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Vehicle Prep Checklist for Winter

winter vehicle checklistIt’s the most wonderful time of the year! While you’re preparing for the holidays, shopping for the best deals, and wrapping holiday gifts, don’t forget to take some time to prepare your car for the winter months. If you’re heading up to higher elevations where temperatures are low or staying close to home, you’ll need to prepare for whatever the season brings. By prepping your car for the winter months, you’ll be able to enjoy all the fun this season brings from holiday parties with friends, cozy nights in front of the fire, and travels to and from holiday gatherings. 

Winter can bring some harsh conditions that require advance preparation. Traveling up to where snow is falling? You’ll need to consider whether your car is equipped to travel through snowy and icy conditions. Even if you’re staying in a town where snow is less likely to fall, there are things you can do to help ease your car through the transition from summer to winter. Follow our vehicle checklist to prepare your vehicle for this coming winter:

  • Get an oil change. Bumper to bumper traffic, constant stop and go conditions, and short trips take a toll on the engine. By changing the oil, you’re ensuring clean, fresh oil is running through the engine to protect components from rubbing metal to metal, help keep engine components cool, and extend the life of your vehicle. 
  • Replace wiper blades. Whether traveling through snow or rain, nothing should prevent you from seeing the road ahead. After a long summer, it’s quite possible the rubber on the blades has dried out and become brittle. Protect your windshield and your field of vision by replacing wiper blades. 
  • Have your battery tested. Your vehicle’s battery plays a major role in getting your engine started. Batteries typically last between 2 and 4 years, however, in warmer climates, like here in the Southwest, that time period could be cut in half. If you haven’t replaced your battery in over 2 years, you may want to consider replacement or at least have your battery tested by an automotive professional. A battery that is fully charged measures about 12.7 volts or higher. If the voltage is less than 12.5 it needs to be recharged. Once the battery’s voltage falls below 11.9, it is considered dead. 
  • Check fluids. Check all fluid levels including oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid (if applicable), and coolant. Top off any fluids that are low and have flushes performed every 30,000 miles. Coolant is especially important as its job is to keep your engine from overheating. Though the temperatures may be considerably lower than summer temperatures, your engine still gets hot and needs to be cooled. Additionally, low levels of coolant could mean there’s a leak in the coolant system, which can cause your heater to malfunction. 
  • Replace filters. All filters including the cabin, engine air, and fuel filters should be replaced. As you drive, your vehicle collects debris and other contaminants in the air and traps them in filters to prevent them from causing harm to the engine or entering the cabin area. By replacing your vehicle’s filters, you are reducing emissions, increasing fuel efficiency, and protecting your engine.
  • Test heater and defrosters. Don’t be left in the cold without a functioning heater. When temperatures drop down into the 50’s or less, you need heat to keep you warm and comfortable. In addition to the heater, make sure both the front and rear defrosters are in working order so that you’ll be able to clear any fogged up windows in the cold.
  • Check belts and hoses. Colder temperatures can shorten the life of belts and hoses, so ensure they are inspected often and replaced at regular intervals. Timing belts, for example, should be replaced every 60,000 miles. A stretched or broken belt can leave you stranded on the road in uncomfortable conditions. 
  • Have your brakes inspected. Spring, summer, fall, or winter, any time of year, it’s mandatory your brakes work. A technician should check the thickness of brake pads and visually inspect rotors to ensure wear is even and free from grooves. Spongy brake pedal, screeching or rumbling brake sounds, or the brake light are indicators that brakes need attention. 
  • Check tires. Look for any signs of uneven wear or dangers that could cause a blowout such as cupping, nicks or cuts on sidewalls, and low tire pressure. Be sure to include an inspection of your spare tire. 
  • Get tire chains. Tire chains are necessary when traveling in snow, when roads have not yet been plowed or salted, to assist with traction. Even if you don’t end up using them, some areas have checkpoints that require you to have them on hand in order to proceed. If you know you’re going to need tire chains, practice installing chains on your tires at home before you head out into inclement weather.   
  • Pack an emergency road kit. Sometimes, even after much preparation, you could still find yourself in a predicament on the road. Be prepared for any situation from road closures, accidents, or breakdowns by packing an emergency kit. 

An emergency kit should include:

  • Blankets
  • Warm clothing
  • Boots and gloves
  • Kitty litter or sand
  • Ice scraper
  • A small shovel
  • Flares
  • Non-perishable foods and hard candies
  • Drinking water
  • Jumper cables
  • A spare tire and tire changing equipment
  • Tool kit
  • First aid kit
  • Full or ¾ full gas tank and extra fuel
  • Paper towels

If your car breaks down or your vehicle is otherwise immobile, stay with your vehicle unless you are familiar with the area to seek help. Light two flares and place each one near the front and rear of your car to alert other drivers of your presence. Run the engine and heater for only 10 minutes at a time to preserve fuel. Roll the window down slightly to prevent the car from sealing shut from snow or ice. Suck on hard candies to prevent mouth dryness and boost blood sugar.