Winter may be the time for holidays, fun, and generally being jolly, but the festivities can very easily turn into doom and gloom if you fail to take proper care of your car during this season. Winter places severe stresses and strains on any vehicle, and you need to take some very specific preventative measures to prevent breakdowns or malfunctions. Prevention is always better than cure, and in this guide, we will tell you how to keep your car in peak condition during the cold season. Here is what you need to do...
Pack for emergencies
Break downs and delays in traffic flows can be very uncomfortable during winter. They are also more likely, so take some time out to look after your own needs. You can be stranded at any time, so make sure you have at least the following items in the car during winter. It might save your life, and it will definitely make you and your family more comfortable.
- Mobile phone and car charger
- Hazard warning triangles
- Reflective vest
- First aid kit
- De-icing fluid and ice scraper
- Collapsible camping shovel
- Tow rope, or kinetic recovery strap
- Waterproof boots
- Flash light and spare batteries, or a rechargeable flashlight that can run off your car’s electrical system
- Warm clothes, such as a fur-lined jacket or coat
- Emergency rations in the form of high-calorie energy bars
You may also want to invest in a set of rubber car mats to protect your car’s interior against wet shoes, or to use as traction devices when you get stuck in deep snow or slush.
Winter is hard on cars. They get defrosted on a daily basis. So it's worth doing as many of the following preventative tasks as your time and budget allow.
Replace the coolant
As the name suggests, anti-freeze is designed to keep the engine coolant from freezing in sub-zero temperatures. However, to fully effective, the concentration of anti-freeze needs to be at a very specific level, which is determined by the specific gravity, or density of the final mix. Moreover, anti-freeze loses its protective properties after about twelve months of use, so if you have not replaced the coolant in your engine for some time, now would be good time to replace the entire coolant volume with a fresh mixture.
Your owners' manual that came with the car will have full details on the capacity of the cooling system, and how much anti-freeze is required relative to water to achieve maximum protection. Do NOT deviate from the recommended concentration, because twice the amount of anti-freeze does not work twice as well. In fact, too much anti-freeze in the mix can lower the boiling point of water, which means that your engine could overheat even in depths of winter.
Change the oil
In winter conditions, you need engine oil that does not thicken to the point where it becomes unpumpable if the engine is cold. However, there are thousands of online recourses that make thousands of recommendations and suggestions on what grade or formulation of oil to use in winter, but the only recommendation you should follow is that of the manufacturer of your vehicle.
Car manufacturers spend truck-loads of money, and several years testing their engines in extreme operating conditions, and if they recommend a specific grade of oil for winter conditions, it is because they have test results to substantiate their advice. If you are in any doubt about which oil formulation, or grade of oil to use during winter, get the correct information from your dealer, and resist the temptation to rely on the Internet for advice that may, or may not be relevant to your specific vehicle.
You may have heard that synthetic oil is always best in winter since it remains stable under a wide range of temperatures, but be aware that this is not always the case. Some synthetic oils, such as PAG-based synthetic oil, must not be mixed with mineral oil because they are NOT miscible, and you will end up with a Jell-O-like goop in your engine if you try. If you decide to go the synthetic oil route this winter, make sure you only use a PAO-based product, and check the label to confirm that your chosen product is miscible with standard mineral oils.
Check/replace the battery
Everybody knows that a car battery can die without any advance warning, and especially if it had not been in a perfect condition before the cold weather set in. Cold engines in winter are a lot tougher to crank than cold engines in summer, to make sure your battery can cope with the extra effort required.
All car batteries should ideally be checked by specialist battery dealers at least twice a year, but if you have not had yours checked recently, now would be good time to have its cranking and reserve capacities checked. Also have the specific gravity of each individual cell checked to confirm that all the cells are in peak condition.
The gravity of the electrolyte indicates the state of charge of a cell or the battery as a whole, so have your battery checked, cleaned, and serviced now, but be sure to replace if it is in a less than perfect condition.
Replace the wiper blades
This should be self-explanatory, since the better the condition your wiper blades are in, the better they will be able to clear slush, mud, road grime, and road grime mixed with snow off the windshield. Also invest in a supply of good quality de-icing fluid and drain, and refill the window washer reservoir with the recommended concentration of fluid and water.
Change to snow tyres
Drivers who live with deep snow, or any amount of snow for that matter, every winter know they should fit snow tyres at this time of year, but this may not be so obvious to drivers who have moved in from warmer climes.
Snow tyres offer excellent traction in snow and ice, hence the name “snow tyres”, and although they tend to be pricey, their advantages will more than compensate you the first time you make it through a snow drift while other drivers are stuck.
Use only high quality fuel.
There is no excuse for using low quality fuel during any time of the year, but winter conditions often bring lower speeds, and lots of stop-and-go driving. Low engine speeds often lead to the build-up of deposits on spark plugs, valves, and other internal components, so be sure to use the best quality fuels available to minimise the build-up of carbon deposits that can rob your engine of performance, efficiency, and fuel economy.