Prepare Your Car for Winter

Winter Preparations

Ah, winter! A season of mixed experiences from winter magic to difficult weather conditions.  The magical brilliance of a crisp, winter day which can melt into dangerous, icy conditions.  You have to prepare for everything to ensure the optimal safety conditions for you and your travel companions.

Because I’ll continue my wandering (aka, weekend drives) in the winter, I want to make sure my car is ready.  So I start my car maintenance and preparations in the Fall.  See my Fall Car Maintenance 10 steps to see how I start the transition from summer fun to cold weather preparations.  I try to spread the work-load out over several months, so that by the time the first snow flakes are falling, I’m 90% prepared and only need to do last-minute restocking.

Once the golden days of autumn slip into the icy winter conditions – I make an extra effort for safety, with a pinch of survival preparation.

Due to where I live, I most likely won’t be going on long, lonely drives into abandoned areas during the worst of winter weather. So the chance of being isolated and alone is limited. However, if I find myself in a precarious situation, I want to make sure that I keep myself and my passengers as safe and comfortable as possible.

The goal is to adopt safety and survival preparedness to ensure everyone is able to come home with only an adventurous tale to tell.

1. Safety Preparations

  • Safety is priority, both in inventory, supplies, and actions
    • Learn how to drive safely in wet and slippery conditions
    • Read how to handle road-side survival situations
    • Stock up your inventory and prepare your vehicle before something goes wrong. Preparation is key!
    • Create a Car Safety kit
    • Create a Person Safety kit
    • Join a reliable car club / service to help with road side services or towing

2. All-Weather floor mats

If you do not use all weather mats on the floors for your vehicle during summer, now is the time to bring these mats out of storage and get them ready to be installed in the car.  Leaves, snow (and eventually salt) will be pulled into the car by everyone’s shoes for the next several months. Protect those rugs and clean the car easier.

3. Check Fluids, Belts and Hoses

Perform basic vehicle maintenance and inspection before the worst of winter hits your region.
  • Check your vehicle’s fluid levels, belts, and hoses
    • Perhaps have your mechanic give a quick inspection during your next oil change
  • Add anti-freeze to your fluids

4. Check Tires

Swap basic tires for snow-tires if your region calls for such weather conditions.  Also add snow-chains to your car’s inventory (again, if your destination or home region experience weather that requires this consideration).
Inspect your tires and ensure they are still safe to drive
  • Use the coin test to see if the tread is still good, and check the tire pressure
    • If your tread is too thin, you will have trouble stopping in time with wet conditions
  • Changing temperatures will affect your tire’s pressure, so you may need to adjust more frequently – do you have an air compressor to do this yourself?
  • Now might also be a good time to rotate the tires
  • If your winters are aggressive, plan to swap out your regular tires with your snow-tires
  • If your tire is old, damaged, or thin tread, consider replacing
  • Inspect and fill your SPARE TIRE! Often neglected until needed, make sure this tire is up to the task and ready for use

5. Change Filters

If this wasn’t done in the Fall maintenance, the next time you change your oil, change the car’s air filter and the (interior) cabin air filter.

6. Check Lights

With the diminished daylight hours, you will be using your vehicle’s lights more.
  • Check all of your exterior lights.
    • If one of your bulbs is out (or dim), replace the pair at the same time
  • Also check your interior lights
  • Check the open-door safety lights on the door

7. Check Battery

This is another task I perform during the autumn months. But if you have not already inspected your battery, do so now.  The cold weather will strain your battery.
  • Look for corrosion
  • How old is your battery? Should it be replaced?
    • TIP:  Local automotive stores may also provide a free battery check as well
  • Ensure you have jumper cables in your vehicle

Battery Jump Starter:

Consider purchasing a battery jump starter that you can charge and store in your vehicle. Use this to jump-start the car if the battery dies. This is extremely important if you plan to drive to remote locations and there is a slim chance of a kind stranger giving you a jump.  Even if you don’t use it to jump start your car, it should have enough of a charge to ensure your phone remains charged in case of emergency.

There are battery-jump-starters which include an air-compressor that you can use to fill a flat tire. These tend to be larger, so shop around and see if this will fit in your car. If you can fit this into your vehicle, then you have a multi-use solution for tires, battery, and emergency cell phone charger.

I have one that I use for very long or remote trips. But in winter, I’ll charge up this battery and keep in my car any time I hear inclement weather is approaching. It will be my back-up equipment in case something goes wrong.

