Planning Ahead: How To Prepare Your Car for Winter

During the colder winter months, it is wise to do preventative maintenance.

Young man Checking Tire Pressure during winter iStock

If you’re planning to drive during the cold months, it’s wise to perform regular maintenance checks so your vehicle can run as optimally as possible. Here are seven tips for readying your ride for the winter.

1. Test the battery.

On winter’s coldest mornings, your battery needs to be fully charged and in good condition to start the engine. AAA Owned Car Care facilities and AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities can test and replace weak batteries. For battery problems at home or on the road, AAA Members can request  for AAA Mobile Battery Service—and a technician will come and test the battery and replace it on-site, if necessary.

TIP: Check out these common warning signs that your battery may need to be replaced. roadside assistance for AAA Mobile Battery Service—and a technician will come and test the battery and replace it on-site, if necessary.

Or, if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, visit a NAPA Auto Parts location to purchase the AAA battery and replace it yourself.

2. Check the tire pressure.

As temperatures drop, so will tire pressures—typically by about 1 pound per square inch (PSI) for every 10 degrees. This is why it’s important to check the inflation pressure on your tires regularly during cold weather.

Proper tire pressure levels can be found in the owners manual or on a sticker that’s typically located on the driver’s door jamb (note that the PSI on a tire’s sidewall is its maximum PSI). Examine tires for tread depth, uneven wear and cupping. If the tires look worn at all, get a professional inspection. Tires with a tread depth of less than 4/32 of an inch will have reduced traction in wet and snowy conditions.

TIP: In extremely cold and snowy climates, a set of winter snow tires or chains may be a wise investment.

3. Examine antifreeze levels.

Check the coolant in the overflow tank when the engine is cold and turned off. If the level is low, add a 50/50 solution of coolant and water to maintain the necessary antifreeze capability.

Test the antifreeze protection level annually with an inexpensive tester available at most auto parts stores, including NAPA Auto Parts, where AAA Members can save on most parts and accessories.

4. Apply water repellent to your windshield.

Scraping ice-covered windows can be easier than you think. Apply a water repellent such as Rain-X to all car windows when they’re clean and dry. Then, when you scrape off the ice this winter, it will be much easier.

TIP: Never pour hot water on icy windows—the rapid temperature change could cause them to crack.

5. Clean your headlights.

Cloudy headlights reduce your ability to see and be seen at night, especially in snow and fog. Improve visibility with a headlight restoration kit, which removes the haze from headlight covers. These kits are available at most auto part stores.

6. Let a professional look at your brakes.

Car brakes don’t always give a warning when they’re worn low or experiencing other problems, and you don’t want to discover there’s an issue with them when you’re on an icy road. Have them checked before winter arrives.

7. Prepare an emergency kit.

Always keep an emergency kit stocked for winter weather. Curate your kit to best reflect the climate of your area, or area that you’ll be traveling to. The kit should include:

  • Bag of abrasive material (sand, salt, cat litter) or traction mats
  • Ice scraper with brush (if applicable)
  • Jumper cables
  • Gloves, hats and blankets—enough for everyone who may ride in your car
  • First-aid kit
  • Snow shovel (if applicable)
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Window washer solvent
  • Cloth or roll of paper towels
  • Warning devices (flares or triangles)
  • Drinking water
  • Nonperishable snacks (energy bars or granola bars)
  • Extra clothes
  • Basic toolkit (screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench)
  • Mobile phone preprogrammed with important numbers, including family and AAA for roadside assistance, plus a car charger compatible with that phone
  • Download the AAA Mobile app  and other apps that provide access to important resources  to important resources

Get our downloadable checklist to help prep your car for winter.

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