Even if it doesn’t feel right now like one of our freezing Wisconsin winter days, there’s no time like the present to prep your car for all the ice and snow that’s sure to come. Winterizing your car may seem like another item to add to an already busy to-do list, but you’ll find it pays off when you’re faced with another day of winter driving.
Give your battery a good look.
Winter is hard on car batteries because the fluids in your auto turn to the consistency of molasses; your car needs more power to start up and an old or corroded battery just won’t cut it. To make sure you aren’t stranded this winter, ask your mechanic to check the battery posts for corrosion and connections for wear and tear. If your battery is older than 3-5 years or shows these signs of a weak battery, ask about the cost of replacement.
Check your tires
Your tires are your first line of defense when winter driving, so having them checked now can make sure you have traction when you need it and minimize your risk for a flat tire. Ask your mechanic to make sure your tires are at peak air pressure, and there is enough tire tread for maximum traction during wintry, slippery road conditions.
If you are worried about the traction of your tires (some car tires can be slippery even during summer), ask your mechanic if you need snow tires. For Wisconsinites who don’t have to drive in the snow, or head south for the winter, snow tires are not a necessity. But if you need to drive to get to work or school, or you want the freedom to venture out into the snow whenever you want, snow tires are built specifically for maximum traction during the worst winter driving conditions.
Swap out your windshield wipers.
Be proactive so you’re not blinded in an already blinding winter storm. Install new windshield wipers before the first flakes fall, or ask your mechanic to add new windshield wipers at your next oil change. To make sure your view is clear, make sure your windshield wiper fluid is at the full level. Locate the windshield washer reservoir under your head, and fill it up as needed.
Check your antifreeze
If you’ve been adding water all summer to your radiator, now is the time to make sure you have the correct 50-50 antifreeze mixture that won’t freeze when the temperatures drop. It’s for a good reason; a radiator full of water can crack when the water freezes.
Check your oil fill level
To make sure you’re not stranded when it’s freezing cold, check your oil level so your engine stays running when you need it the most. Turn off your engine and grab a paper towel. Open the hood of your car and locate your dipstick. Pull your dipstick out and wipe off the end. Put the dipstick back in and pull it out. Your dipstick has little lines on it; make sure your oil level is between the two lines (and not above the max line). If your oil level is low, add oil. Make sure you added enough by checking the oil again when you are done. If you find your oil level is consistently low, talk to your mechanic at your next appointment. A low oil level can indicate an oil leak or another issue that you need resolved before winter.
Transmission fluid breaks down over time and needs to be periodically checked and evaluated (not as often as oil, but regularly). There is a process for checking transmission fluid; you can find directions here. If you don’t feel comfortable checking it, ask your mechanic to check your transmission fluid at your next oil change appointment. Transmission fluid should be red, but gets darker in color as it breaks down. Use car manufacturer guidelines and if your car is having issues shifting to determine if your transmission fluid needs to be flushed.
Make sure your four wheel drive is four, not three, wheel drive.
Four wheel drive is not typically used during summer, and you don’t want to find out that it doesn’t work when you need it during winter driving. Ask your mechanic to inspect your four wheel drive and make sure you can use it when the snow gets deep.
Pack a winter safety kit
Even with all the steps you’re taking to winterize your car, accidents happen. To make sure you’re prepared for the worst winter emergencies, pack a winter safety kit with essentials such as:
- Roadside assistance card or tow truck phone number
- Jack and lug wrench
- Jumper cables
- First aid kit
Pack your supplies in a waterproof container and keep it in an area of your car that can be easily accessed at any time. Most importantly, pack it now before your stranded in the snow because you didn’t winterize your car.