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How to prepare your car for winter

Take precautions to avoid winter breakdowns and accidents.

It’s recommended to make sure your car is in good condition at all times of the year. But it’s especially important in winter when the roads are wet, it’s dark for longer and driving is generally more hazardous.

1. Check your tires

Bald, underinflated or overinflated tires can lead to accidents in icy weather, so proper maintenance is key.

  • Tire pressure. Your tire pressure drops when temperatures get lower and raises when things heat up, so it needs to be checked regularly. In general, low tire pressure means poor handling and significantly worse fuel efficiency. It’s generally recommended to check your tire pressure every two weeks in cold weather.
  • Tire condition. Rubber can degrade faster in hot weather and it’s possible that summer did a number on your tires without you knowing about it, so check your tires as soon as things start cooling down and periodically throughout the season.
  • Tread depth. Treads are specifically designed to help pump water away from the tire’s contact points, so worn tires are especially dangerous on wet roads. Once the tread depth gets to 3mm, it’s time to start thinking about replacement.

2. Check your windshield wipers

Old wiper blades lead to constant squeaking and poor visibility in wet or snowy conditions. Most wipers need to be replaced about once or twice a year, but if you live somewhere wet, you may need to change them more often.

3. Check your battery

A car battery loses a significant amount of power when it gets cold, so a battery that worked fine in the summer could leave you stranded come wintertime.

  • Test your battery when the weather starts to get colder, and replace it if it’s nearing the end of its lifespan.
  • It’s also a good idea to keep a battery charger and/or jumper cables in your car in case you get stranded.
  • You’ll also want to get rid of any corrosion on the battery. Try to wipe it away if possible. If it’s too thick to simply wipe away, mix baking soda with water and then using that as a cleaning agent. Brush it onto the terminals and rinse it off with hot water. Take care not to get it on your lawn or driveway it’ll kill the grass and stain the concrete.
  • If you can’t get rid of the corrosion, or if it’s been three or four years since you last replaced the battery, then it may be time for a new one.

4. Check your fluids

Check all of the fluids in your car, or bring it to a mechanic and have them check the fluids.

You’ll want to replace any windshield wiper fluid with a formula that has a low freezing point. That’ll usually be written on the bottle.

It’s also a good idea to check your brakes when you check your fluid levels.

5. Check your headlights

Winter means that it starts getting dark earlier, and you’ll likely be driving in the dark more often. Turn each of your lights on and check each one.

  • Are they faded or yellowing? You don’t necessarily need to replace the covers. As long as they’re not truly decrepit, there’s a good chance that car wax can help clean them right up, restoring their clarity and delivering a protective coating for good measure.
  • Do the bulbs need replacing? Both headlights and taillights can burn out like other light bulbs and will need replacing when this happens. You don’t need a mechanic to do it, and this can often be a fairly simple DIY job.

6. Try to park in a covered or enclosed area

Parking under a roof, ideally in a lockable garage, is a good idea for many reasons. It protects your car from hail and debris and, if you’re in an attached garage, it can help keep your car a little warmer.

Even if you can’t always park under cover, try not to park overnight on the grass during winter if you can help it, in order to avoid rust, deterioration and all-around unpleasantness.

7. Check your car insurance

21% of car crashes are caused by weather, according to the Federal Highway Administration, and winter weather conditions can be particularly dangerous. If you’re not already insured for collisions and medical bills after you’re in a car crash, talk with your insurer about increasing your coverage before the roads ice over.

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Bottom line

Winter conditions make driving more dangerous, but taking precautions to get your car ready for the cold weather can help. And when those precautions aren’t enough, the right car insurance policy can help get you back on the road after an accident.

Frequently asked questions about car maintenance

Image source: Getty Images, Shutterstock

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