Winter Ravages: 13 Ways To Show Your Car You Care
As severe winter weather makes its way across the U.S., from the rains in California to the snowstorms in Buffalo, NY, the season’s storms can be especially hard on your car.
If the first half of the season is any indication of what the second half has in store, you will want to make sure you give your car the love it needs. Prepare for upcoming winter travel and daily commutes, by taking the time now to check-in on your car.
Normal wear and tear on your vehicle’s components, such as brakes, are often accelerated due to colder temperatures and wet or snowy weather. Knowing what the winter weather can do to your car can help you avoid potential issues and costly repairs.
Stay on top of your car’s care with this winter maintenance checklist.
Give Your Vehicle A ‘Brake’ This Month
Checking your brake system regularly should be a priority for any vehicle owner, no matter the season. But if you have been forgetful about checking your brakes, winter is a good time to stop and check in.
1. Check the brake fluid
As temperatures get colder, it is always a good idea to check your car’s fluids, and your brake fluid is no exception. Get the fluid checked to ensure it hasn’t thickened. Plus, the fluid tends to deteriorate over time, so it is always a good idea to get it inspected. While inspecting, be sure to check fluid levels and top off when necessary.
2. Replace your brake pads
When taking your car in for its scheduled maintenance, have your car care professional look at your brake pads. A visual inspection can identify any wear and tear, an indication that new pads might be needed. Some signs you can look for are screeching noises when hitting the brakes or brake dust on the front wheels.
3. Check weak fluid lines
Water is the number one enemy of the vehicle’s fluid lines. When cars are driven repeatedly in cold, snowy and wet conditions, this can affect the rubber hoses and metal lines of the braking system. Most brake fluids can handle extreme cold weather, but if there is damage to the fluid lines, there is a potential for water to seep in and freeze.
4. Adjust loose emergency brake
While the emergency brake isn’t connected to your car’s brake system, be cautious of using it during a deep freeze. If the parking brake is used during extremely cold temperatures, it tends to freeze, making it hard to disengage the parking brake. Additionally, a loose emergency brake needs to be tightened periodically in order to function properly.
Other Important Car Care Maintenance Tips For February
5. Look for tire bulges and wear spots
Tires might be one of the most important things to check for your car’s winter maintenance. So much so, that states like Colorado passed a Traction Law stating all motorists are required to have either a 4WD or AWD vehicle and 3/16” tread depth.
Tires with good tread are key to handling the winter roads of snow, slush and ice. Good tread is the difference between your car’s ability to stop on slippery surfaces.
6. Tire pressure
Tires lose or gain one to two PSI (pounds per square inch) for every 10℉ changes in temperature. This becomes particularly important during long road trips during winter. Your tire pressure should bounce back as the temperature increases, but low tire pressure shouldn’t be ignored.
For places with heavy snowfall and steep grades, consider investing in winter tires. In addition to providing extra traction, they help when stopping in severe weather conditions. And don’t forget about your spare tire. Look for cracks and degrading tread.
7. Test your vehicle’s battery
The last thing you want is to be stranded in a winter storm with a dead battery. Instead of crossing your fingers and hoping your car’s battery won’t die on you, check the battery’s voltage. In winter, your car requires more power to start up. Plus, cold temperatures can be a catalyst for an already failing battery, so it’s good to know how much life is left in your battery.
A good rule of thumb is to replace your battery if it is three years or older. In addition to getting your battery checked, be sure to also check the charging system.
8. Check your coolant or antifreeze
Checking your coolant or antifreeze level is an important part of your vehicle's winter maintenance. When it gets cold outside, fluids like coolant and antifreeze tend to thicken and could affect the proper functioning of your vehicle.
General care maintenance requires you to flush and refill coolant according to your car’s maintenance schedule. But if you haven’t, winter is a good time to get it flushed and refilled.
9. Check your oil
Whether or not you are scheduled for an oil change this winter, it is always a good idea to check your oil. And because oil is a fluid, it should be checked as part of your car’s winter maintenance.
If you live in a harsher winter climate, consider switching to a synthetic oil. Synthetics are less affected by colder temperatures and often results in a better fuel economy. But do note, if you make the change, be sure to stay with it as you can’t switch back and forth.
10. Ensure you have fully functioning wiper blades
A smooth ride doesn’t mean anything if you can’t see out your windshield. That’s why fully functioning wiper blades are crucial for winter driving. Snow, sleet, mud and dirt can all end up on your car’s windshield, impeding your visibility. If you don’t have good wipers, it might be an accident waiting to happen.
Wiper blades last about a year, but you can always get a good sense of their functionality just by using them. You’ll be able to tell if they need replacing or not.
When parked, keep your wipers in good shape by popping your wipers up before a snow or ice storm so they don’t freeze to the windshield damaging the rubber. Also turn off the wipers when you park, this will help preserve the life of your wiper motor.
11. Schedule a winter maintenance inspection
Above all else, don’t neglect your vehicle’s routine maintenance. The best way to ensure the steps above are completed is to schedule a winter maintenance inspection with your car care professional. A winter safety inspection is critical in ensuring your car is running at its best. When you cover the basics, you can head off issues that might lead to a costly repair or being stranded roadside.
12. Inspect squeaks and squeals
Engine belts should never squeal but sometimes cold weather can cause it. Make sure to get it investigated. These sounds may indicate a deteriorating serpentine belt. For older models with multiple drive belts, the squeals may point to loose belts on the air conditioning compressor or power steering pump.
13. Schedule an alignment
Does your vehicle drift when you hold the wheel lightly? Could be an alignment problem caused by hitting potholes or other road obstructions. It also may be caused by worn out ball joints. Left unattended, alignment problems can damage your vehicle tires permanently and show up as a wobbly wheel. Drivers who live or visit regions with snow and ice are prone to issues with tire alignment. Ice-filled cracks and snow-covered curbs can damage your vehicle’s suspension.