8. Check Wipers / Clean Wipers

This is another task I perform during the fall. But with the winter months coming, a quick check never hurts!  It takes less than five minutes and you can plan to replace them as needed
  • Are your wipers still performing well?
  • Are there cracks, fraying strips, or breaks?
  • If you tug gently, do they feel secure?
  • If your winters are snow-heavy, plan to replace your normal wipers with heavier, snow & ice wipers

Clean the blades if you find them streaking slightly but still functional:

  • Lift the blades off of the window
  • Use warm, soapy water on a rag; clean the blades
  • When the blades dry, use a lint free cloth and rubbing alcohol and wipe the blade edge
  • After fully dried, return blades to their position against the windshield glass
  • Purchase or order new blades and a rear-window blade for the eventual Spring Maintenance cycle

9. Check Heat and Defrosters

This is usually a task I perform during the fall maintenance cycle.  If this hasn’t been done yet, get these critical items checked and repaired (if necessary) before dangerous weather arrives.
  • Check the vehicle’s heating system and ensure it works
    • Everyone wants to be toasty warm on a magical winter drive
  • Does the heat blow in the back vents?  We don’t want our guests freezing
  • Check that the defrosters work for both the front and rear windows (safety, safety, safety!)

10. Check Brakes

Have your brakes checked.  Safety is crucial, and the upcoming weather will add increased risks.  Ensure your brakes (and tires) are ready for the seasonal change.  I’ll make sure that I schedule a spa day for my vehicle before the holidays!  😄

Vehicle Winter Inventory List

Winter inventory items to have in your car during the winter season:

  • Battery jump starter for your car (see about getting one with an air compressor built into it as well)
    • Keep it charged and ready.  If your battery dies while you are in a remote location on a blisteringly cold day, that jump starter will be critical to getting yourself to safety
    • Make sure you have your jumper cables available in case your battery dies and someone is able to give you a jump
  • Air Compressor & Flat Tire fixer
    • Have a tire air compressor available that can plug into your car’s power outlet (see about a multi-purpose battery jump unit which provides an air compressor) which lets you refill a flattened tire
  • Small, foldable camp shovel
    • Good for shoveling out on snowy days, or random fossil hunting opportunities in the summer  😋
  • Replace your flashlight’s batteries
    • Keep batteries fresh
    • Consider adding small pen lights to each of the doors in your car – in case you and your traveling guests need to use them should you decide to go ghost hunting at the last minute
  • Refresh your car’s basic safety inventory:
    • Flares, reflectors
    • Electric tape, Duct tape
    • Strong cord/twine
    • Workgloves
    • Toolkit
      • Check your took kit; replace any lost or missing items
    • Tire chains for snow (if weather requires this)
    • Traction aid treads
    • Small fuel can

Prepare yourself for colder weather

I start this process in the fall season, and by the time winter arrives my car’s inventory and supplies have been refreshed and shifted from summer to winter.

Personal Seasonal Shift:

  • Inspect and refresh your car inventory, such as the first aid kit, wet wipes, notepad, pens, fem hygiene products, etc.
  • Add lap throws and shawls to the car for cooler evenings and lap coverings. These are great for kids who fall asleep in the back of the car
    • In winter, I add at least two thick throw blankets to the car so that guests and wrap up while traveling.
    • Kids can drape themselves in these blankets when going on cold-weather adventures
  • If you have COLD evenings, add extra socks, gloves, scarves, and wool caps as emergency supplies
  • Sunglasses
    • Winter sun glare can be brutal on the eyes, especially if it snowed
  • Restock your lip moisturizing inventory (gels, creams, wax sticks, etc.). Grab a few spares for traveling guests, especially the little ones.
    • Remember, don’t share these with multiple people. Give the items away as needed.
  • Update fragrance in vehicle – bring on the winter fragrances!
  • Add face and hand lotion. Cold weather does a number to your cheeks and hands
  • TIP: small travel jars of Vaseline can serve as both lip moisturizer and as emergency protection from windburn.  This is another good item to keep in your glovebox during winter months.
  • Water bottles and shelf-stable snacks
    • This becomes more important during winter in case you get stuck somewhere – make sure you have water and food
    • Keep fresh water in the car at all times. But if you know the temps will drop enough to freeze the water, empty a bit of the water out to allow the ice to expand without bursting the cap off the bottle.
These are my preparations for winter, especially winter road trips.  I’m lucky and grateful that I rarely need such drastic preparations. But the rare times I was in trouble, I learned my lessons and now make preparations to ensure I’m better prepared.
What tips and tricks do you use to prepare your car and your guests for a winter drive?

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