Winter Vehicle Safety Checklist

Winter had a late start in the Northeast, but is in full swing. If you procrastinated, here’s a review on what to do to make sure your vehicle can handle the cold temperatures and icy and slushy roads and help keep you and your family safe during the winter months.

Check the tire pressure and consider snow tires.
Tire pressure is especially important during the winter, as a properly inflated tire will help guarantee better traction in wet, snowy conditions. Make sure to read your owner’s manual to find the correct tire pressures. In addition, you may want to consider buying a set of snow tires. Especially if you live in an area that sees a lot of snow, they’ll do a much better job than the all-weather tires fitted to most cars.

Did you add cold-weather oil?
When the outside temperature changes, it will influence the internal temperature of your engine, so make sure you’re using the proper oil for the conditions. Since we live where temperatures get below freezing, you will want to switch over to thinner, less viscous oil. For instance, if you run 10W-40 grade oil in the summer, you may want to move to 5W-30 when changing your oil for the winter. Make sure to refer to your owner’s manual for vehicle-specific information.

Have your battery tested again.
A car battery can die without any notice. The late-season extreme cold temperatures can reduce a car’s battery life by up to 50 percent. Even if you had your battery tested earlier this winter, have your battery tested again by your local mechanic — especially if you have an older car. Also, make sure your battery connections are free of corrosion.

Inspect your windshield wiper blades and fluid.
Visibility while driving during winter months can be a great frustration. Precipitation and salt buildup on the windshield can play havoc while driving in winter weather. So make sure that you not only check the condition of your windshield wiper blades, but also consider changing your existing blades to versions that are made for the harsh winter weather. Also check and fill your wiper fluid reservoir. A harsh winter storm is the worst possible time to run out of wiper fluid.

Make sure the engine coolant has a cold-weather mixture.
A car’s coolant system is not only designed to keep your engine from overheating, but it’s also responsible for protecting it against corrosion. Before the weather gets too cold, make sure you are using coolant that has the proper mix of antifreeze and water. You can do this by purchasing a tester at your local auto parts store.

Keep an emergency kit in your car.
If you don’t already have an emergency kit in your car, consider putting together a few basics and stowing them in the trunk. Naturally, you’ll want to be sure your spare tire is in good shape with all the tools to change it out. But you might also want a few other emergency items in case you slide off the road and get stuck in a snow bank:

  • A flashlight, flares and first aid kit
  • A blanket, warm clothes and gloves
  • A radio
  • A bag of abrasive material like sand or kitty litter for when you get stuck
  • Extra windshield washer fluid
  • A brush or ice scraper
  • Extra coolant

When you take the time to plan ahead, you can make winterizing your vehicle an easy, annual ritual that will help keep you and your family safe on the road.

A warning about warming up your car!

Next time it snows and you have to shovel your vehicle out from the snow, make sure you clear snow from the back and the tail pipe is clear — especially before starting the car with people in it! Every year, tragedy strikes in the form of an odorless, colorless gas called carbon monoxide. People can pass out within minutes causing brain damage, or even die from CO inhalation.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include confused with shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, light headedness or headaches. So again, make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.

Also, a recent Good Morning America segment revealed an increase in vehicle thefts across the country of unlocked cars warming up without their owners in it. Police call these vehicles “puffers,” and car thieves call them easy pickings. So think twice before you leave your vehicle unlocked, unattended and running — it might not be there when you go back outside!

Sources: DMV.org, About.com, Edmunds.com