As winter rolls in, it’s time to think like a Scout and be prepared. Whether it’s your first winter in the Cleveland area or you’re a “Snowhio” pro, it’s important to take the season seriously. Make sure your car is ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at you.
Winters in Ohio are notoriously cold, with overnight temperatures often dropping below 0 degrees. Add in Lake Erie’s lake-effect snowstorms, and you get a one-two punch of strong winds and double-digit inches of snowfall. This can make driving hazardous — and sometimes makes just getting out of the driveway impossible. Even if you’re just dropping the kids off at school or making a short drive to work, equip your car as though you’re going on a long-distance trip. When storms come in without warning, even a short drive can turn into an unexpected emergency situation.
Which Winter Car Accessories Do I Need?
Before the big chill sets in, take time to review the tools and accessories you have in your car to be sure you’re ready for winter driving. These five accessories are essential:
1. Snowbrush and ice scraper
In Ohio, it’s illegal to drive with snow on the windshield, hood or roof of your car. You also need to make sure your headlights, taillights and license plate are cleared of all snow or ice. A snow brush can remove the snow that has accumulated on your car overnight or while you were working, and a scraper is essential for chipping through ice. When it comes to your ice scraper, a foam brush is your best bet because some types of bristles can scratch your paint. Also, make sure the handle is long enough for you to get a good grip while wearing gloves.
Pro tip: Never use hot water to try to save time and melt the ice on your windshield. The sudden change in temperature can crack your glass.
2. Windshield or car cover
If you don’t have a garage and don’t want to spend your mornings scraping snow and ice, a car cover or windshield cover can save you a lot of time. A windshield cover is fast and easy to use; if you don’t want to invest in a custom cover, you can use towels, a tarp or even a folded bed sheet to cover your windshield at night. This will save you time in the morning — but remember, you’ll still have to clear the snow and ice from the hood, roof, trunk and rear windshield.
A car cover will protect your entire vehicle from the elements, including your paint. It also can prolong the life of your windshield wiper blades. You’ll still need to give yourself extra time in the morning though; if snow has accumulated overnight, it’s going to take a bit of time and effort to remove the cover.
Pro tip: If you’re getting a car cover, invest in one that is lined with soft material so it doesn’t scratch your paint.
3. Battery cables or an external jump starter
A dead battery is one of the most common problems drivers face during winter. As temperatures drop, batteries lose their power — as much as 35% of their power is gone by the time the thermometer hits 32 degrees, and when it gets down to zero, they’ve lost about 60% of their power. To add to the problem, starting a car in cold weather can take as much as two times the energy as it does on a warmer day.
Even if you have a new battery, it’s a good idea to keep battery cables or an external jump starter in your car. With battery cables, you can easily jump start your car from another running vehicle. An external jump starter allows you to jump your own car without a second vehicle. Having both means you can not only avoid getting stranded with a dead battery but also help others if they need it.
Pro tip: Since portable jump starters rely on battery power, recharge yours after each use and charge it at least once every six months.
Lastly, depending on conditions, it may be a good idea to invest in an engine block heater for your car. These handy devices can warm up your engine and vital fluids before you start your vehicle, which reduces the risk of damage from "cold starts" and idling.
4. Air compressor/tire pressure monitor
Flat tires are almost as common as dead batteries in the wintertime. That’s because cold weather causes your tires to lose about a pound of pressure per square inch (PSI) for every 10 degree drop in temperature. In addition, tires naturally lose air over time. So a 40-degree temperature swing could mean the difference between a low tire and a flat one.
Investing in a portable air compressor designed for car tires is an excellent way to make sure you won’t get stranded by a flat. A good tire pressure monitor is essential too — especially if your car doesn’t have an automatic tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) that alerts you when one of your tires is below the recommended PSI. Make sure you know what your PSI should be — and check it regularly.
Pro tip: Regardless of whether you have a TPMS in your car, check your tire pressure monthly. If you’re consistently losing air in a particular tire, check that tire more frequently.
5. Kitty litter
This low-tech solution is one you’ll appreciate if you ever get stuck in snow or find yourself unable to maneuver across a slick spot of ice. Kitty litter is an excellent way to gain traction in a snowbank or on a slick spot. Just pour it around the tires and it should help you get the traction you need to get out of your situation. Another advantage is that keeping a big bag of litter in your trunk adds weight to the rear, which can help prevent slipping and sliding in winter driving conditions.
Pro tip: Choose the non-clumping type of kitty litter for best results.
Winterize Your Car — Inside and Out
You should also prepare in other ways, such as making sure your car is completely ready for the change in temperatures. Winterize your car now so a sudden cold front doesn’t catch you off guard. It’s also a good idea to ensure that you’ve taken all the right maintenance steps to avoid getting stranded in the snow and that your car is stocked with supplies including:
- A warm blanket
- Extra clothing, including a winter coat, boots and gloves
- A first-aid kit (make sure none of the contents are expired)
- An extra phone charger
- A working flashlight with extra batteries
- Snacks and water
Finally, if your car hasn’t been serviced for a while, this is a good time to take it in for your winter car maintenance. Visit your local auto repair shop for oil changes and maintenance to fully prepare your car for the winter season. Make sure your car is as ready for the Cleveland winter as you are!