Prepare your vehicle for the winter with this simple maintenance checklist. These steps will help you be better prepared for unexpected cold weather and winter mishaps.
Winter Vehicle Checklist
TIRE DEPTH, WEAR & TREAD
The condition of your tires’ tread directly affects whether your safety in winter conditions. Tires start to lose traction and resistance to hydroplaning with as much as 4/32” tread remaining. Check your tread depth and wear patterns – properly wearing tires maintain a smooth tread across the face with consistent tread depths across the entire width. Uneven wear of the tread can signal alignment or suspension problems – if you find uneven wear have the alignment and suspension checked by a professional. You’ll also need to check your tire pressure (including your spare) and set them to the pressures listed on the decal attached to your driver’s door or door frame. A 10 degree Fahrenheit drop in temperature causes a 1 psi pressure drop and under-inflated tires can cause damage to the sidewalls and increased wear on the tread shoulders. If you drive often in snow consider installing a set of winter traction tire, visit our Winter Tires FAQ.
Vibration and heat are the two biggest factors for battery damage and often you won’t notice the damage until trying to start your vehicle on a cold, winter morning. Schedule one of our professional Battery Service Technicians to come out and check your battery and starting system or get a quote for a new battery and have us install it.
LIGHTER WEIGHT OIL
Oil thickens in colder temperatures, consider having a lighter weight oil installed during the winter, especially if temperatures are below 32 degrees. This will ease some of the burden on your battery to start your car.
All coolants require a specific dilution rate with water to provide maximum protection from freezing and overheating. Inspect your coolant reserve bottle – is the fluid clear? Is it maintaining level? Cloudy coolant or dropping levels can signal problems with your cooling system. You can have it inspected by a repair professional before the temperature drops and potentially causes major damage to your engine.
LIGHTS AND WIPERS
With longer nights and less visibility, it’s imperative that you make sure your lights and wipers are in working order. Many light bulbs are easily replaced but be sure to consult your owner’s manual or schedule a professional to look. It’s important to also restore clouded headlamp lenses to increase visibility. Finally, keep your wipers clean and use a winterized washer solution to avoid damage from freezing.
CHECK YOUR VEHICLE’S DRIVE SYSTEM
If your vehicle has all wheel drive or part time four wheel drive confirm the drive system is working correctly (do not check this on dry roads as you may damage the drive system). In a safe place (big parking lots work great for this) with slick surfaces accelerate moderately and see if any driven wheels spin or if any wheels that should be driven fail to spin. Make sure you can engage and disengage four wheel drive on part time systems. If you find any problems have your drive system diagnosed by a repair professional before you need to depend on those systems to keep you safe.
KEEP YOUR FUEL TANK FULL
Winter temperature swings can lead to water vapor condensing in your fuel tank. Avoid this damage by keeping your fuel tank above mid-level and filling it before any long trips.
CLEAN YOUR UNDERCARRIAGE
Road salt and de-icing solutions can get trapped under a vehicle’s undercarriage and cause damage. Take your car through a car wash with an undercarriage spray soon after driving on roads with de-icer. A good coat of wax will also help your car resist damage
CHECK DOOR LATCHES & LOCKS
Locks and latch mechanisms (even electric) can freeze in very cold weather. Lubricate door lock cylinders with graphite and door hinges & latches with white lithium grease. Wet a rag with silicone spray and wipe down door, hood, and trunk weather strips. Spraying silicone in door windows also helps avoid the window freezing
KEEP AN EMERGENCY KIT IN YOUR VEHICLE
Last but not least, this should be on every winter vehicle checklist. Being stranded during the summer is no fun but being stuck in the winter can be life threatening. Winter weather events push a spike in requests for AAA assistance and can lead to delays in providing roadside service. Be prepared by maintaining an emergency kit in your vehicle. Besides the usual roadside emergency items (jumper cables, flares or emergency reflectors, gloves, flashlight, etc) keep a supply of water, high calorie snacks, warm clothing or a blanket, sand or kitty litter, and a shovel in your car to be prepared for winter storms. Also consider keeping a jump box in your car – the latest ones can fit in your glovebox and can jump your car or recharge your cell phone several times over. Many AAA service centers carry emergency kits for your car, stop in and get yours.