Winter is on the way, are you ready?
Here in New York, autumn has been unseasonably warm. But we all know winter is coming—and it’ll probably arrive just in time for holiday travel. It’s important to get your vehicle ready for winter and for the holiday season, even if you’re not ready.
I learned this the hard way. Having lived most of my life in Florida, when I moved to New York 11 years ago I knew nothing about winter. I didn’t have the right coat and was constantly looking for something warmer. My cute little boots caused me to fall in the snow many times until I finally bought REAL snow boots. And, the little Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible I bought while living in Palm Beach didn’t know how to do winter either. We both learned.
A lesson I’ll never forget
I was heading down to Philadelphia for a travel article I was working on and decided I would drive instead of taking the train. A friend of mine who had lived most of his life in Alaska called to check on me during the drive. This was our conversation:
Him: “You’re driving to Philly in the snow? Did you winterize your car?”
Me: “What does winterize mean?”
Him: “You’re kidding, right?”
Me: “No, I’ve heard the word but I have no idea what it means.”
Him: “OK, I have two more words for you: black ice. Do you know what that is?”
Me: “No, should I?”
Him: “Girl, you’re going to die.”
I didn’t die, but I did learn from my mistakes
Fortunately, I lived to tell the story but not before my windshield wiper fluid froze into a solid block of ice requiring me to stop at every New Jersey Turnpike service center to scrape off the windshield. You don’t even want to know how long it took me to get to Philadelphia that day.
Don’t be like me. Follow these 10 tips for winterizing your car.
1. Check your tire pressure: Tires lose pressure as temperatures drop. Even if winter conditions are mild, remember to check your pressure once a month. If you drive where temperatures consistently approach freezing, consider putting winter tires on your car. Winter tires are made of softer rubber and have tread patterns specifically designed for gripping snowy and icy roads better than all-season tires (they are required winter equipment in Canada).
2. Get an emergency kit: Carry an emergency kit with gloves, blanket, flares, a shovel, flashlight, water, extra batteries and cell phone charger, as well as an emergency contact list with important phone numbers. You might want to throw in some protein bars too, especially if you’re going to have kids along for the snowy ride.
3. Inspect your lights: Inspect your headlights and brake lights to ensure they’re fully functioning, which is especially important during winter fog or heavy snow.
4. Give your battery an exam: Battery capacity is decreased significantly by cold weather. Before the winter months, have your mechanic check it to ensure it’s at peak performance. It’s also a good idea to carry jumper cables in your car, should you ever need someone to give you a boost (or provide one to a stranded motorist).
5. Don’t forget your wiper blades: The build-up of winter precipitation and salt on your windshield certainly doesn’t help visibility. Buy washer fluid with antifreeze solution to protect visibility; keep it on hand at home and refill it occasionally, especially if it’s a snowy winter. Also check your windshield wiper blades to make sure they are in good working order. If you live where winters are extreme, consider buying wiper blades designed specifically for winter weather.
6. Test your heater and defroster: Make sure the heater and defroster are in proper working condition for both comfort and visibility.
7. Wax your car: A fresh coat of wax before the snow flies can help protect against damage from salt and dirt.
8. Keep the winter mess out with the right interior mats: Using winter mats in your car can go a long way in keeping your car’s interior clean during the snowy, slushy months.
9. Do a 4-wheel drive check: If your vehicle has 4-wheel drive, have your mechanic check it before winter barrels in. A mechanic can ensure the system engages smoothly and that the transmission and gear fluids are at the correct levels.
10. Check the oil: Cold weather can reduce your motor oil’s effectiveness. It’s a good idea to have your oil changed to a thinner variety before winter. Check your owner’s manual or ask your mechanic for the best viscosity level for your climate.
Follow these steps and your car will be ready for winter and for all that family holiday travel. You, however, may never be ready.