Category Archives: Winter driving

6 Ways to Prepare Your Car for Winter Driving

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truck driving on winter road with snow tiresWhen the weather feels like a roller coaster, it can be easy to get caught off guard. One minute, you’re enjoying pleasant fall weather then…BOOM! you’re driving in a snow storm. Here’s how to stay ahead of the snow forecast (at least in regards to your car!) so you and your car are ready for the first Wisconsin snowfall—and for all the slippery, wet winter driving.

Get your fluids checked

Low vehicle fluids can spell disaster when you need them the most this winter. Check your antifreeze level in your reservoir to ensure that your car doesn’t overheat at a vital time (like in the middle of a snowstorm). Make sure your oil level is between the two lines on your dipstick (find directions for checking your oil here) so your engine doesn’t leave you stranded.

For optimal visibility, check your windshield washer so you can clean your windshield during a heavy snowfall. As long as you’re at it, inspect windshield wipers for wear and tear. If they are in bad shape, purchase a new set to get you through winter—you don’t want to go through a bad winter storm without a properly functioning windshield wiper.

Make sure your battery starts

Winter temperatures can turn your vehicle fluids to the consistency of molasses, meaning you need a strong battery to turn your engine over. If your battery is old, or weakening, it may not have the power to start up your car and leave you stranded with a dead battery. So you don’t get stuck out in the cold, ask your mechanic to check your battery and make sure it’ll make it through another winter.

Check your brakes

Prompt braking is an important part of winter driving. As you drive, pay close attention for signs your brakes need replacing or have your mechanic check your brakes so you can easily stop when needed (like during a heavy snow fall). Make sure you have adequate brake pads to ensure that you can avoid accidents when the roads are wet.

Put on snow tires

If you have to venture out in the worst winter weather, consider purchasing a set of snow tires for your vehicle. Snow tires are specifically designed for traction and handling through all the snow that comes with winter driving. Constructed with a softer compound and tread pattern designed specifically for getting through snow and ice, snow tires can find traction on even the roughest roads.

Remember as you shop for tires that traction control, common on many vehicles, is not a replacement for snow tires; traction control adjusts the speed of your tires to conditions, but does not give your vehicle more traction while driving.

Stock up

Winter road emergencies are, unfortunately, a part of winter driving. Assemble a winter driving kit before the weather turns bad. Store your supplies, like a flashlight, jumper cables, boots, shovel, gloves, and other necessities (a full list of winter emergency kit supplies are here) in a waterproof container that can withstand the winter weather.

Check your four wheel drive

If you have a vehicle with four wheel drive, make sure it’s ready to function when needed. Test your four wheel drive, and have your mechanic repair any issues so you can head out on the road when our winter roads turn slippery and wintry.

6 Driving Tips for Get You Through Ice and Snow

snowy winter road conditionsIt’s here. The inevitable ice and snow that comes with winter and covers our roads and clogs up our highways has arrived. With the snow comes the “fun” of winter driving: high winds, icy roads, reduced visibility, and clogged roads because of accidents and rollovers. How do you stay on the road—and not in the ditch? Here are some of our top tips for staying on the road while navigating through the winter weather.

Be prepared.

Watch weather reports before you leave so you know what you’re in for, and can hit the road earlier if conditions look problematic. Even if you’re completely confident in your winter driving skills, pack a cell phone and emergency winter kit just in case you get in an accident or need to dig out your vehicle in a parking lot (find out what to pack in your emergency kit in our recent blog post).

Make sure your brakes are ready for winter driving.

worn brake pades & rotorsInevitably, you’ll need your brakes to stop suddenly because of an out-of-control vehicle or to repeatedly stop when traffic gets backed up in the winter weather. Make sure you, and your car, are ready for it. Schedule an appointment with your mechanic to make sure your brakes have plenty of pad left, or if your brakes are showing one of these signs that it’s time for replacement.

Make sure you can see.

If your car is covered in ice and snow, take your time cleaning it off. You don’t want to reduce your already poor visibility from snow blowing off your car while driving. If your windshield wipers are worn, get them replaced ASAP so you can see the road even when the wind is high and snow is piling up.

Lower your speed.

Even if you have four wheel drive, lowering your speeds during wintery conditions is a must. Driving slower helps you adjust to road conditions—and to dealing with other drivers who are struggling in the ice and snow. Plan accordingly, and know your traveling time is going to be longer when it snows and ices.

