Winter is just around the corner — is your car ready for the change in season? Neglecting seasonal maintenance can lead to unpredictable hazardous consequences, especially in the winter, when road conditions are often at their worst.
What can go wrong? A very few scary but all-too-common examples: sudden breakdowns, tire blowouts, and loss of control in adverse conditions. At best, these surprises come with significant expense of time spent waiting for road assistance and money for repairs to get your car up and running again.
To make sure your car is winter-ready, use this easy checklist to take care of the most important cold-weather maintenance tasks.
7 Items for Your Winter Car Maintenance Checklist
1. Assess the Tires
The best way to avoid a flat tire or a frightening, high-speed blowout is to check your vehicle’s tire pressure at least once a month — and don’t forget to check your spare while you're at it. A tire doesn’t have to be punctured to lose air; in fact, all tires naturally lose some air over time. Under-inflation is the leading cause of tire failure, so use a gauge to check pressure regularly, and top off at a service station as needed.
You'll also want to check the treads to ensure you have the required traction to avoid skidding. To do this, insert a penny into your tire treads. If the tread doesn't touch the top of Lincoln's head, you need new tires.
2. Check the Battery
Even if your dashboard's battery light isn't on, it's a good idea to check your car's charging system before winter. A fully charged battery in good condition is a must to start an engine in cold weather, so schedule a visit to a trained technician for a tuneup of your battery and alternator before the snow flies.
3. Scan Belts and Hoses
Look under the hood to inspect all belts and hoses to make sure they are in good shape. Check for signs of blisters, cracks, or cuts in the rubber on all visible parts. Low winter temperatures are hard on plastics and rubber, so it’s best to replace belts and hoses now if they show signs of obvious wear.
4. Replace Old Wiper Blades
After the heavy toll imposed by winter storms, windshield wipers are likely to be ragged from use and ready to be replaced. Examine your blades for signs of wear and tear, including cracks and warping. Then, give them a test to see if they clear the glass efficiently or create vision-reducing smears. If they aren’t in tip-top condition, invest in new ones ASAP.
5. Check Fluid Levels
When's the last time you checked the oil in your car? How about the coolant? If you haven't touched a dipstick in a while, check your owner's manual for a refresher about how to do so. Modern cars have several fluid reservoirs to top off, including:
Power steering fluid
Windshield washer fluid
6. Test Your Lights
Visibility is reduced quickly when snow falls, and your car's lights allow other drivers to see you — in addition to helping you navigate tricky roads in the dark. Check and replace the following lights to keep yourself safe:
7. Stock Your Trunk
You never know when bad weather will hit, so take a moment to stock your car with important items that will help you get through an unexpected snow squall or torrential downpour. You'll need:
A pair of warm, waterproof gloves
A snow shovel
An ice scraper
Extra window washer solvent
A flashlight with extra batteries
Prepare Yourself for Winter, Too
Once your car is ready for the weather, it's time to review your winter driving skills. If you need a refresher course on safe, defensive driving to help you handle ice and snow, an adult driver's ed course is the perfect way to sharpen your skills ahead of winter's icy blasts. Check out in-car driving lessons near you for hands-on training to stay safe this season.