Preparing Your Car For Winter

As I mentioned before, getting your car ready for winter is pretty important to me. Here is the checklist I go through to ‘winterize’ my truck.

  • Antifreeze – Make sure not only is your coolant is topped off, but that you have winter antifreeze in there which is different from what you need for the summer. If your coolant freezes up, your engine could seize and then you are in a tough spot. stranded and with no engine to keep you warm.
  • Battery – Your battery fluid should be topped off. without the fluid, in your battery, the cells cannot recharge to their full capacity. Make sure your alternator is putting out the right amount of volts to the battery and that the battery can hold the charge overnight. You can always take it to one of those auto parts stores and they will usually test it for free. Just know how to interpret the result yourself and don’t forget it’s their job to sell batteries. Your alternator should be producing 13-14 volts of electricity at idle for a 12-volt battery. When the car is off if your battery is not at 12.2 volts then you might need to do some additional troubleshooting or replace it. If it is a sealed or maintenance-free battery – just replace it. If you can check the levels and they look low avoid using tap water to top them off. The minerals in tap water can bind to the reactor places and reduce efficiency. Use distilled water only.
  • Exhaust – You want to make sure that your manifold to your tailpipe does not have any holes in it from rust. The result will be that CO is leaking under your carriage and if you are stuck in the snow, this will get trapped under the car and create a bad situation. If you have leaks, get them fixed.
  • Fuel – It goes without saying that if you run out of fuel you will be stranded. Don’t also forget that if you lose a tire or get stuck that the fuel in that engine is the only thing that can give you warmth. Always keep your tank at 50% full or better in the winter months and if you’re like me and have a truck, throw 5-10 gallons in the back in carrying containers that you have as an alternate plan. I have yet to use it for myself, but it has definitely come in handy for some people I have passed by on some pretty cold days.
  • Heater/Defrost – Even if you have fuel if your heater is not working then your not going to last very long out there. Additionally, if you have collected any debris in your defrosters (I still have one rogue maple seed pod that I can’t get out from the fall) your windows won’t clear correctly and you won’t be able to see road issues which can result in a crash.
  • Emergency Lights – We don’t often take the time to check this out, but turn on your ‘four-ways’ and walk around the car to make sure they all blink. If they don’t, when you need help people passing by might just think you are turning instead of stranded.
  • Oil – I know this is just common maintenance, but if your like me and change your own oil, when it gets cold out you just honestly don’t like getting under the cold car on a cold garage floor.  It’s the one time a year I will let someone else do it. If it needs to be changed I would rather have someone do it than have a failure or reduce the life of the vehicle.
  • Wipers – This may come as news, but there are winter and summer wipers. I have a set of each and on December 1st and May 1st I swap them out. If they look bad then I get new ones. The heftier wipers will push snow better without tearing. Seeing is kind-of important when driving in a blizzard.
  • Tires – I have not gotten to this point yet, but I do have a friend that keeps a set of winter tires (and rims) that he has put on in the same way that I do wiper blades. His local garage even keeps the other set for him in the tire rack until they swap back out. At minimum you want it to have two really good steering tires. Ideally, all 4 would be pristine, but if you don’t want to find yourself in a ditch, let’s get those steering tires in tip-top condition. When mine get about 50% wear I get new front tires and push the other two to the rear on opposite sides from where they were. This spreads out my tire cost. If you can swing getting them all replaced then I say do it! One more thought here is chains. When I drove a tractor-trailer, we were required to have them with us on some roads out west and some times I can tell you there were the difference between making it over a mountain or getting stuck. I have not heard if that was the same for cars on any passes, but I can tell you they do work. They are however heavy, and not always so straight forward to put on. If you are not in shape, I would think they could provide more risk of injury than they can be worth in some cases.