Double your normal stopping distance.

If you have to brake, start applying pressure to your brake pedal earlier than you normally would on dry pavement; it’s going to take twice as long to safely stop. Because of that reason, leave extra space between you and other cars when driving. If possible, try to avoid sudden stops and sudden accelerations on slippery roads.

Put snow tires on.

car tiresShop for snow tires, and get them mounted, before the next winter storm hits. Snow tires give you the added traction you need on icy roads. If you don’t want to deal with mounting and remounting your snow tires, buy a second set of rims for your car. When the temperature drops and snow arrives, all you have to do is take off your rims with your summer tires and put the rims with your mounted snow tires on. In the spring, when the temperature is consistently above 50 and the snow has melted, you can put your rims with the summer tires back on—without the hassle of mounting and balancing. If you have any questions about snow tires, don’t be afraid to ask questions BEFORE you’re stuck in the ditch during a winter storm.

4 Car Fluids You Should Check Before Winter

winter drivingWe’re heading into winter driving season, a time when you want your car to be at its very best. When the inevitable winter storms and ice hit, you don’t want to be stuck on the side of the road or in an accident. That’s why it pays to check your car fluids, or have your mechanic check your car at your next appointment to make sure that your car keeps going through the winter storms, ice, and all the other severe winter weather that comes our way.

Antifreeze/Coolant

Back in the days of Driver’s Ed, our teacher heeded a stern warning: be careful to add too much water to your radiator or the water freezes and damages your car. His advice still rings true today; make sure you check your antifreeze (another word for this fluid is coolant) to make sure your antifreeze is topped off (without too much water) so your car doesn’t overheat during a long drive on one of the coldest days of the year.

Oil

A car engine without oil, or enough oil, is an engine with a death wish and a limited life span. That’s why it’s so important to make regular appointments to get your oil changed, and to check it periodically between appointments. To check your oil, 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, mention it to your mechanic at your next appointment. A low oil level can indicate an oil leak or another issue.

Windshield washer fluid

winshield washer fluidNothing makes us madder than when we go to clean our windshield and don’t have washer fluid—even worse when the weather is bad and really needed. Locate the windshield washer reservoir under your head, and fill it up as needed. As long as you’re at it, inspect windshield wipers for wear and tear. If they are in bad shape, purchase a new set to get you through winter—you don’t want to go through a bad winter storm without a properly functioning windshield wiper.

Transmission fluid

Your transmission fluid does not need to be changed regularly (flushed) like oil; however transmission fluid does break down over time and needs to be periodically checked and evaluated. 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. Still, darker fluid does not warrant a transmission fluid flush; instead rely on your car manufacturer guidelines and whether your car is having issues shifting.

If you have any questions about checking the fluids in your car, schedule an appointment with your mechanic . The mechanic can check your fluids, refill as needed, and give you peace of mind that you won’t be stranded in the middle of a snow storm.

When is it time to replace my tires? When do I need new tires for winter?

snow tiresWisconsinites, prepare yourselves now. Soon the temperatures are going to drop, and that inevitable white stuff is going to cover the ground—and the roads. We all know what that means: slippery roads, slow driving, less traction. Basically, all the components of winter driving. Are you ready? More importantly, is your car ready? And your tires?

We all know our tires are the most important part of winter driving, since they are the sole contact point between your car and the road. They are your sole source of traction when the winter weather gets dicey, or one of our unpredictable winter snow storms pop up. Obviously, you don’t want to find out you need new tires when you’re in the middle of a blizzard, but you don’t want to spend money on new tires if you don’t need them. So how do you know when you need new tires? What are some signs that those tires need to be replaced?

