How to maintain your vehicle to be ready for winter.
There’s really no way around it – winter driving can be hard on a vehicle, especially if you happen to live somewhere that deals with snow, ice, and chilly temperatures on a regular basis. You can’t wrap your car in a hermetically sealed bubble and just ride things out until spring time, but you can definitely take steps towards making sure your winter commuting is as safe and hassle-free as possible.
Most of what it takes to make it through winter as smoothly as possible involves keeping up with your car or truck maintenance. Fortunately, there are a number of small but important things you can do to mitigate the effects of the nasty weather without incurring too much cost – especially since so many of them you could do yourself in your own driveway.
Let’s take a quick look at four winter maintenance tips that should keep you truckin’ all through the coldest season of the year.
1. Check Your Battery
A battery that’s nearing the end of its usefulness will often have no trouble starting your car on a warm, sunny day, only to betray you once the temperature drops. Why does this happen?
The amount of power that your engine’s starter pulls from a car battery is substantial, especially if you have a diesel engine or a larger motor that takes longer to crank over. Cold weather starts can significantly reduce the vehicle battery performance, which is why manufacturers advertise the ‘cold cranking amps’ capacity, or CCA, of a battery right on the label. That number guarantees how may amps will be available for 30 seconds of starter action at temperatures as low as 0 degrees F (which is low enough for the battery’s capacity to be reduced by as much as 20 percent of its room temperature cranking capability).
As car / truck batteries age, however, they can become less capable of holding a full charge. This can be for any number of reasons, but unfortunately for winter drivers a half-charged battery is impacted by the cold much more severely than one that is fully charged. Once it gets down to around 32 degrees F, weaker batteries are already starting to freeze internally, but fully-charged batteries can go nearly 3 times as cold before showing any ill effects. This explains the seemingly split summer/winter personality of an older battery.
The easiest way not to get stranded? Make sure you test your battery before the start of the winter season, or if you suspect it’s starting to show its age. A simple voltmeter with the black lead on the negative terminal and the red lead attached to the positive should show at least 12.6 volts if the battery is healthy, but to be sure it’s always a good idea to head to a local parts store and have them run a more complete test cycle on the unit – something they should do without any charge to you.
2. Wiper Blades And Washer Fluid
Winter wiper blades are designed specifically to resist the damaging effects of cold weather, ice, and other debris that regularly gets scraped across your windshield once the snow starts to fly. It’s a good idea to swap in a pair of winter-ready blades as soon as it gets cold, but you’ll still want to keep an eye out for any indication that they’ve gotten worn out – especially if you’ve used them for more than once season. Expect to get six months of use out of a given pair of windshield wiper blades before streaking and smearing become an issue. Find the right PEAK Wiper Blade for your vehicle Here
Cold weather also means making sure that the windshield washer fluid in your car or truck’s reservoir is capable of resisting freezing temperatures without turning to ice and clogging up your system. The minimum temperature should be written right on the label, typically alongside ‘winter formula’ or something similar. Start mixing it in before the frost touches the ground to stay worry-free. Check out PEAK’s full line of Windshield Wash Here
Engine antifreeze wears out over time and mileage, too, but because we can’t see it happening it’s easy to forget that you should regularly check whether the current mix of coolant and water that you have in your radiator is up to withstanding the shock of winter.
There are a few indicators that your coolant might need to be flushed and refilled. The easiest is by using a small coolant tester, which can be picked up at any auto parts store, and which uses a hose and bulb arrangement to suck up some antifreeze from your car’s overflow tank. A gauge on the device uses a float to display to you at what temperature your coolant is capable of dealing with before it runs the risk of freezing up. If that number is higher than the average winter chill in your neck of the woods, it’s time to flush and refill with the correct antifreeze and water mix listed in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. Find the right Antifreeze/Coolant for your vehicle Here.
It also goes without saying that even if the coolant is in good shape – no weird smells, brown or black discoloration, and the right freezing temperature showing on the test tool – you should always keep the system topped up all winter long.
4. Tires and Tire Pressure
Dedicated winter tires are always the safest option to use in colder weather. Even when the roads are clear of snow and ice, the rubber compound in winter tires resists freezing much more effectively than an all-season tire, with the latter increasing your stopping distance by as much as 30 percent once the temperature drops to 40 degrees F.
Regardless of whether what type of rubber you are running, you’ll want to make sure that each tire’s tread is better than 4/32’s of an inch (or touching Washington’s head on quarter), and that the sidewall shows no signs of cracking or bulging. Finally, tire inflation is key: the cold can suck as much as one pound of pressure out of a tire for every 10 degrees of chill. An underinflated tire will handle worse, take longer to stop, and ultimately wear out that much faster, so it’s worth checking pressures after a cold snap and adding air if necessary.
Have a tip not featured here? Add it to the comments section, we would love to hear your tips and tricks for surviving winter!