Winter Auto Checklist

         We are just about midway through September. The end of the year causes time to fly by at an alarming rate. And although most of us don’t want to think about it, it doesn’t change the fact that winter is soon upon us. So today I’m going to leave you with a checklist of things you want to make sure you do with your vehicle in order to prepare for the bitter cold and, possibly, a stranded situation. Here is a checklist to prepare your car for Old Man Winter:

  • First, be sure to check your alternator and battery. I believe AutoZone will still do this type of test absolutely free of charge. Have them run a diagnostics and determine if everything is good to go. It won’t take but five minutes of your time. If there is a problem, correct now before you get into your car and have to go through the gut wrenching feeling of despair when you hear the silence of your engine not turning over. Also look around your battery for corrosion or rust. Clean with a steel wool scrub pad if any is spotted. If the damage is too severe, replace the cables.
  • Be sure your tires are in good working order. Check the tread and air pressure. Cold air can cause air to leak and under-filled tires can be dangerous in even clear conditions. Don’t get stuck out in the open with bad tires on an icy winter road. Speaking of the wheels, might be a good time to get your brakes checked out and okayed. And don’t forget your spare. Make sure it’s filled with air and in good repair.
  • Check your wiper blades and ensure they have a good tread too. If it’s heavily snowing or sleeting, you want to be able to keep visibility as high as you can.
  • Keep fuel in your car. This seems like a no brainer, but a lot of struggling families may only put enough fuel in the car to get them through the week. This is dangerous. If the gasoline gets too low in your vehicle it could freeze the entire line and then you are in for a world of expensive repairs. Keep your gas tank at least half full at all times. And try using some Heet water removal with every fill-up to help cut down on the risk of freezing fuel.
  • Another good idea is to maybe have your radiator flushed and filled. Most oil change places will do this for $40-$60. Get some fresh antifreeze in your car to make sure the engine is protected from the bitter cold.
  • Test your heater BEFORE it gets cold. Nothing worse than firing that heater up for the first time and getting cold air. Make sure your heater works, and works well. It could be the difference between life and death. Ensure that your defrost works in both the front and rear windshields.
  • Another cheap, helpful preparation you can do for yourself is replace your current windshield washer fluid with winterized fluid that will help melt snow off your windshield.
  • Check all exterior vehicle lights to make sure they are functioning properly. Replace any burnt out bulbs. If visibility gets bad, being able to see your lights might keep another driver from plowing into you.
  • Lastly, once winter hits and the snow falls, salt trucks will be out in full swing. Keep in mind that salt eats at your cars exterior. Be sure to get a car wash every once in awhile during the winter to avoid any damage to your car’s body.

         Next I will discuss some items you might want to consider keeping in your car in case of an emergency situation that leaves you hunkered down and isolated out in the cold with only your stalled car to protect you. There are some items that are essential to avoiding hypothermia, frostbite, exposure, or starvation. Here’s is a brief list of need-to-have items that no winterized car should be without. Add to it for your specific needs. You may also consider doubling or even tripling quantities if you live in a specific bad winter weather area.

  1. Warmth – This is by far the most important consideration for winter. Cold exposure can kill you faster than you might believe. Make sure your car has emergency blankets, a thermal blanket, and if you have room try to keep an insulated sleeping bag in the trunk. Get a thick, warm change of clothes and change of shoes to keep in a bag in your trunk. If you happen to be out and get soaked with freezing snow, a quick change of clothes could save your life. Keep an extra shirt, sweater, pants, underwear, thermal socks, sweater, gloves, hat, ski mask, scarf, and boots rolled up in a bag (or in the above mentioned sleeping bag). Keep an emergency candle, waterproof matches, a lighter, and a can of cooking fuel in the trunk. Get some hand warmers (these are insanely cheap at Walmart for a mere $.50 and can stay warm for up to five hours) and keep them in your glove box. Might also be a good idea to have a flint firestarter around (this should already be in your car’s normal emergency kit). Starting a fire might be your best chance of survival should you need to abandon your vehicle. A couple flares is always a good idea as well.
  2. Food and Water – You can go a pretty long time without food. Maybe even longer than normal in cold conditions because your body tends to slow down in the winter. But everybody needs water or we perish pretty darn quick. Keep some granola bars and candy in your glove box. Get a couple of MRE’s and bags of jerky and keep them stored away. If it stays really cold all winter, you could even throw a cooler in your trunk and store cold meats and other refrigerator foods inside it. Keep a small cooking pan in your car too in case you need to melt snow to drink (never eat cold snow for water as it uses too much energy for your body to reheat and digest it). Keep a couple gallon jugs of water or maybe a case of bottled water in your trunk.
  3. Flashlights and an emergency weather radio are a must to ensure your survive an emergency. Get a hand crank radio and maintain the batteries in your flashlight.
  4. I’d recommend getting a battery starter and keeping it in your trunk. They sell giant types that can be recharged at home and connect directly to your battery, or they sell smaller compact models that work through your cigarette lighter adapter. Be sure to take this out every few nights and recharge it. Also be sure to keep a handy pair of jumper cables in your trunk. These are relatively cheap and can save the day.
  5. Get a vehicle charger and spare battery for your cellphone. Keep your cellphone’s battery charge above 50% (treat it like your gas tank!) and be sure you always have it with you. If you are trapped under a snowbank it can be used to make emergency calls or help the authorities locate you. A dead cellphone never did anybody any good.
  6. Put some spare cash in your glove compartment. Maybe $100-$200. That can be your “just-in-case” fund. If you break down in a strange town, it might keep you functioning (hotel, food, taxi cab) until someone can come pick you up. Also keep a roll of quarters in your car for vending machines and pay phones.
  7. Keeping some cardboard and a bag of salt in your trunk can help get your wheels out of a rut. Without traction you could just spin over ice and never get any where. Better safe than sorry.
  8. Keep some de-icing spray and an ice scraper in your car. Can’t stress the importance of this enough.

         Prepare now, while the weather is warm and you can get everything stowed away without your fingers going numb. Being prepared may be the difference between staying warm and getting frozen. Just one simple thing tucked away can save your life, your limbs, and your car. Prepare yourself for the harsh reality that yes, it can happen to you. Plan ahead and come out with your livelihood intact.