  • Hardness. Did you know that even if you don’t drive frequently or on long trips, you may still need new tires? Tires don’t always wear down to replacement; they often harden over time, making them a lot harder to drive in winter weather. Any mechanic can tell you if your tires are hard and ready for replacement.
  • Doesn’t hold air. If you have to add air to your tires regularly, or your tire sporadically goes flat, an alarm should be going off in your head. Adding air to your tires is not normal, and eventually you’re going to be stranded somewhere with a flat tire.
  • Very little tire tread left. Not sure if you have enough tread? Use the old coin trick. Put a penny into the tread of your tire. If you can completely see Abraham Lincoln’s head, you need new tires. Make sure you try this trick in a few different places on the tire. Tires can wear differently, leaving some tires with uneven tread depth.
  • Excessive cracking or blistering. If you have cracks or blisters on the sidewall of your tire, you need to get your tires checked as soon as possible. Excessive cracking or blisters are tire injuries that can lead to a blow out, leaving you stranded by the side of the road or at home not able to get to work or school.
  • Tread wear indicator bars show. You won’t see tread wear indicator bars when your tire is new. As the tread of your tire starts to wear down, you will notice bars in the bottom of the groove in several locations around your tire. Just as the name implies, tread wear indicator bars are a clear sign you need to get those tires to a repair shop for inspection, and possible replacement.

If you can’t tell if your tires need to be replaced, or you’re looking for new tires, contact Tire-rifik or schedule an appointment. One of our experienced mechanics can tell you if your tires are good enough to make it through another year of winter driving, or if a new set of tires are needed for our wintery Wisconsin roads. They can also discuss your tire options for the winter; for some drivers, a good set of snow tires make sense (find out if snow tires are right for you in our blog post). Make sure you don’t procrastinate; our Wisconsin winter will be here before you know it.

When is it time to remove my snow tires?

michelin_tires_watertown_tire_shop“When is it time to remove my snow tires?” sounds like a question with a pretty clear answer, right? Unfortunately the answer is not always so clear with our unpredictable Wisconsin winters (remember that snow storm that hit in May years ago?). While the call to remove your snow tires is a judgment call based on our unpredictable Wisconsin winter, there are two general guidelines to remember when making your decision:

  • Wait until the threat of snow has passed. Yes, this is Wisconsin after all. We are aware that the threat of snow has not passed until June. When the temperatures start hitting the 40’s or 50’s on a regular basis, it’s time to take those snow tires off—but try not to make the switch too soon. You don’t want to get stuck in a spring snow storm on all-season tires when you bought a set of snow tires for safety and increased traction.
  • Don’t wait too long. The soft rubber compound that makes winter tires a reliable snow tire is the same compound that burns off on hot roads. With this in mind, make sure you remove (or have your mechanic remove) snow tires before the roads dry out and the temperatures heat up. If you leave your snow tires on too long, you won’t be able to use that same set of snow tires next year.

Consider buying a second set of rims for your snow tires to ease snow tire removal and remounting. One set of rims would be for your all-season tires, and the second set would hold your snow tires. This philosophy has two advantages:

  • You don’t have to go through the hassle of breaking the bead, removing and remounting tires during the fall and spring.
  • While the cost of a second set of rims can be costly, it can save the cost of a tire because you don’t have to worry about damaging your snow tire or all-season tire during the removal and mounting process.

If you have any questions about snow tires and removal, contact our trusted mechanics at Tire-rifik in Watertown. They can answer questions about snow tires, purchasing the right set of snow tires or a second set of rims for your snow tires or all-season tires—any questions you might have about tires and our unpredictable Wisconsin winters.

Tips for Driving Safely In the Snow

20150201_102110Winter is here. Our famous winter weather is really picking up force, dumping snow across southeastern Wisconsin. If you’re one of thousands of Wisconsin residents that need to venture out into the white stuff, knowing how to drive safely in the snow can save you thousands of dollars in car repairs and days of inconvenience. So don’t panic next time the weatherman says, “snow.” Take a deep breath and use these tips for driving safely in the snow:

  • Have your vehicle checked before you brave through the snow. Even if your vehicle is well maintained, chances are your vehicle needs an inexpensive tune-up to get through our Wisconsin wintery roads.
  • Know the thickness of your brakes and tires. These are two of the most important systems in your car for winter driving. Extra traction and thick pads are vital when driving during the most challenging winter storms.
  • Always carry a cell phone and emergency kit. Be prepared for an emergency breakdown or to dig out. Never leave home without a cell phone, emergency kit, shovel, window scraper and winter gear.
  • Allow for extra traveling time. Slow and steady wins the race in snow.  Go as fast as conditions allow.
  • Double your normal stopping distance. Take your normal stopping distance and double it.  You’ll need extra space to stop when the roads are wet and slippery.
  • Never stop on a hill or on a sharp curve. Stopping in a blind spot for other motorists is a sure way to ask for trouble. If your vehicle can’t make it up a hill, take a detour so you can take a flatter route to your destination.
  • Don’t mash the gas. Avoid sudden accelerations as much as possible so you don’t fishtail or slide into the path of oncoming traffic or into the ditch.

