#1Thing: Make Sure Your Car Stays Efficient in Cold Weather

November 4, 2019
Cars on a snowy city street

(Photo: jansucko/Getty Images)

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By Lori Melton

As leaves start to fall from the trees, those who live in cold-weather states start to brace themselves for winter. From getting snow boots and bulky coats out of the closet to tuning up the snowblower, people start to prepare for frosty conditions.

Although many of us might wish we could hibernate, we must still go to work, school, and other places. Harsh winter weather can be tough on a car. Fortunately, there are things you can do to make sure your car is ready to handle the elements.

Keep the Exterior Clean

Driving through salt and sleet can take a toll on your car. Therefore, washing your vehicle regularly, including the undercarriage, can help protect the exterior. Besides looking nice, keeping the car clean in the winter will help prevent rust.

Battery Maintenance

There’s nothing worse than coming out to the parking lot after work on a blustery day to discover the car won’t start. This happens many times because the battery has failed. Winter weather can increase the battery’s discharge rate and create sluggish internal chemical reactions, which in turn, creates power strain.

Testing your battery and charging system before winter hits help prevent an unexpected failure in freezing temperatures. Look for any signs of a weak battery —such as dim lights or a sluggish engine crank. Replacing the battery is a good way to ensure that it works in harsh weather. You can also connect the battery to a trickle charger when the car sits for long periods without use.

Change the Oil

To maintain engine life, it’s important to change the oil all year round. However, it’s especially important to change it before winter weather hits.

You might also want to consider switching to synthetic oil, like a 5W30 multi-viscosity oil, for winter. Firestone reports that synthetic oil withstands lower temperatures and provides prime lubrication. However, you can also ask your local mechanic, or consult your owner’s manual for the auto manufacturer’s recommendation on what kind of oil to use.

Check Fluid Levels and Wipers

Another way to make sure your car is road-ready for winter is to check fluid levels like transmission fluid, brake fluid, and windshield washer fluid. Plus, you should keep your gas tank topped off regularly. In the event of a breakdown, a full tank will allow you to stay warm as you wait for help to arrive.

Also, check and replace windshield wiper blades before the bad weather blows in. Keeping your windshield clear during periods of rain, snow, and ice is imperative for safe driving.

Check Tires and Tire Pressure

Cold weather can lower tire pressure. Driving with under-inflated tires can impact gas mileage and even worse, might cause a flat. Most manufacturers post a sticker inside the door frame that lists proper inflation pressures. Or, you can find the recommended tire pressure in your vehicle’s owner’s manual.

Furthermore, you should inspect the tread on your tires and look for gouges. If the tread is excessively worn or the rubber is torn, these are signs you might need to replace the tires.

Also, in extreme winter weather states, you might also need to swap out your regular tires for snow tires. Consult your local service department or tire shop for recommendations or to perform a pre-winter tire inspection for you.

Keep an Emergency Kit in the Car

Finally, keep an emergency kit in your car in lieu of a winter breakdown. Important items can include blankets, a flashlight, a first-aid kit, hand/foot warmers, snow scraper, phone charger, a small shovel, trash bags (as a layer of extra warmth), water, energy bars, extra gloves and hats, and a multi-purpose knife.

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