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5 Winter Car Maintenance Tips

I’ve lived in the Midwest nearly my entire life. Yet, I still get nervous when it comes to driving in the snow.

Ice, rain, snow, and freezing temperatures can wreak havoc on me, the roads, and my car. It’s not practical to stay inside all winter (or so I’m told), so I follow a few winter car maintenance tips to make sure I’m as safe as I can be when on the road by myself or with my family.

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Not only are these tips practical, but proper maintenance can go a long way to help preserve the investment in your vehicle.

Top Winter Car Maintenance Tips to Keep you Safe on the Road This Winter

1. Switch your Engine Oil.

A pair of hands holds an oil dipstick with hood of car open

Engine oil lubricates the engine so it functions properly, but not all oil is created equal. I live in Ohio, where it’s not unheard of for winter temperatures to dip well below freezing. During the winter months, I use 5W-30 instead of 10W-30 which is better in frigid temperatures.

Of course, you’ll want to consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual or talk to your mechanic before making changes.

2. Check the battery.

Take a look at your battery cables, terminals, and fluid and look for anything abnormal. If you’re not sure what to look for, consider driving to a battery retailer for a complimentary car battery assessment. Cold weather can zap a battery and you don’t want to get stranded.

Man's hands hold jumper cables about to jump a battery under the hood of a car.

We invested in this to make sure we don’t have issues, especially when we travel.

3. Keep an eye on your engine coolant. 

Your vehicle can still overheat, even if it is cold outside. Ask your mechanic to change your coolant to one with antifreeze properties to guard against corrosion and ensure your vehicle doesn’t overheat.

Tip: When checking the engine coolant, ask your mechanic to top off your window washer fluid at the same time so you don’t suffer from reduced visibility. When snow mixes with dirt and salt from the roads, it can drastically reduce your ability to see the roads.

4. Get a grip on tire safety.

a hand holds a tire gauge up to tire stem to check tire pressure

Good tires are critical to safe winter driving. Each tire should have an adequate amount of tread to safely pull through the snow, stop safely and reduce slipping and sliding as much as possible. If you have a penny, you can see if your tires pass the tread test. Hold a penny head down in the center tread on your tires. If you see the top of Lincoln’s head, it’s time for new tires.

Tire tip: Make sure your tires are also properly inflated to ensure optimal handling, safety, and fuel efficiency. These are handy to have, only cost a couple of dollars and come in a pack of two or three so you can have one for each vehicle if you own more than one.

5. Treat your vehicle to a car wash and establish a car wash routine.

Ice, salt, and sand on the road can lead to vehicle corrosion. Before the first snow, treat your vehicle to a car wash and get a fresh coat of wax. Vehicular corrosion occurs most quickly when the temperatures rise and fall below freezing.

Beyond Car Maintenance – a Couple additional Tips

Many new vehicle purchases and insurance plans now offer roadside assistance. While it’s never a bad idea to have, it’s especially helpful during the winter months. If you don’t have a policy in place, consider purchasing a family roadside assistance plan, especially if you have new or elderly drivers in the home.

You never want to think you may get stuck, but it doesn’t hurt to prepare just in case. Pack a bag with a flashlight, roadside flares, bottled water, granola bars or canned food with an opener, blanket, and portable charger to keep your cell phone charged. If you don’t have cell coverage, consider purchasing a pay-as-you-go plan for inclement weather.

If you have car problems or slide off the road due to weather conditions and it’s unsafe to go for help, you’ll be as comfortable as you can be until help arrives.

What winter car maintenance tips do you practice to make sure your vehicle is ready for winter driving?

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