Winter driving tips and how to build a survival kit for your car

Driving in the snow and cold is no fun, but some simple preparation will make life easier in the winter months.
Driving in the snow and cold is no fun, but some simple preparation will make life easier in the winter months. –MATT CAMPBELL / EPA

We looked to experts like AAA, Jiffy Lube, and Consumer Reports to outline a few steps you can take to help keep your car in good condition and prepared for the inevitable winter weather.

Watch out for your wipers and they’ll watch out for you

Consumer Reports recommends replacing your windshield wipers with a new set if they are streaking or showing any signs of deterioration.

When snow starts falling and ice starts building up on your windshield, CR recommends using a scraper to remove it instead of your wiper blades. Relying on wipers to push snow can strain the wiper motor.

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If your car will be parked outside during a snowfall, remember to lift the wipers so snow does not accumulate on them and freeze them to the windshield.

AAA recommends using all-weather windshield wipers that resist ice and snow build up. It also helps to use a windshield washer fluid that includes a solvent to assist the de-icing process.

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Check out these cold weather driving tips from AAA

Check your oil

Check your vehicle’s owner manual for recommended oil changes. CR points out that some manufacturers recommend using specific oil grades for specific temperature ranges, so it’s important to sync up a vehicle’s oil grade with the anticipated temperatures. AAA recommends using a synthetic oil for easier startups during cold weather periods.

Jiffy Lube recommends checking your oil level every time you fill up with gas, a rule of thumb easier to follow now than when temperatures hit single digits. Check your oil for bubbles or foam, a milky appearance, and a strong smell of gasoline. These are signs that your car may have water or fuel contamination or that your oil level could be too high.

Be good to your battery

Cold weather can take a toll on your car’s battery. CR recommends checking a conventional battery’s health by removing the plastic caps on top of the battery to check the fluid levels. If the fluid is low, add distilled water.

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For maintenance-free batteries, CR recommends looking at the window at the top of the battery to make sure it indicates a fully-charged state. If it is not fully charged, have it tested at a professional facility like a mechanic’s shop, auto parts store, or a service station.

AAA recommends testing a battery if it is more than three years old.

Tread carefully and consider winter tires

According to Jiffy Lube, uneven tire pressure can cut down your car’s gas mileage, reduce traction, cause uneven tread wear, and lower the number of miles you can get from your tires.

AAA recommends having your tires rotated every 5,000 to 7,500 miles and checking your tire pressure at least once a month.

Jiffy Lube recommends using a “penny trick’’ to measure the tread wear on your tires. To do this, take a penny and insert it into the tread groove with Abraham Lincoln’s face showing and upside-down. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, Jiffy Lube recommends replacing your tires.

Cold weather is the right time to consider using winter tires, instead of all-season tires. These tires are specifically designed with tread patterns to deliver better traction on slippery roadways.

CR points out that while winter tires typically have a shorter tread life and are usually very noisy compared to all-season tires, they are “worth the compromise’’ for the additional layer of safety.

Let there be light

Your lights will be crucial during winter weather, not just for allowing you to see what’s out there during poor visibility conditions, but to allow other vehicles to see you while you’re on the road.

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Clear any mud, dirt or debris away from your headlights and make sure all your bulbs are working. When snow starts falling, be sure to clear away any icy buildup.

AAA recommends replacing any badly worn down plastic headlight lenses to offer better visibility.

Prepare a winter emergency kit

To say the least, getting stuck in the snow can be a headache, but it can also be seriously frightening.

Once you’re stuck, there’s no going to the nearest store for a few things. AAA and Jiffy Lube recommend packing the following items in the car ahead of time:

• Jumper cables or a self-contained jump box

• A cell phone and a charger that plugs into your car

• A flashlight with extra batteries

• Flares or reflective triangles

• A first-aid kit, blankets, extra clothes including boots, gloves, a hat, and hand warmers, and small quantities of any necessary medicines.

• Non-perishable food items such as energy bars, bottled water, or sports drinks. (AAA points out sports drinks don’t freeze as easily as water.)

• Non-clumping kitty litter or sand to help a car stuck in a snow bank gain traction.

• A snow shovel, snow brush, ice scraper, rags or paper towels, and additional winter windshield washer fluid.

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