Go to Colorado. Find a person. Chances are they drive a Subaru — because only Subarus can drive in the snow! Only, that’s not true.
Ok, so it is true that all-wheel-drive crunchy goodness overruns Colorado in Subaru form, but should you happen to live somewhere cold and own a car not decorated with the six-star badge, life goes on.
You can make your car winter-worthy, no matter what kind of car it is. Modern cars, in particular, those built in the last 20 years or so, have all the technology to run fine in deplorable conditions. All you’ve got to do is make a few crucial changes.
Get Winter Tires
All the technology in the world won’t make your slick summer tires grip on ice and sleet. Summer tires help you drive like an idiot and narrowly avoid killing yourself. Winter tires let you drive like a civil human being on icy roads and narrowly avoid killing yourself.
This is not an option. You can drive your Mustang in the snow—it’s doable—but not with semi-slick Potenzas on the wheels. We suggest having a spare set of wheels around with your winter rubber mounted and ready to go. That way, when things get frosty, you can just jack the car up and mount the studded tires.
Change Your Oil
Oil is rated by weight and formulated to behave a certain way as it heats up and cools down. When the temperature outside changes, the range of temperature that your oil experiences changes. That can have negative effects on your motor’s shiny innards. In areas with extremely cold weather, you’ll want to swap the “regular” oil in your car out for a thinner formula during the winter months.
The thinner oil will more thoroughly coat in cold conditions, because of its lower viscosity. If you were to keep running 10-W30 when the mercury dropped, your engine might spend a lot of time heating the oil until it got thin enough to coat, which means difficulty starting and potentially even friction inside the motor.
Check Your Antifreeze
Cars that live in warm climates can run nothing but water in their cooling systems and get away with it. That won’t cut it in the frozen north. Just like the pipes beneath your house will freeze and crack, the rubber hoses in your car will do the same.
Before it gets excessively cold, make sure that you fill your radiator with the proper mixture of water and ethylene glycol antifreeze to withstand hard freezes. Your vendor should provide instructions to mix the water and antifreeze with the product. Don’t let your pets near the chemical antifreeze, as it is highly poisonous.
Service Your Brakes
Stopping is important. Stopping in the winter can be more difficult than in good conditions, so you want the mechanical side of things to do you every favor it can. Make sure your brake pads and rotors are in good working order and that you have given the car a fresh brake fluid flush for optimal performance.
Check for Exhaust Leaks
We’ve all seen the old potato-in-the-exhaust gag. That really works, and it’s not good for your car. Even if you haven’t got friends cruel enough to carry out such a lowly practical joke, an exhaust leak could allow the cold weather to accomplish precisely that.
Moisture that condenses inside of your exhaust lines can freeze and eventually form an ice plug, resulting in excess back-pressure and potentially leading to a broken exhaust system. It could also cause noxious gasses to enter the cabin of your car, so listen for any change in exhaust noise and visit a muffler shop if you have a leak.
Keep Your Battery Juiced
Cold weather can make the chemical reactions that happen in batteries less energetic than they should be. If you’re not careful, that can mean winding up stranded on the side of the road. Test your battery going into winter to make sure you’ve got plenty of charge.
A trickle charger, which is a special type of charger that can keep your battery at full life without damaging it, is a smart investment that will ensure that you don’t run out of charge in winter months.
Swap in Some New Wiper Blades
Cold weather can do a number on the rubber on your wiper blades. Hard, cracked wiper blades are no help in the rain and snow, so equip your car with a fresh set at the start of winter and don’t wait to replace them if they wear out. Poor visibility can be deadly.
Be Ready for Anything
Even when you do it all right, things can go wrong when driving in extreme conditions. Keep an emergency kit in your car with a few crucial things to make sure you’re safe if you break down. It should include water and a snack, jumper cables, a space blanket, flares, a flashlight, a small shovel, an ice scraper and tire chains, even if you’ve got four-wheel drive.
If you live long enough in frosty climes, you’ll have to endure a tricky winter situation or two. The best way to keep those instances to a minimum is to think ahead and be prepared. Good luck and stay warm!