9 Tips to Prepare Your Car for Ohio Winters

Ah, winter! Snowmen and sledding, hot cocoa and crackling fires. What’s not to love? 

Winter’s all well and good when you’re cozy inside, but when it comes time to venture out onto the slippery streets, snow, frigid temps, and poor visibility can lead to dangerous driving conditions. This is especially true in Cleveland, where the average snowfall is around 63.8 inches, thanks in part to its proximity to Lake Erie. 

While we can’t control Mother Nature (who, BTW, is set to arrive with above-average snowfall and below-average temps this year in Cleveland), you can ensure your car is winter-ready with these nine tips.

1. Check Your Brakes.

Brakes are important in all seasons, but winter brings conditions that require the best braking possible. Snow, ice and reduced visibility mean you’ll need to stop more frequently and perhaps more suddenly.

Get your brakes checked as part of your pre-winter preventive maintenance visit, and replace worn parts like pads or rotors if necessary. 

2. Turn Up the Heat.

You don’t want to wait until the coldest morning in January to realize your heater has gone kaput. Before it gets too cold, test your car’s heating system to make sure everything is functioning correctly. Replace any worn belts or hoses. 

Be sure to test out your defrosters as well. You’ll need them in a couple of months.

Keep Reading: Why Is My Car’s Heater Not Working? 

3. Test Your Battery. 

“Cold temperatures reduce the battery’s cranking power,” according to the Ohio Committee for Severe Weather Awareness (OCSWA). “At about zero degrees Fahrenheit, your battery only has about half the cranking power it has at 80 degrees. Have the battery power and its fluid levels checked.”

The average lead-acid battery lasts about three to five years. If you’re coming up on that number, replacing your battery before winter sets in may be worth it. 

4. Swap Out Your Wipers.

Windshield wipers are one of those car parts that can be easily overlooked. But did you know it’s recommended that you replace wipers every six months to one year?  Shocked? You’re not alone. Most Americans go over two and a half years before replacing their wipers. A new set of wipers will help you see clearly in the sleet and snow of Cleveland winters

If you’re not sure if you need a new set, check out these signs that it’s time:

  • Your wipers are bent or cracked. 
  • They leave streaks on your windshield. 
  • They don’t make contact with your windshield when engaged. 
  • They’re noisy when in use. 
  • They’re ineffective at clearing rain or snow. 
  • The rubber is gauged or discolored. 

5. Opt for Winter Tires. 

Your choice of tires can significantly impact how your car handles on winter roads. Opting for winter tires can drastically improve safety over all-season tires. That’s because winter tires are designed with winter driving in mind. 

Unlike all-season varieties, the rubber used in winter tires remains flexible in freezing conditions. They also have deeper tread to help them grip the road’s surface and offer you better traction and maneuverability. 

Conversely, all-season and summer tires can increase your chances of skidding out or failing to stop on the road; in fact, winter tires have a 35% shorter stopping distance than all-season tires and a 50% shorter stopping distance than summer tires. When it comes to avoiding rear-ending another car, that difference in distance is especially important.

6. Check Your Tire Pressure Often.

Speaking of tires, winter weather can cause your tire pressure to fluctuate more than in the summer months. Cold temps cause the air inside your tires to contract, reducing tire pressure. Underinflated tires mean less traction, which is especially dangerous in combination with slick roads. 

A general guideline is to keep your tires between 30 and 35 PSI. Be sure to consult your manual for exact manufacturer recommendations. 

7. Fill Your Fluids.

According to the OCSWA, it’s especially important to use the correct motor oil during colder months. 

“Engine oil thickens when cold, making it harder for the engine to turn over. Newer vehicles use multi-weight oil that is suitable for a wide range of temperatures. Check your owner’s manual to ensure your engine has the right grade of oil for the right time of year.”

It’s not just oil that needs a specialized winter mix. Windshield wiper fluid can freeze, so it’s important to switch to a cold-weather solution that includes a little alcohol to prevent freezing. Ensure your car’s antifreeze is appropriate, and check with your auto repair shop to see if you’re due for a flush.

8. Pay Attention to Your Headlights. 

Much like windshield wipers, foggy or dim headlights can go unnoticed until you need them. Pick a night and recruit a friend to turn on all the lights in your car (including turn signals) while you observe how they’re working. If your brights look dull, replace the covers or swap out for brighter bulbs. 

9. Stock Your Safety Kit.

Even cars in tip-top condition run into trouble from time to time. Whether you’re stuck in a snow bank or stalled out on the side of the road, having a safety kit on board is crucial. The OCSWA recommends keeping the following items in your car in case of winter emergencies

  • Battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries
  • Blanket or sleeping bag
  • Snow brush and ice scraper
  • Booster (jumper) cables
  • Emergency flares, shovel and state map
  • Extra windshield fluid
  • Sand or non-clumping cat litter to help with tire traction
  • Fire extinguisher (5-lb, A-B-C type)
  • Bottled water or juice and nonperishable high-energy foods (granola bars, raisins, peanut butter or cheese crackers)
  • First-aid kit and necessary medications
  • Extra clothing, particularly boots, hats and gloves or mittens
  • Cell phone and car charger

Keep Reading: 5 Essential Winter Car Accessories to Beat the Cleveland Winter

Schedule Your Tune-Up Now

Now is the perfect time to schedule a pre-winter preventive maintenance visit at your nearest Rainbow Muffler and Brake location. 

Schedule an appointment today, and your technician will be able to check for issues that may be exacerbated by cold weather, ensuring you’re ready to roll into winter safely. 

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