Use the AAA Winter Checklist and keep your car safe all season.
The leaves are changing, the temperatures are falling, and winter is just around the corner. To help you get ready, the automotive pros at AAA have created a winter weather checklist to prepare your car for the hardships of cold weather driving.
Most vehicles today only need a minimal amount of maintenance, but it is important to follow the recommended service schedule outlined in your owner’s manual. By having your car checked regularly, you can catch and prevent issues, avoid damage, improve your gas mileage, reduce pollution, and ensure your family’s safety throughout fall and winter.
If you feel confident, you can perform a basic seasonal maintenance inspection yourself. Refer to your owner’s manual for specific information about your vehicle, and follow the instructions carefully to avoid making a mistake that damages your car. Most drivers can follow the Normal Vehicle Use maintenance schedule, but if you use your vehicle for heavy cargo transport or in extreme environmental conditions, look for the section that outlines maintenance for Severe Vehicle Use.
Four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive vehicles often have additional maintenance recommendations, so consult your owner’s manual for more information if you drive one of these types of cars. For example, it’s crucial to keep tires on all-wheel drive vehicles the exact same size to avoid ruining the drive system. Review your owner’s manual for other important maintenance checks.
Winter Car Checklist
To prepare your vehicle for winter, AAA suggests the following safety checks. These recommendations apply to most vehicles on the road today. Please refer to your owner’s manual for specific information about your vehicle.
- Check for the correct antifreeze and water mix percentage in the radiator. If the fluid in the cooling system freezes, it will cause irreparable engine damage. Since you’ll need to open the cooling system, wait until the engine is completely cool – preferably letting it rest overnight. Test the mixture using an inexpensive coolant mixture strength tool that you can buy at any auto parts supply store, and look for a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water.
- Check the vehicle’s electrical components, including the exterior lights, the front and rear window wipers/washers, the defrost system, the rear fog, the turn and brake lights, and the instrument panel lights. This is also a good time to test vehicle comfort systems like the seat adjustment controls and the air conditioning system, since using air conditioning in conjunction with defrosting is the fastest way to clear the windows.
- Check your tires. Old or worn tires can be unsafe on the road, especially in slick or wet winter conditions. Since a tire inspection is best performed by lifting your vehicle, head for an AAA Approved mechanic or your local tire shop for assistance. Your service shop should check both the tire condition and air pressure. If you’re checking the air pressure yourself, look for correct pressure values for your vehicle. You’ll find them inside one of the door jams, on the back of the glove box lid, on the sun visor, or in your owner’s manual. Please note, if you choose to use studded tires, they are only legal to use between November 1st March 31st.
- Check your battery. Cooler temperatures can affect a weak or poorly-maintained battery. This can cause it to fail or put excessive strain on your alternator, drive belt, or starter. As a AAA member, you’re entitled to a complimentary battery check by one of our trained technicians. Just call the number on your member card and a battery technician will come out to check your battery and alternator performance and let you know if you need a recharge or a replacement. This free service is not considered a service call. It’s just one more way that AAA works to keep you safe on the road.
Talk to the professionals
If you don’t feel comfortable making these safety checks yourself, you can schedule a maintenance inspection at your local repair shop but if you don’t already have one, AAA can help you. Just log on to AAA.com and look for a listing under Automotive Services, call or drop by any AAA service Center, or ask the operator when you call the 800 number on your membership card.
Rest assured that every shop we recommend to our Members has been verified. They have the equipment and the certified technicians trained to work on today’s high tech vehicles. You can trust these shops to provide the same exceptional service that you expect from AAA. Just scroll to the bottom of this page for a list of shops near you.
Prepare a car emergency kit
AAA recommends you create an emergency kit and keep it in a bag or backpack in the trunk of your car. Include the following basic items, but be sure to consider any additional items related to your family’s specific needs.
- A warm blanket
- Extra clothing, including boots and gloves
- Bottled water
- Non-perishable food, like hard candies and nutrition bars
- A small supply of necessary medications
- Pet supplies (food, treats) if applicable
- An ice scraper
- A small shovel
- A flashlight
- Windshield washer fluid
- Matches and flares
- Jumper cables
- A basic tool kit, including a sharp knife and electrical tape
- Tire chains or cables
- A filled spare tire, changing equipment, and compressed air
- A first-aid kit with tourniquet and splint
- Paper towels
- A bag of kitty litter or sand to use for traction
- A small, type ABC fire extinguisher. It’s also important that you learn how to use it.
- A paper map in case you lose data signal or can’t see snow-covered signs
With a little preparation, you’ll be ready for cold, wet, or even snowy conditions. We hope that you have a safe and trouble-free winter season and remember that we’re here to assist you 24/7. And check out other resources on our Winter Prep page.