Are you ready for your family holiday vacation? According to AAA, 84 million people will take road trips between Christmas and New Year's this year. And this time of year means freezing temperatures, snow, and ice for most of the country. So have you winterized your car yet? In case you forgot to prep your wheels in October (when the weather was oh-so nice), we've got tips on how to avoid and deal with what winter's got in store for your car.
Step 1: Prepare Your Car
Change Your Oil
Oil varies in viscosity, or flow property. Thick oil flows like sludge, thin oil moves like maple syrup. The "10W30" on an oil refers to the flow rate; the lower the number, the thinner the oil. In winter, low temperatures lower the flow rate of oil, so you might consider using a less viscous oil, such as 5W30 — such as a quart of this Castrol GTX 5W-30 Motor Oil ($3.99 with in-store pick-up, a low by $1) — if you anticipate very cold weather. Moreover, if you're afraid to do it yourself, Pep Boys currently offers a Standard Oil Change for $19.99 when you book here and select a Tuesday, Wednesay or Thursday appointment. (Note that winter-optimized oils may cost extra.)
Flush and Fill Your Radiator
Radiator fluid degrades over time, and in winter the mixture should contain at least 50% radiator fluid, which should keep your coolant moving down to -34 degrees Fahrenheit. An inexpensive device called a coolant tester, like the Peak Antifreeze and Coolant Tester ($2.98 with free in-store pickup, a low by $6), can get the job done. Now is also a good time to inspect hoses for leaks and replace them as needed.
Fill Your Windshield Wiper Reservoir
Not all windshield wiper fluid is formulated with enough non-freezing ingredients to keep it flowing in cold weather, so check the label to make sure your solution is made for winter conditions. Try picking up a 1-gallon bottle of Splash Windshield Washer Fluid and De-Icer ($2.59 with free shipping, a low by $1).
Buy Snow Tires
If you're destined to deal with heavy snowfall, invest in a set of snow tires. All-season tires, which are also popular, are a compromise between high-mileage tires for summer and snow-gripping tread for winter. A winter tire, on the other hand, is made specifically for traveling in the snow, with more aggressive tread patterns and a softer compound that won't get hard and glassy in cold weather. Swap out your tires with this TireRack sale, which gets you a $70 American Express Gift Card when you four or more Michelin tires; the eligible selection includes numerous winter models.
It's also important to keep an eye on your tire pressure when the weather is foul. An overinflated tire won't grip as well, and an underinflated tire dangerously compromises a car's handling.
Consider Winter Wiper Blades
If you deal with a lot of snow and icy road spray, you may want to upgrade to winter wiper blades, which have a rubber coating that keeps ice from building up on top. The Car Talk Radio guys warn though that it's a bad idea to keep winter wiper blades on year-round because they are heavier and could prematurely wear out the motor on your wipers. We found a deal on these 2 Rain-X Winter Wiper Blades that takes $8 off in-cart when you purchase a qualifying Rain-X Cleaner.
Check Your Battery
Batteries run by a chemical process, and that process is slowed when the temperature plummets. Have your car shop check your battery to make sure it's putting out enough juice. If not, now's a good time to replace it.
Top Off the Water in Each Cell
If your car battery isn't a sealed battery, check the water level in each compartment while you're at it. Also examine the cables, especially where they attach to the poles of your batteries — they should be firm and free of corrosion. If not, tighten the connection and use a wire brush to remove the corrosion.
Step 2: Stock Up on Supplies
A little advance planning can minimize the dangers of winter driving. Part of this is stocking up on the right equipment to deal with breakdowns.
A spray can of glycerine can help thaw those pesky frozen locks that occur when melting ice trickles in. You can pick up a de-icer at your local auto parts or big box store. If it's already too cold to make the trip to a brick-and-mortar store, try the Bell Automotive V500 Lock De-Icer and Lubricant ($1.37 with $3.68 s&h, a low by $3).
Blanket or Tarp
Cotton blankets lose heat when wet, so opt for a synthetic or wool blend blanket. A plastic tarp to kneel on while changing a tire might also come in handy.
Boots and Gloves
Get a good grip on the situation with solid boots and work gloves. But again, not cotton gloves. A good work glove is the Dewalt All Purpose Synthetic Work Glove (from $11.95 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $1), made from a combination of leather and spandex. It also features a Velcro closure.
Make sure your ice scraper is long enough to reach the middle of the windshield and sturdy enough knock snow off the roof. This Hopkins Duo-Grip 22" Scraper ($3.97 in-store, a low by $6) has a sizable reach and 4" scraping edge. For a shipped option, try the the Hopkins 22" Snow Brush ($1.99 with $4.25 s&h, a low by $4).
Every once in a while there's situation where you'll need to shovel yourself out of a snow bank. A small utility shovel like the Auto Emergency Snow Shovel ($12.99 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $1) is just the ticket.
Pack some spare batteries for a flashlight that's bright enough in case you have to change a flat tire in the dark. Check dealnews for bargain flashlights, like the Focus Zoom Lens Flashlight Torch ($8.99 with free shipping, a low by $2), as they appear regularly.
On the coldest of mornings, even reliable car batteries can fail, and if you want to get going, you'll need a jump from someone. Finding that someone is much easier if you have your own jumper cables. Keep the Hopkins Juice Performance 12-Foot Standard Power 10-Gauge Booster Cable ($16.95 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $6) on hand for just such a scenario.
In the deepest snows, tire chains — which fit around your tires providing additional grip — are especially useful. Tire chains come in a variety of sizes to fit different vehicles and wheels. They can get pricey if you're buying for all four wheels, but Amazon has a variety of discounted tire chains that are at least 50% off.
Bag of Abrasive Materials
Sand or salt tossed under your wheels could help give you the traction to get unstuck. Even a little Special Kitty: Natural Cat Litter 25-lb. Bag ($3.38 with $1 s&h, a low by $1) can help get you moving. If your car has rear-wheel drive car, carrying this weight over the rear axle could help the car's handling, too.
A few minutes of preparation today can save you from grueling hours of frustration when the snow begins to fly. If the weather to come is as harshly cold as the summer was hot, you'll appreciate the forethought. But, if you just can't be bothered for most of these tasks, you can always use this printable coupon to take $10 off Seasonal Prep Servicing at Pep Boys.
Front photo credit: Joe+Jeanette Archie via Flickr