By Bob Blake

Cars detest cold weather…period. Plunging temperatures cause rubber, belts and hoses to crack. Spinning a cold engine stresses the battery. Winter exposes many weaknesses in a car. Follow the quick checklist below to lessen the approaching shock of winter:

Tires: Tire pressure typically decreases 1-2 pounds for every 10 degrees of temperature change. Pressure measurements are most accurate before driving. Check the spare tire as well, as low pressure there is a common reason the “low tire pressure” light blinks! Inspect the treads while checking the tire air pressure. Bald tires have little traction and simply mush through mud and snow. Never mix radial tires with other type tires.

Fuel: Keep your tank at least half full. The weight helps traction and lessens moisture condensation in the tank.

Battery: A slightly weakened battery lacks the “umpph” to spin a cold engine. Most batteries are supposed to last 5 years but, in my experience, it is less. Batteries are only as good as wires connecting the car. Corroded and worn cables transfer less power to the starter. Newer and smaller jump boxes, about the size of a small box of tissues, easily store in the glove box. They cost around $50 – certainly cheaper and quicker than a call for roadside assistance! Before the dark winter mornings, do a “walk-around” to insure all the lights and signals function correctly.

Oil: Check the owner’s manual for the correct weight. Older cars typically use a lighter weight in winter, such as 10W-40. Newer synthetic lubricants are balanced for year round use. Regardless of the grade oil, cold engines do not like to be “rev’d” up!

Coolant: Antifreeze prevents engines from freezing and the newer formulas dissipate heat better. Despite manufacturer’s touting “lifetime” coolants, a “drain and flush” every 50,000 miles may add life to the hoses and radiator. Many car makers recommend the ideal fluid as a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water. All coolants, however, eventually become more acidic and lose their rust-inhibiting properties. This ultimately damages the thermostat, heater and water pump.

Wiper blades: Winter weather is tough on wiper blades. The rubber becomes brittle and ineffective in removing snow and ice. Remember to replace the rear window wiper blade as well. Use only washer fluid that resists freezing – not plain water!


Visibility: Take a moment to scrape more than just a peep hole through the frosty windshield and rear window. It is your responsibility to see 360 degrees. Many states have laws that make drivers legally responsible for damages caused by chunks of ice and snow flying off their car.


Personal Safety: Winter days have less light and a working flashlight is mandatory. It is smart to have two bottles of drinking water, some food, and a blanket for longer and unfamiliar trips. Driving requires extra awareness on slick streets. Allow an extra few minutes of travel time and drive with a “cushion of safety distance” between you and other vehicles. If you start to slide, don’t panic and slam on the brakes! Look down the road in the direction you want to go and gently steer your vehicle that way; release the accelerator until traction returns.

Enjoy the mystical snow after you arrive safely! More detailed driving tips are on the AAA website: