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OP-ED: 8 Steps to Getting You and Your Car Ready for Winter


By Amy Mattinat

1. Clean your vehicle inside and out. Have the body of your vehicle washed and waxed. This preventative measure will protect the paint surfaces from snowy bombardments, and it will also make snow and ice easier to brush off.

Since you will be sitting in your car with the windows up and the heat on for the next six months, do yourself a favor and give your car a thorough cleaning ASAP. Remove any debris that has collected over the summer, and vacuum the seats and floor. Dust the dash, wash the windows, and clean the upholstery. To prevent that stale air/locker room smell, consider replacing your cabin air filter and then hang up an organic air-freshener. It’s also a great idea to take out your carpeted floor mats and replace them with a set of water-resistant vinyl or rubber mats.

2. Make sure you can see. A winter storm is the worst possible time to run out of windshield washer fluid or to discover your blades aren’t clearing the windshield properly. Wiper blades usually last for about six months. Since visibility is a key ingredient to safety, be sure to invest in some new wiper blades if needed. We recommend using the “beam style” wipers. When the snow freezes on the metal blade, it can prevent the wiper from working and make it hard to see. Also, make sure the washer fluid is good to –20 F. Never use plain water. It will freeze all over your windshield.

3. Ensuring that your heating system is functioning properly should be a top priority. While a functioning heater and defroster are necessary to keep the windshield nice and clear, they also offer you shelter from the cold. Trust me; you do not want to be trapped in a cold car in the months to come. Also, check that the rear window defroster is working.

4. Give your battery a little TLC. A battery gives little notice before it dies, and very cold temperatures can reduce a vehicle’s battery power by up to 50 percent. If your vehicle battery is older than three years, have the battery tested when you take your car in to get your winter tires put on. Also, have them check that the battery posts and connections are free of corrosion. No one wants to be stranded with a dead battery in the bitter cold. Our best recommendation is to purchase an Interstate battery—we feel they are the best.

5. Belts and hoses. While they are testing your battery, make sure they inspect the belts and hoses for wear and tear—even if you’re driving a newer car. The belts and hoses in modern cars lead long lives, but that doesn’t mean they don’t die. Cold weather can do a number on belts and hoses, so they deserve attention too.

6. Tires: Need I remind you that the tire is the only part of your automobile that touches the ground? Having good winter tires on your car is the most important thing you can do to insure the next six months of worry-free winter driving. The condition of your car’s tires is critical during the winter. Braking, acceleration, and handling are all impacted while driving on slippery roads. Give yourself an edge with great winter tires.

Tire pressure is also important during the winter. Since traction is compromised by wet or snowy conditions, it is critical to have properly inflated tires. Please remember that with lower temperatures, the air pressure in a cold tire will drop. Why? Because air is a gas, and gas contracts when it gets cold and expands with heat. Plus, having full and balanced tires can save you 2–3 miles per gallon of gas. That’s extra money in your pocket.

7. Get the antifreeze mixture just right. The ideal mixture of antifreeze (coolant) and water inside your vehicle’s radiator is 50/50. This will prevent the mixture from freezing in those ridiculously cold temperatures that occur every winter in Vermont. Antifreeze is very important to your engine. It cools the car’s engine, protects it from freezing in the cold weather, and is the key agent in providing heat inside the car.

8. Prepare an emergency kit. Even the most meticulously maintained vehicle can develop problems on the road, especially during the winter. That’s when it pays to be prepared for an emergency.

Your Winter Survival Kit Should Include:

  • A spare tire with air in it
  • Extra windshield washer fluid and paper towels
  • Tire-changing equipment
  • A bag of abrasive material such as sand, salt, or non-clumping kitty litter, which can provide additional traction if a tire gets stuck in snow.
  • A flashlight, flares, and a first-aid kit.
  • Jumper cables, a tool kit, and tire chains.
  • A blanket and extra warm clothes (scarves, gloves, hats, boots)
  • Contact information of people to be called in case of an emergency
  • A snow brush with an aggressive ice scraper and a snow shovel.
  • High-protein, non-perishable foods such as protein bars, nuts, raisins, and water.
  • An all-weather power source that will permit you to jumpstart your vehicle without another vehicle. That can be comforting if you’re by yourself.

Amy Mattinat is the President of Auto Craftsmen