In some ways, winter is the best time of year — it’s jam-packed with holidays, stunning weather, and opportunities to drink hot cocoa. It’s not so great on your car, though. Freezing temperatures place great strain on your vehicle, and slippery conditions can turn a leisurely drive into an accident waiting to happen.
We’ve compiled a list of go-to products that can help prepare your car for cold weather, but before we get into them, we want to strongly recommend scheduling a vehicle inspection for preventative purposes. A reliable mechanic will check the health of your battery, starter, thermostat, brakes, defroster, and lights, all of which need to be in tip-top shape for winter driving. We also recommend keeping your gas tank at least half full when temperatures drop below freezing. Why? Condensation could form in your fuel system otherwise, and that could prevent your vehicle from starting. When it’s that cold, a stalled-out ride is last thing you want.
Tires are often overlooked, but they’re without a doubt one of the most important elements of vehicle safety. Depending on the severity of winter where you live, you might want to consider buying a set of snow tires. Snow tires are made from softer compounds that stay more flexible in the cold, and they often feature tread patterns designed to siphon away slush and bite into slick surfaces. The Bridgestone Blizzak and Goodyear Ultra Grip are excellent choices, but no matter which set you choose, be sure the tread isn’t worn down to less than one-eighth inch to maintain proper grip.
If the weather is less intense near you but it’s possible that snow and ice could still impact your commute, purchase a set of chains to keep in your vehicle at all times. Remember to do a test fit before setting out; learning how to install snow chains in the middle of a snowstorm can turn a cold night positively bitter.
Studded tires are another safety option in wintry weather, but remember that many states have restrictions on when you can use them. Check out AAA’s state-by-state breakdown on its website to brush up on your local regulations.
A car that won’t start can ruin any morning, but when the temperature drops, the inconvenience increases exponentially. Winter can worsen the problem by wreaking havoc on your car’s battery — low temps can reduce battery power by up to 50% — so it’s important to have a backup plan. Jumper cables are an easy contingency, but what if there are no other vehicles around?
Portable power packs are all the rage for cell phones and tablets nowadays, but there are options for your car as well. The Tacklife T6 is one of our favorites because, although it weighs just 2.5 pounds, it can jump-start nearly any car, truck, or motorcycle in seconds. It can even keep mobile devices topped off with its two USB ports.
Things can literally go sideways in an instant during winter. In a situation like that, it’s best to be prepared with an emergency kit. Premade kits like the Ready America Emergency Backpack contain blankets, first aid supplies, lights, and enough food and water to sustain two people for three days, but it’s simple to assemble your own. If you do, items like extra clothes, flares, shovels, ice scrapers, batteries/chargers, and even kitty litter are always solid ideas. Why kitty litter? It can melt ice if your vehicle gets stuck, and it might just give you the traction you need to get back on the road.
We can always head inside our homes for refuge from the cold, but what about our cars? If you don’t have a garage, a proper car cover or shelter can not only extend the life of your vehicle’s paint but can also save you the agony of scraping snow off your ride in the early hours of the morning. These products can make driving safer for you and other motorists as well. They prevent the buildup of ice that can fly off at freeway speeds, potentially causing a crash.
Visibility always takes a hit when the snow begins to fall, and that impacts drivers, passengers, and pedestrians all the same. Your ability to see what’s in front (or behind) you should always be at the top of your priority list, which means a clean set of wipers is positively vital. Factory wipers are generally competent enough for most, but there are heavy-duty options for when a light dusting of snow goes full blizzard.
Trico’s teflon-infused Ice Extreme blades are sturdier than their standard equivalents and feature a wedge-shaped spoiler to clear away snow and slush. They’re offered in 12 sizes, but adapters might be needed to fit your vehicle. If worse comes to worst, that old library card in your wallet could do in a pinch.