Winter is here, and that often comes with lots of unpredictable driving weather. But never fear: Your car’s most common winter enemies—low temperatures, snow, ice, slush, and rain—are no match for these winterization tips from AAA’s team of ASE-certified master technicians.
Tip 1: Tackle existing problems with a pre-season tuneup.
Worn tires, mysterious dashboard warnings, and chipped or missing taillights are all fairly easy problems to overlook when the weather is nice. But as temps take a dip, those once minor inconveniences can suddenly take on a new—and potentially dangerous—meaning.
“Winter can really exacerbate any problem your car is having,” says AAA Car Care District Director Enrique Sanders. “That’s why it’s so important to have a trusted mechanic check your engine compartment, tires, battery, belts, hoses, wipers, and fluids to make sure your entire vehicle is road ready. The last thing we want is for drivers to discover a problem when they’re on the road in the middle of a freezing rain or snow situation.”
Tip 2: Make visibility checks part of your routine.
As Sanders points out, small summertime annoyances can become major winter fiascos—and that includes visibility conditions on dark and icy roadways. But making sure you can see (and that other drivers can see you) doesn’t require a trip to the mechanic. All it takes is incorporating a few simple habits.
- Before hitting the road, clear any dashboard and backseat clutter that could obstruct your view, and give your windshield and wiper blades a quick once-over.
- If you wear prescription glasses, make sure they’re on your face or within easy reach of the steering wheel at all times while driving.
- While stopping for gas, take 90 seconds to squeegee excess grime from windows and exterior lights.
Tip 3: Always carry these winter driving essentials.
Most drivers know to stash a spare tire kit, ice scraper, and umbrella in the car year-round. But winter driving often comes with unforeseen challenges. For starters, it’s the busiest time of year for roadside emergency response teams, which can mean longer wait times if your car breaks down or gets stuck in the snow.
“Gloves, blankets, road flares, a first-aid kit, and a flashlight are also essential for winter driving, and it never hurts to bring a little food and water,” says Sanders. “If you’ll be driving long distances, we also recommend carrying a small shovel and a bag of sand or kitty litter to provide traction in the event you need to dig your car out of a snowy rut or embankment.”
Tip 4: Give your tires extra TLC in winter.
If you’re already getting your tires checked, repaired, or replaced before the start of winter weather, you’re ahead of the game! But your great habits shouldn’t end there. Having your tires rotated and checking for proper inflation throughout the season will ensure smooth and safe driving all winter long. In addition, always take a quick glance at your tires before driving to check for low air pressure or visible damage.
“Cold weather causes tires to lose pressure at a rate of one pound per square inch, or PSI, for every 10-degree drop in temperature,” Sanders says. “Since this can negatively impact both the lifespan of your tires and your car’s overall safety and performance, we recommend checking tire pressure at least once per month using a simple tire gauge after your car has completely cooled from driving.
The experts at cars.com recommend 32-35 PSI for most standard vehicle tires. But when in doubt, Sanders says, you can always refer to your owner’s manual or the placard inside the driver’s side door to find exact manufacturer recommendations for your vehicle.