If your car does venture off the road you need a tow, call Tire-rifik at 920-261-8111. We’ll tow you out, so you can be on your way—and ready to face the Wisconsin snow on the roads another day.

What to Do If Your Car Is In the Ditch

20150126_115203Found yourself in a precarious, unintentional off-the-road winter adventure? Even the most experienced and careful driver can end up in one of our Dodge or Jefferson County ditches during our Wisconsin winters. And though we’d all like to stay inside during our frequent snow falls, a lot of us don’t have that option. So what do you do when your car leaves the road during our dicey winter weather?

  1. Take a deep breath. Stay calm. Use the shovel your car emergency kit to try to dig your car out. If there is no way you’re going to be able to drive out of that ditch, proceed to step 2.
  2. Call Tire-rifik at 920-261-8111 for a tow truck. Figure out your exact location, and any landmarks that would help a tow truck driver find you. Then call Tire-rifik to get a tow truck to get you out of the ditch as soon as possible.
  3. Assess the damage. Don’t just assume that you can just drive away. Check your car over for damage—not just dents and dings, but ensure that no suspension parts are bent or broken, that your steering wheel stays straight when you try to drive straight and that there are no puddles under your car.
  4. If there is damage, don’t get it towed home. If you can’t fix your car yourself, tow the car to a local repair shop with mechanics you trust to minimize the cost of the tow.
  5. Call Tire-rifik and ask for a quote. Get a quote on the damage before you contact your insurance. If the cost of the repairs is less than your deductible, it doesn’t make sense to contact your insurance company. For example, if the repairs are $500 and you have a $1,000 deductible, you would pay the whole cost of the repair whether your insurance gets involved or not.
  6. Get your car repaired, and look into ways to stay out of the ditch. Once your car is repaired, look into snow tires for your car. While snow tires can’t help on icy roads, they can give you more traction during our frequent Wisconsin snow falls.

Schedule an appointment to get your battery checked so you don’t get stranded on the side of the road. These simple steps will get you back on the road—and keep you on the road—through our long Wisconsin winter.

Must-Haves for your Car Emergency Kit

winterize_watertownNot planning on breaking down or getting stuck during our Wisconsin winter? No one does, but it’s best to prepared for when (not if, but when) you are stranded with a broken down car. Start by purchasing a plastic container or box to store these items in:

  • Roadside assistance card or tow truck phone number. Don’t be left scrambling trying to find the number at the last minute. Program these numbers into your cell phone, and carry your card in your purse or wallet. Add a copy of your card to your emergency kit.
  • Flashlight. Make sure you test the flashlight from time to time, and that the batteries are still strong. You never know when you need a flashlight, and you don’t want to be left in the dark.
  • Blanket. Pack a warm, thick blanket that can keep you and your family warm when you are stranded.
  • Jack and lug wrench. Most cars come with a jack and lug wrench for changing a tire, but some of the smaller, more compact car models do not. Make sure you have everything you need when you have a flat tire.
  • Jumper cables. Wisconsin winters seem to bring out the worst in car batteries (find out why in our recent post). Carry a set of jumper cables all year long, as summer is actually the worst time of year for weak car batteries.
  • Boots. Ever tried to shovel out your car with soaking wet shoes on? Not pleasant. Pack an old, waterproof pair of boots that you can use in case you get stuck.
  • Snow shovel. Be prepared for the inevitable snow that comes with our Wisconsin winter, and the winter driving that comes with it. A foldable or small shovel is handy for digging your car out of a full day of snow, or cleaning out around when your tires when you go off the road.
  • First aid kit. Wisconsin winters are slippery, and sometimes—any time of the year—people get sick. Always carry a small first aid kit with you for those just-in-case times, and make sure a pair of plastic gloves is included so you don’t come in contact with other people’s body fluids.
  • Rags and hand sanitizer. Working on your car can be dirty, so carry a few clean rags and small bottle of hand sanitizer so you can clean your hands when done.

