Winter storms can be treacherous for drivers. Slick roads, poor visibility, and extreme cold can make even a routine drive dangerous. Preparing your car properly before a winter storm hits can give you peace of mind and help ensure safety on the road. Follow this winter car care checklist and you’ll be ready to take on whatever Old Man Winter throws your way.
Check Tires and Tire Pressure
• Inspect all tires, including the spare, for adequate tread depth—replace any that are worn. The minimum recommend tread depth for winter driving is 4/32 of an inch. More is better.
• Check tire pressures. Make sure they’re set to the vehicle manufacturer's recommended inflation pressure, which is usually located on a sticker inside the driver's side door or in the owner's manual. Properly inflated tires will give you better winter traction.
• Consider special winter or all-season tires. These provide exceptional cold-weather performance over summer tires in snow and ice conditions.
Top Off Fluids
• Engine oil: Helps the engine turn over easily in cold weather. Check the dipstick and top it off if low.
• Coolant: Prevents engine freeze up and allows heat to flow from the engine to warm the interior. Should be filled to the “Full” line on the reservoir.
• Gas tank: Always keep the tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up.
• Washer fluid: Fill with no-freeze washer fluid. This will prevent ice from forming on the windshield.
Inspect Battery and Cables
• Cold weather is hard on car batteries. Have the battery tested to ensure it can hold a full charge. Replace if necessary.
• Check cable connections for corrosion and tighten if needed so power can flow freely between the battery and starter.
• Clean corroded battery terminals with a wire brush to optimize electrical flow.
Check Wipers and Defrosters
• Make sure all defrosters and heating system components work properly. Running the air conditioner for a few minutes in defrost mode helps ensure proper lubrication of seals to prevent cracking.
• Examine windshield wiper blades and replace any that appear worn, twisted, or otherwise damaged. Refill wiper fluid reservoir with winter formula fluid.
Prepare an Emergency Kit
In case you get stranded or stuck, every vehicle should carry a winter storm emergency kit including:
• Flashlight with extra batteries
• Jumper cables
• Basic toolkit
• First aid kit
• Extra hats, socks, mittens
• Bag of abrasive material (sand, salt, cat litter)
• Snacks and bottled water
• External phone charger/backup battery
Practice Cold Weather Driving
• During the first snowstorm, practice stopping and turning in an empty lot to reacquaint yourself with how your vehicle handles on snow and ice. Turn slowly to avoid skids.
• Increase following distance from other vehicles 8-10 seconds to allow for extra stopping time.
• Know what to do if you begin to slide. Take your foot off the gas and steer gently in the direction you want the front of the car to go.
By inspecting your vehicle, replenishing fluids, testing the battery, ensuring good visibility, and preparing an emergency kit before winter storms hit, you can drive with confidence no matter what kind of punch Old Man Winter throws your way this year. Stay safe out there!