Winter weather driving in Wisconsin is inevitable, and so is the impact on our vehicles. Cold Wisconsin weather is hard on drivers and their cars. The frigid cold weather temperatures can do a number on cars, leaving drivers stranded in the cold weather—or worse, in the ditch. Avoiding snow banks (as in, being stuck in them) is a key reason to schedule an appointment to get essential cold weather car maintenance done before the first day of winter (or at least before the Wisconsin snow storm).
Contrary to the popular myth, the heat of summer is harder on vehicle batteries than the cold. Hot temperatures can cause battery fluids to evaporate and do permanent damage. Winter temperatures turn vehicle fluids to the consistency of molasses, requiring more power for starting up. Batteries can start to signal they are failing, such as rough starting or needing an occasional jumping.
What to do: Before the temperatures bottom out, ask a mechanic to test the battery. It can also be wise to track the age of the vehicle battery, which tends to fail 3-5 years after purchase.
This cold weather car maintenance tip may seem insignificant, but can be very important when driving in winter conditions. Windshield wipers in good condition can make driving in one of our famous Wisconsin winter storms a lot easier. Good visibility is essential when snow is flying and slush is being thrown on the windshield.
What to do: Swap your old windshield wipers for new ones before winter starts. Use this video and blog as a guide. If any assistance is needed, ask a mechanic to install new windshield wipers at the next oil change.
When the roads are icy, stopping safely is more than a luxury; it’s a necessity. Worn brakes can be a main contributor to a car accident, especially when conditions are hazardous. Sometimes, there are overt signs of worn brakes, such as a squealing or grinding sound, longer stopping distance, or a vibrating brake pedal. In other cases, the signs are not obvious.
What to do: Ask a mechanic to do a visual check of the brakes before winter. This can easily be done when snow tires are mounted or during a tire rotation. If the brakes are worn, get them replaced as soon as possible for safe driving.
Tires play a significant role in safe winter driving, because they are the primary contact between the vehicle and the road. Bald tires (tires with low tread) do not channel water correctly, which is especially important during slushy winter driving conditions. Tire pressure can also be lower during the cold temperatures, which can also play a part in safety and gas mileage.
What to do: Do a visual inspection of the tires (or ask a mechanic to check the tires). Look for inadequate tire tread, cupping, uneven wear, and punctures. To check tire tread, do the penny trick. Place a penny into the tread of the tire, then check to see how much of Abraham Lincoln’s head is visible above the tread. If Lincoln’s head is completely visible, the tire tread is low and the set of tires need to be replaced. Because tires can wear unevenly, place the penny in several places around the tire. On a regular basis, check the tire pressure to ensure that it is kept at the optimal tire pressure.
Cold weather driving can become more difficult with low vehicle fluids, making this cold weather car maintenance task a required and regular check. All vehicle fluids should be kept at optimal levels to avoid break-downs and safe winter driving.
What to do: Check the antifreeze level in the reservoir to avoid engine overheating (use this video about checking the antifreeze level in a car). Regularly check the oil level so the engine is properly lubricated and can run longer. For optimal visibility, check the windshield washer so the windshield stays clean during a hazardous winter driving. If the vehicle needs an oil change, ask the mechanic to check all vehicle fluids at the appointment.
This winter weather maintenance task is easy (and can even be done inside). A car emergency kit can be invaluable when stranded on an incredibly frigid day or during a snow storm. Because these situations are unpredictable, stock up an emergency kit before the temperatures dip below freezing.
What to do: Pack a waterproof container with the essentials: a shovel, towing company card/phone number, flashlight, blanket, first aid kit, jumper cables, jack and lug wrench, boots, rags, and hand sanitizer. Keep the emergency kit in the vehicle at all times in a convenient and accessible location.