Angie's LIST Guide to
Winterizing your car

Don't wait until the first big snow to think about whether your car is ready for the long, cold winter.
 

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When you shovel your car out after a big snow . . . it would be nice if it starts.
When you shovel your car out after a big snow . . . it would be nice if it starts.
 
 
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Winter car maintenance

Though vehicle care is important year-round for the safety of you and your family and to preserve the value of your car, truck or SUV, the months of winter can be particularly brutal.

Here are some tips:

Before winter: Check and replace windshield wiper blades and test your antifreeze. Make sure you have a good battery with a full charge. A weak battery may start your car in summer, but then fail when it gets cold.

When it's cold: Keep the gas tank at least half full at all times. Cold weather causes condensation in the system, which can result in fuel-line freeze-up. Adding gasoline antifreeze every three to four fill-ups can keep condensation under control.

After it snows: Remove excess snow from the car before driving. Any snow left on the roof might slide down onto the windshield and obstruct vision.

When your car is cold: Let your engine idle for a minute before setting out. Though most modern cars are built to move from the start, allowing the engine to warm up means the defroster will start working to keep the windows fog-free.

Protect your car from salt

Road maintenance crews go through a mountain of salt during the winter to keep roads clear, but prolonged exposure to salt can damage you car's finish.

Put a good coat of wax on your car before the weather gets cold.

During winter months, get your car washed professionally at least once a month. Be sure the car wash has an undercarriage cleaning so salt and debris is cleared out from underneath your vehicle. A good car was will use strong jets that spray water up under your car and sideways across the width of your car.

Consider hiring a professional to apply a rust-proofing treatment near the brake and fuel lines. Make sure each area is cleaned prior to the application.

Winter driving tips
  • Take the time to properly warm up your engine before starting. A warm engine responds better and is less likely to have mechanical problems that will leave you stranded.
  • Make visibility a priority. Run your car's defogger while you scrape the ice from your windshield, windows, and side mirrors.
  • Drive with your lights on, even during the day. Snowy days can have low visibility, and your lights will make you more visible to other drivers, especially if you have a white car.
  • Drive below the speed limit. In especially icy conditions, you may need to drive at half the speed limit to stay safe. If you feel yourself losing traction, reduce your speed.
  • Allow enough stopping distance. A car takes twice as long to stop on a slick road. Make sure to give yourself ample room between yourself and the car in front of you.
  • If you begin to slide, remove your foot from break. Turn the steering wheel in the same direction as the rear wheels. This is called “turning into the slide.” Be careful not to turn too much, or you will overcorrect.
  • Take turns carefully. Allow yourself to make a slightly wider turn than you usually would, and slow down while turning. This prevents the rear end of your vehicle from sliding.
  • Weigh your car down. Heavier vehicles are less likely to slide than lighter ones, particularly trucks with empty beds. If necessary, add a few bags of cat litter or sandbags to your trunk. They will come in handy should you vehicle become stuck in the snow.
  • If you drive a manual car, drive in a lower gear than you usually would. In automatic transmissions, you may have the ability to downshift into second gear, which can be extremely useful in the snow especially if you're climbing hills.
  • If you shouldn't be driving, don't. News stations put out warnings to stay off the road for good reason. If roads are impassible, don't try to drive on them. You're putting yourself at danger and potentially causing accidents for the emergency service personnel who have to come rescue you.
Emergency supplies for your trunk

If your car breaks down on the side of the road in the middle of a snowstorm, it might be awhile before help can get to you. Being prepared for emergency situations will help keep you safe while waiting for help to arrive.

Items to include in a winter emergency kit could include:

Toolkit: A basic kit would come in handy for many situations. Be sure the kit includes standard screwdrivers and screws, screw holders, Allen and socket wrenches, hammers and pliers.

Work light or flash light: A light might be needed to provide illumination on that dark road when the car breaks down. A flashlight will help while waiting for help. A battery-powered or crank light is suggested, as plug-ins for electric cords might be scarce. Extra batteries are also a good addition to your emergency kit. Jack: This is essential in lifting up a car to change the tire.

Spare tire: This will come in handy for either you or the auto repair person.

Fire extinguisher: The driver should have the 2 ¾-pound dry chemical type. The fire extinguisher should be kept in the front seat or in the glove compartment and not in the back, which is closer to the fuel tank.

Funnels: These are good for filling the radiator or adding oil and transmission fluid. They can be metal or plastic and are inexpensive.

Clean and lint-free rags: Rags shouldn’t be grimy and should not be soaked with gasoline. Dirty rags need to be thrown out when they've done their job.

Jumper cables: These will help in a pinch when the battery sputters and dies. Jumper cables are also surprisingly inexpensive. Drivers should make sure they have good cables and grips.

Sand, shovel and tire chains: These items will help should your car become stuck in the snow.

Snacks and nonperishable food: If stranded in a desolate area for quite some time, having snacks on-hand will come in handy, especially if you are traveling with a large number of people or small children. First-aid kit: Perhaps one of the most important items when it comes to safety, your kit should at least have bandages, gauze, tape and antiseptics, and hand cleanser.

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