Winter is fast approaching, and the holidays are right around the corner. For many of us, that means travel. If you’re planning on hitting the road this holiday season, there are a few things you should do to ensure your car is ready for sub-zero temperatures and slick roads. Here are five winter car maintenance tips to take care of before you head out on your holiday drive.
1. Get Your Brakes Checked
Brakes are arguably the most important safety feature of your vehicle. In the winter, healthy, functional brakes can be the difference between a safe stop and a slide into the ditch. Your technician will inspect your brakes for signs of wear and make a recommendation if it’s time to replace any of the components. Brake pads should be replaced between 10,000 and 20,000 miles, and rotors every 50,000 to 70,000 miles.
Often overlooked but no less important is your car’s brake fluid. Brake fluid can become depleted or contaminated over time, which leads to poor brake performance. Fluid should be regularly topped off and flushed every two years or 30,000 miles, depending on manufacturer recommendations.
2. Winterize Your Vehicle
Cleveland winters are cold — that’s the understatement of the year — but beyond sub-zero temps, the lake effect snow and wind can make roads tricky at best and treacherous at worst. A pre-winter preventative maintenance visit is always a good idea, even if you don’t plan on driving long distances this season. But for those with holiday travel plans, getting your car winter-ready is even more critical.
When you make an appointment to winterize your vehicle, your technician will follow a car maintenance checklist to ensure your ride is ready for harsh weather.
- Change the oil. Cold weather can make oil thicker. New oil is naturally thinner than oil that’s been collecting debris in your car’s engine for months on end. Some manufacturers recommend using synthetic oil during cold weather months, but this can have a negative effect on your car’s performance, so make sure to check with a trusted technician before making the swap.
- Top off fluids. Did you know windshield wiper fluid can freeze in its reservoir and prevent you from using your wipers? Not great for blustery days. Cold-weather wiper solutions contain a small amount of alcohol to prevent freezing. Your technician will also check your antifreeze to make sure it’s topped off and not in need of flushing.
- Inspect the battery. Is there anything more discouraging than the click of a dead battery on a dark, frigid morning? Now imagine that click when you’re miles from home. Your techs will check your battery’s charge and inspect for signs of corrosion. If it’s time to replace your battery, they can make the swap and recycle the used one.
- Install winter tires. Your standard tires are called all-season, sure, but when dealing with Ohio weather, winter tires are a must. Winter tires (or snow tires) are made from a different type of rubber compound that is designed to remain flexible in freezing temps. This means you’ll have a better grip on the road. The deep treads also help your car grip the surface of the road, even when it’s covered in snow. Winter tires also increase your maneuverability and offer better traction.
3. Take Care of Your Tires and Wheels
Once winter tires are installed, it’s important to check them regularly, especially if you have a road trip coming up.
- Check the tire pressure. One of the simplest things you can do to maintain your tires is to check the tire pressure regularly. Under-inflated tires can decrease gas mileage and increase wear and tear. Find your car’s recommended tire pressure in the owner’s manual or on a sticker inside the driver’s side door.
- Inspect tires for damage. Give each tire and wheel a close look to see if there is any visible damage or excessive wear that could cause problems down the road. This could include cracks, bulges or bald spots. If you see anything out of the ordinary, bring your car in before you head out on your trip.
- Invest in quality tires. If it is time to buy new tires, invest in the best tires for your vehicle and for the season. Winter tires may seem like an unnecessary expense, but a new set can last for up to six seasons and lengthen the lifespan of your all-season tires.
4. Lights, Wipers and Glass
Give your car a good once-over before hitting the road this holiday season. First, make sure all your lights are in working order — headlights, taillights, brake lights and turn signals. Not only do you need to be able to see clearly, but other motorists also need to be able to see your car.
Replace any burned out bulbs and inspect the casing around your headlights and taillights. If they’re dingy, dirty or yellowed, they might need a good cleaning to ensure the best possible visibility.
In addition to swapping out your wiper fluid for a cold-weather solution, take a look at your wiper blades. Are they cracked, damaged or leaving streaks on your windshield? If so, it’s probably time to get new ones. For the best view, opt for winter wiper blades specially designed to work in snowy and icy conditions.
Finally, walk around your car to see if there are any cracks or chips in your windshield, side windows or back window. A small chip or crack can spread as temperatures fall. Make sure to repair or replace any damaged windows before heading out on your trip.
5. Stock Your Winter Emergency Kit
Even the most well-prepared vehicles sometimes succumb to breakdowns or accidents. It’s always good to be prepared with a winter emergency kit in your car. You should stock your kit with things you need to get back on the road and items to keep you safe while you hunker down and wait for roadside assistance to arrive. Your kit should include:
- Jumper cables
- A flashlight and batteries
- A bag of cat litter or sand for traction
- Snow shovel
- Ice scraper
- First-aid supplies
- Non-perishable snacks
- A sleeping bag
- Warm boots and winter outerwear
- Matches and Sterno canned heat
- Phone power bank
The holiday season is the perfect time to gather with family and friends — even those that live farther away. With some basic car maintenance, you’ll be prepared to hit the road and arrive safely. Happy holiday travels!