I had a customer ask me the other day how she could best prepare her car for winter.
I first thought this was quite a strange question, given that the Bay Area has been dealing with a drought. While we are lucky not to experience the -30 F temps – like those who live places like Chicago – many of us take road trips to Lake Tahoe and maybe Mammoth, so it is important to think about winter car preparation.
The most important considerations for winter car prep follow.
Make sure that your tires are in good condition and have plenty of tread for wet or freezing conditions. They must be all-season tires. If they will be used in the snow, look for an MS (mud and snow) rating.
Tread depth is important. There is a wear bar in the center of the tread. For the tire to perform properly in winter conditions, there should be 5 mm or more of tread from the wear bar.
Check the age of your tires – even if the tire has a lot of tread, the rubber might be old and cracking. The Department of Transportation date is on the side of all tires. It has four numbers: DOT 1012. The “10” stands for the week and the “12” for the year it was made. In this case, the tire was manufactured in the 10th week of 2012.
Make sure that your wiper blades are in good condition before winter arrives. Even though you may have changed your wiper blades last winter, the hot and dry summer may have dried out the rubber. Pour some rubbing alcohol on a tissue and wipe the length of the wiper blade to clean it. If you are traveling in cold or snowy conditions, be sure to get freeze protection wiper fluid.
Check to see if all the exterior lights are in working condition. If headlights are more than four years old, check their strength and alignment. If you have plastic headlight lenses and they have started to fade, the strength of the light is diminished. Most plastic headlight lenses can be refurbished at a cost much lower than buying new ones. If your car has fog lights, make sure that they are working correctly. We don’t get a lot of fog in this part of the Bay Area, so fog lights are among the most common things customers choose not to repair.
Most coolants (antifreeze) on today’s cars have a long life, but you still need to check them. It’s always a good idea to read the owner’s manual to find out when the coolant should be replaced.
Ensuring that your car is covered in these three areas – traction, visibility and freeze protection – should help make your winter driving less eventful.