  • Jumper Cables – Batteries die in extream conditions and then the next question is are you looking for a jump or are you looking for a jump and jumper cables. One of those is easier to find. If your car came with a set throw them away. They are likely too small a gauge to charge quickly and not long enough. You want to go out and get a heavy-duty set with a 1-2 gauge wire that is at least 20′. Big box stores will carry them as well as Amazon for under $60. This is not an item you want to pick up at Harbor Freight.
  • Mittens/Scarf/Hat – I know you are probably wearing these, but this is an alternate set. If you are out there pushing a car or changing a tire, your first set is going to get pretty wet. If you end up unsuccessful, you’re now stranded with wet gloves. Plus, if the passenger you picked up is not as inclined to dress for the weather, you now can take away the excuse why they cannot help push. I should note that I said mittens. They work way better than gloves as they help the fingers touch with makes them one solid appendage sharing warmth. If you don’t have any pick up a nice pair of waterproof ones first before you by the cool Santa-style leather sleigh mittens. They do look cool, but resist the urge to get them first!
  • Warm Clothes – Keep one extra-base layer, thick socks, and underwear. If I break a sweat I am going to swap out my base layer right away to protect my insulation layer. If we are stranded and I need warmth, I will add this layer as an additional insulation layer.
  • Water – I joke about my kids grabbing a bottle of water from my truck, but 4 bottles are visible and 2 are not to them, so I always keep about a half gallon on hand. As I pull in the garage if I see any are gone or empty, I have more right there and I throw them in. Changing a tier is hard work for a fit person, You need to keep your fluids up in these situations.
  • Food – I always keep emergency snacks. There is my stash of pretzels, peanuts and granola bars that the kids know about, but there are also at least two packs of freeze-dried fruits and yogurt bites in my storage as well as one entree that needs to be cooked. It is one of those just heat water kinds of things and the reason that I keep matches, a lighter, a steel Yeti cup, and a spork in the truck as well. You can find dry wood under the snow if you know how. Don’t just throw it in there – use it the next time you go camping and make sure you can do it.
  • Light – I personally have four types that I keep in the truck. First is the headlamp that I would use to change a tire. Spinning a tire iron and holding a flashlight just doesn’t work out. Secondly, I have a small LED lantern (I mentioned I buy them in the 5 pack now) that I can use in the truck for light if I needed to. Next, I have a handheld flashlight with a magnet on the end. This one is the kind that you can make flash red and I can stick that to the top of my truck to signal. Lastly, I have a few chem lights. These are the 12 hour extra bright kinds that I can use as a back up to my lantern in the car or on the road as a road flare.
  • Road Flares – Yeah so I swear you can see these things from space when you light them up. They are bright! I have 4, but even 2 would be a great step in signaling or just keeping you safe when the snow is blowing in those blizzard conditions.
  • Shovel – I have a small collapsible shovel that I can dig around the tires in case I, or someone else, gets stuck. If you ever need to change your passenger side tire on a highway in a snowstorm, you will wish you had this. All the plows have been piling up snow right where you need to be. It beats digging with your hands.
  • Tow Strap – So I keep at least 2 of these in the truck year-round, but I thought it should make the list here. Right now I have three 2-ton poly traps that are 15′ with looped ends. I can combine them if the tow vehicle is further away and I can double them up if it is a heavy pull. If you are stuck and someone pulls up to help, without this you are all still pushing to get it loose instead of having them pull you free.
  • Fix-A-Flat – It doesn’t need to be that brand, but before I try to change the tire on the side fo the road, I will try to repair the tire first. This little can could be the difference between kneeling in frozen road sludge or driving to get hot cocoa.
  • Sand/Salt – So you should keep one bag of something that can act as an abrasive if you get stuck. Since I have a truck I keep a bag of each but for different purposes. I use the sand if I am stuck on turf and salt if I am slipping on the pavement. From my experience in using salt on soft ground, after a minute or two, the abrasiveness that gave it traction is gone and I am now trying to get the car out of the mud instead of the snow.

Stay smart. Stay warm. Reduce risk. Just be a good person. Those are the keys to living through winter weather.

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