snow.
Make a point of asking your mechanic to test your car battery. Sub-zero temperatures can cause a reduction in battery power. Notice any signs that your battery is low, for instance, the engine doesn’t seem to want to turn over, or your headlights are a bit dim? You may need to replace that battery. It’s safer to replace that battery before it dies.
3. Check Your Wipers, Replace Fluids
Having windshield wipers that work as they should is critical in winter. You need to be able to clearly see the road and your surroundings at all time. But windshield wipers can only handle so much snow and dirty gunk before they begin to deteriorate. Check your wipers to make sure they glide smoothly without skipping or smearing your windshield. If necessary, new windshield wipers are an inexpensive purchase, and it’s not difficult to install them yourself.
Since you’re already taking a look at your wipers, check and see that there’s enough fluid in your windshield washer reservoir. For winter driving, it’s a good idea to add de-icing fluid to melt any icy accumulation on your windshield. At this point, you might as well check the other fluids in your car. In terms of motor oil, synthetic oil works better in colder weather.
4. Engine Block Heater? Mull it Over
If you live in a place where the weather tends to go below zero, your car uses up more energy when you start it up each morning. Some morning, it may not start at all. One way to relieve all that stress on your vehicle is to use an engine block heater.
You just plug the engine block heater into your car, and it keeps everything nice and warm so everything’s ready to go in the morning. There are different types so study the market. Some engine block heaters are easy to plug into your car, but others need to be installed by a professional. But if you know you’ll be driving somewhere in a few hours, all you have to do is plug one end into an outlet, and the other into your car, and you’ll be all set to go.
5. Be Safer: Prep an Emergency Kit
In winter, you want to be ready for every eventuality. One way to do that is to prepare your own emergency kit, filled with the tools you need to get your car unstuck, should the worst occur. Your emergency kit should contain an ice scraper for iced over windshields. You’ll also want to pack some tire chains, for driving in deep snow. If you don’t regularly wear gloves, pack a pair in your emergency supply kit. It’s not easy putting on tire chains with your bare hands in freezing cold weather.
Another great thing to have in your winter “bag of tricks” is sand or kitty litter. Don’t laugh. What’s good for the kitty may just give you the traction you need to get your car where you’re going. Got space for more? You might want to add any or all of the following: a shovel, jumper cables, flares, a flashlight, a blanket, snacks, and a water bottle or two.
Being Prepared Means Safer Driving
Winter driving places more stress on both vehicle and driver. So many of us dread winter with its difficult driving conditions. The antidote is simple: take the time to prepare before winter sets in. You’ll feel safer, and your car will be, too.