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Winter can come with a few challenges, and no, we’re not talking about finding a new series to binge-watch! We’re talking about driving in snowy and icy conditions, which can impact some of your vehicle’s components and make driving much more difficult. However, with preparation and the right precautions, you can safely get from point A to point B in the winter.
The best way to be a safe driver and keep your vehicle running right during the colder months is to keep up with your vehicle manufacturer's recommended maintenance services, including specifications for proper radiator fluid, tires, and engine oil. Additionally, you’ll need to change some of your habits behind the wheel during the winter months. Here are a few tips to help keep you and your vehicle safely on the road during the colder months.
Coolant — also known as antifreeze or radiator fluid — is important in colder temperatures to protect the cooling system from freezing. This radiator fluid also runs through the heater core to warm the cabin, so the system needs to be full allowing you to stay warm and defrost the windshield.
Do-it-yourselfers should be aware that there are different formulations of coolant, and they don’t play well together. You want to use the correct type for your vehicle: getting this wrong and mixing different types may cause the fluid to thicken inside your engine and cooling system. Worse, getting the mess cleaned out of the engine, radiator, and heater core can be expensive. The correct radiator fluid type is listed in the vehicle owner’s manual.
If your vehicle’s cooling system hasn’t been serviced in a while, consider flushing out the old radiator fluid and replacing it with fresh fluid that meets your manufacturer’s specifications. You may also want to check if your hoses (radiator and heater) are adequate. Aged, brittle hoses may fail when subjected to wide swings in temperature.
According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), a battery that’s plenty strong at 60° F can have 35% less power at 32° F and 60% less at 0° F. All batteries are challenged by cold temperatures, so they need a reserve of energy to answer the call when you turn the key or push the start button. A weak battery may not have the extra poke to start a cold engine.
Take your vehicle to an automotive professional at the beginning of the season to ensure your battery has enough cranking power to get you through the winter. Cable connections that are clean of car battery corrosion help make the most of a cold battery’s weaker charge, so now is a good time to consider cleaning or, if necessary, replacing the battery terminals. Some batteries may need their fluid topped up, though the maintenance-free variety has become widespread. To minimize strain, start the vehicle with accessories like the heater fan, lights, and window defrosters turned off.
Your vehicle may have “all-weather” tires suitable for use in mild winter weather. If not, or if “mild” doesn’t describe the ferocity of winters where you drive, consider special winter (aka “snow”) tires. These tires are designed with snow/ice-gripping tread patterns and, more importantly, made of rubber compounds that maintain their grip even in low temperatures.
Whatever tires you use, they need to be inflated properly. Underinflated or worn tires can be dangerous on slick, icy roads. Underinflated tires create extra heat where the rubber meets the road, degrading the tire structure, wearing out the tread, and reducing traction. Properly inflated tires also provide better cushion between potholes and the tire rim, lessening the risk of wheel or alignment damage.
To help maintain proper traction, check your tire pressure regularly and inflate them to the recommended psi. This information is typically located in the vehicle owner's manual or on a sticker in the doorjamb, trunk, or glove box. Correct tire pressure is vehicle-specific, not tire-specific. The pressure listed on the tire's sidewall is the maximum level but may not be the level your vehicle's manufacturer recommends.
Wiper blades should glide smoothly across the windshield, so they do not leave streaks or blurry spots. If the cracked or worn blades of a worn wiper touch the glass, your view could be compromised. If cleaning the rubber portion of the blade doesn’t help, replacing them will. Special winter blades designed for use in heavy snow and ice are also available if you need them for where you live.
Windshield washer fluid is also critical for good visibility since it helps clear away ice, road grime, and dirt. Add more fluid when the reservoir is low, and consider using one rated for lower, subzero temperatures in particularly cold climates.
Keep these tips in mind to help ensure safety when you’re behind the wheel.
Clean Your Windows and Mirrors
Before you leave your driveway, scrape ice and snow from all windows and the exterior rearview mirrors, not just a small patch on the windshield. Conditions are likely to be treacherous, and you need to be able to see everything to respond appropriately in an emergency. Also, keep sunglasses in your vehicle. It may be cloudy now, but as the clouds clear, the glare of snow and ice can be a serious safety hazard, as can the sun itself since it’s lower in the sky during the winter than in the summer. Don’t forget to remove snow from headlights and brake lights — other people need to see you, too.
Maintain an Emergency Kit
A properly packed emergency kit is always essential but especially during the winter. It should contain a flashlight, extra batteries, water, flares, blankets, a shovel, a snowbrush, an ice scraper, and tire chains (if allowed where you live).
Ensure Your Gas Tank Is Half-Full
Ensure your gas tank is at least half full. Water vapor can condense on the inner walls of an empty fuel tank overnight in freezing weather and drip into the gas. Your fuel system can deal with a little water, but a lot mixed in with a bit of gas can make the vehicle run rough, or not at all, if the water freezes in the fuel lines. So, consider the half-full mark “empty” in winter to avoid this issue. The extra gas also adds weight over the nearest axle (usually the rear), which can aid winter traction.
Understand How to Brake Properly on Snow and Ice
Driving on snow and ice is significantly different from driving on dry roads. The key to safe driving in these conditions is to brake early and gently and keep your movements smooth and steady. On dry roads, you can brake harder and later because the friction between your tires and the road is higher. However, on snow and ice, this friction is greatly reduced, which can cause your vehicle to skid if you brake too hard or too late.
If your vehicle is equipped with an Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), you should apply steady pressure to the brake pedal during a stop. An ABS is designed to prevent wheel lock-up, allowing you to maintain steering control while braking.
Need to flush your radiator fluid? Change tires? Replace your battery? Stop by your local Jiffy Lube®. No matter what car maintenance service you choose, trained technicians will help prepare your vehicle for the winter roads and service it according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
NOTE: Not all services are offered at all Jiffy Lube service centers. Please call ahead or check jiffylube.com to ensure the service is available at the Jiffy Lube location near you.