Some helpful tips for smooth winter driving
Whether you live in the high elevations of Colorado, the rainy states of the Northwest, blizzard-prone New England, or anywhere else for that matter, there are some basic measures all drivers should take to make sure they get to their destinations safely.
Whether the average temperature in your region of the country drops below freezing or not, winter months usually bring more precipitation combined with fewer daylight hours, so it’s important to both see and be seen on the road. To be sure you have the best possible visibility in any weather, pay some attention to your windshield wipers.
The rubber blades that are meant to sweep away rain, slush and snow inevitably wear out and need to be replaced, and now is as good a time as any to do it. While you’re at it, it’s a good idea to install some winter blades if you drive in colder climates. On winter blades, the support structure is typically wrapped in rubber to help keep them from getting clogged with ice or snow, and the blades are formulated to stay pliable when the temperature drops. If you drive a vehicle with a rear window wiper, make sure to replace that blade, as well, so you can see behind you.
Now is also the time to make sure the defoggers work properly. The front and side glass is typically cleared by blowing warm air heated by the engine across the glass. Check to make sure the switches that redirect air between the floor, dash and defogger vents are working properly and that heated air comes out after the engine is warm.
Most of the extra systems that help make winter driving easier, including defoggers and heaters, are electrically powered and have fuses that can occasionally blow. It’s always a good idea to pick up a package of spare fuses and keep them in the glove compartment just in case.
Whether driving at night or on grey winter days, your headlights and taillights help you see the road and the obstacles that may be in your way, and they also make you more visible to other drivers and pedestrians. Turn on all your lights and signals and walk around the car to check for burned out bulbs. Don’t forget to get a friend to step on the brake pedal so you can check those lights as well. Winter conditions mean stopping distances are longer so it’s even more important to make sure drivers behind you are aware that you are slowing to help avoid collisions.
If the road is covered by water, ice or snow, your tires are critical to the safe operation of your vehicle. If tire treads are getting shallow from wear, this is an excellent time for a new set of rubber. All-season tires will serve drivers in some parts of the country just fine, but those who live in regions where temperatures regularly dip below 45 degrees Fahrenheit should seriously consider a set of dedicated winter tires for maximum traction.
For worst-case road conditions, consider getting a set of tire chains to keep in the trunk. If you do opt for a set of chains, make sure you read the instructions and practice installing the chains before it gets too cold. This is definitely something you don’t want to be practicing in the middle of a snow storm.
It’s a good idea to get the cooling system checked out before winter, to make sure it doesn’t have any leaks, that antifreeze flows properly through the heater core and that the thermostat is working properly. Many dealers offer specials on cooling system maintenance and or system flushes, if necessary.
Batteries lose power when it gets cold, making it harder to crank the engine during starting. Most auto parts stores, service centers and dealers will load test your battery free of charge, so you should take advantage of the opportunity and put in a fresh battery if needed to make sure you don’t get stranded.
The grime and dirt and slush that gets thrown up by other vehicles makes it harder to keep the windshield clean, so check the washer fluid reservoir regularly and keep it full. Always be sure to use windshield washer fluid rather than plain water because it has a lower freezing point.
With all the mechanical systems in proper working order, there are a few other items every driver should carry in his or her vehicle to be prepared. Always keep a snow brush and a good stiff ice scraper in the car, if you live where it gets cold, and make sure to clear the windows and lights before you drive off when it’s snowing. Carrying a set of jumper cables can be a time- and money-saver if your battery dies, and it can enable you to be a good samaritan if you encounter someone else whose car won’t start.
A flashlight and fresh batteries come in handy in case you get stuck in the dark, and an old blanket in the trunk or back seat can help keep you warm in case you get stuck and have to wait a while for a tow.
Virtually everyone today carries a mobile phone, but it doesn’t do much good if the battery is dead. Spend a few bucks and get a 12-volt car charger for your phone so you can always call for help if needed. If you don’t already have roadside assistance provided by the manufacturer of your vehicle, it’s a good time to sign up for a plan; many companies, including insurance companies and wireless providers, offer roadside assistance plans. If you get stuck and need a tow, it can save you a lot of money and hassle.
Better yet, swing by the dealership and let our trained staff help make sure your car is winter ready. Be prepared and be safe this winter!