Make sure you know how to use jumper cables (for step-by-step instructions click here) and change a tire. Next, schedule an appointment so experienced auto mechanics can make sure your car is ready for winter driving or that long trip to Grandma’s. Test your tires to see if they can make it another season, and you’re ready to hit the road safely and prepared.

Winter Driving Tips

winterize_watertownWhether you want it or not, Wisconsin winters bring snow, arctic cold and winter driving—a challenge for even the most experienced driver. Don’t just tackle those roads head-on. A preventive maintenance check-up for your car, and a short crash course on winter driving, is the most effective way to get through the roughest Wisconsin winter roads:

Have your vehicle checked before you brave through the snow. Even if your vehicle is well maintained, chances are your vehicle needs an inexpensive tune-up to get through our Wisconsin wintery roads.

Know the thickness of your brakes and tires. These are two of the most important systems in your car for winter driving. Extra traction and thick pads are vital when driving during the most challenging winter storms.

Always carry a cell phone and emergency kit. Be prepared for an emergency breakdown or to dig out. Never leave home without a cell phone, emergency kit, shovel, window scraper and winter gear.

Allow for extra traveling time. Slow and steady wins the race in snow.  Go as fast as conditions allow.

Double your normal stopping distance. Take your normal stopping distance and double it.  You’ll need extra space to stop when the roads are wet and slippery.

Never stop on a hill or on a sharp curve. Stopping in a blind spot for other motorists is a sure way to ask for trouble. If your vehicle can’t make it up a hill, take a detour so you can take a flatter route to your destination.

Don’t mash the gas. Avoid sudden accelerations as much as possible so you don’t fishtail or slide into the path of oncoming traffic or into the ditch.

If you want extra traction when navigating on the snowy roads, purchase snow tires for your vehicle. Constructed with a softer compound and tread pattern designed specifically for getting through winter precipitation, snow tires can dig down and find traction on even the roughest roads. The snow is here, so don’t delay. Make an appointment to get five vital parts of your vehicle checked so you can survive our Wisconsin winter roads.

5 Parts of Your Car to Have Inspected Before Driving to Grandma’s

winterize_watertownThe holidays are here, and you’re headed to Grandma’s for a mouth-watering holiday dinner. You packed your emergency winter kit, a snow shovel, and a bag of salt for traction. You even invested in snow tires. You feel like you can handle any winter driving emergency. But is your car ready for the long trip?

Even if you keep your car in tip-top shape, chances are your car needs a bit of “tuning” by an auto mechanic to make sure it’s ready to traverse our Midwestern snowy roads. This short check-up is affordable, and ensures that the major systems of your car are ready for winter driving:

  1. Brakes. Winter driving involves extensive stopping, and you don’t want your brakes to go out when you need them the most. Have your brakes inspected to make sure you have enough pad thickness for confident stopping, and your brakes are engaging evenly.
  2. Tires. If you’ve decided snow tires are right for you, contact a mechanic about mounting the new tires. If you’re keeping your existing all-season tires on the car, have a mechanic check the tread wear indicators (one of the signs you need new tires), or check them yourself. When you put a penny in the tread of your tires, you shouldn’t be able to see all of Lincoln’s head. If you can, it’s time for new tires that can battle through the snow.
  3. Battery (and battery connections). Don’t know why winter is so hard on batteries? Read our recent blog post, and have your battery tested by a mechanic. An experienced mechanic can also inspect your battery connections and clean off any corrosion or rust.
  4. Headlights. You need to be able to see the road, right? Headlights are inexpensive and essential for every Wisconsin driver.
  5. Windshield wipers. Don’t make Grandma worry about you because you went into the ditch due to poor visibility. Windshield wipers make a big difference when you need to clean off all the snow piling up on your windshield.

As long as you have your car in the shop, have your mechanic also check your fluid levels and radiator fluid. You’ll need a full tank of windshield washer so you can have a clean windshield on your trip. And with the freezing temperatures, you don’t want a radiator full of water to freeze and causes an expensive repair.

Don’t procrastinate about getting your car into the shop for a winter tune up. Make an appointment as soon as possible. Wisconsin auto repair shops are busy this time of year, preparing cars for upcoming holiday travel and winter driving. Your car appreciates the check-up, and your family will appreciate not worrying about whether your car can make the holiday drive.