Driving a car is a big responsibility at any time of the year, but in the winter your actions or failure to act could mean the difference between life and death for you and your passengers. A big part of remaining safe on the roads in the winter time is ensuring that your vehicle is in proper working order. Preventative maintenance of key components can keep your vehicle running well through our long, cold winters. Some of the systems requiring extra attention in the winter are as follows:
Antifreeze: This is very important for winter driving, as it keeps vital fluids in your car liquid, instead of frozen, during cold winter storms. Make sure your antifreeze is fresh, and that it is filled.
Exhaust System: During the winter months, windows are closed, the air is often re-circulated, and snow or ice can shroud your car. If your exhaust system is not working properly, this could result in excess noxious fumes circulating into your car’s interior. Exhaust fumes are poisonous, and, in large enough quantities, fatal. If you smell gas or exhaust fumes in the interior of your car, have your mechanic check for leaks.
Heater: Your car’s heater could save your life in the event you become stranded. If it’s not working properly, get it fixed —and fast.
Hazard Lights: Have you ever come across a disabled car on the side of the road with no lights on? If you have, you know how unsafe this can be. If your car becomes disabled and your hazard lights aren’t working, diminished sight distances in winter time could prevent other motorists from seeing your vehicle until it is too late to avoid a collision.
Have a friend stand outside your car and check all your lights.
Oil: Regular oil changes will ensure that your engine runs well at any time of year. Check for evidence of leaks where you park your vehicle, and always check your oil level before any long tips. Some vehicles require different weight oil in the winter time. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for proper weight and type of oil.
Brakes: Brakes are obviously important at any time of the year. Your brakes are the one part of your car that quite literally stands between you and death. Your brakes should never be in bad shape, and should be checked every time you rotate your tires, about every 5000 miles. Ant-lock Braking Systems get a real work out in snow and ice conditions, so immediately address any ABS warning lights on your dash.
Defroster: The simple fact is not all defrosters are created equal. Your defroster may work well, then again it may not Make sure your defrosting system is in its best possible shape and make allowances for its quirks. Some vehicles require longer warm up times in order to defrost your windows to a point where you can safely drive your vehicle. Make sure you give yourself that extra time on cold winter mornings.
Thermostat: You know that little gauge on your dashboard with the H and C and the little needle that goes between? Well, it’s really bad if it hits the H (or the “red zone” right before it), and it’s also bad if you can’t get your engine warm enough to run well. Part of this is related to your antifreeze/coolant, but another component is your thermostat, which helps regulate your engine temperature. Cars have been known to blow engines when their thermostats fail. Engines repairs or replacements are VERY expensive, so always pay attention to your temperature guage and have it checked by a mechanic if something seems awry.
Battery: Without a functioning battery, you are going nowhere. Batteries last varying lengths; the more expensive ones last longer. When a battery is installed, the date of installation should be indicated on the top of the label. If it’s not, be sure to put it on yourself when you install a new battery. Nothing is worse than being stuck in the middle of nowhere during a torrential rain or freezing snowstorm with a dead battery — that means no heater or lights, either. Find out today when your battery was installed. If it’s getting close to the end of its life, think about replacing it.
Tires: If you live in upstate New York or the northern Tier of Pennsylvania, you may want to consider snow tires for your vehicle. They offer enhanced handling and traction over even the best all season tires, and can mean the difference between staying on the road or ending up in a ditch or even the oncoming lane of traffic. Regular monitoring of your tire pressure is also important, as even the best snow tire won’t provide you with optimum performance if it is not properly inflated.
Ignition System: Does your car start right up? Or does it take forever to turn over? If it’s the latter, find out why before cold mornings add even more stress to your ignition system.
Wiper System: Summer sun beating down on wiper blades often destroys them before the first rain of fall hits the ground. They harden, split, and generally don’t clear water off like they should. Wipers, and the cleaning windshield fluid that goes along with them, are easy for anyone to replace. And they’re available at many places other than auto supply stores. Consider replacing your summer blades with winter wipers; they are designed to provide maximum performance in snow and ice conditions when conventional blades can become clogged with ice and fail to clear your windshield. Anyone who drives in the Northeast knows that you will need a healthy supply of washer fluid to keep your windshield clear, so make sure you have a supply on hand and that your washer fluid reservoir is full before any lengthy trips. Also, make sure the jets that deliver your wiper fluid are clear— they can become clogged with hardened water or dirt.
Winter Storm Bag: Every motorist should have a bag in his or her trunk that contains potentially life-saving gear. Most of this can be obtained from around the house without spending a dime — such as a blanket for each family member, matches or lighters and towels, and some nonperishable foods, such as granola bars. Some bottled water, extra socks, and gloves are useful as well. You’ll need a flashlight with extra batteries in case you’re on a dark road and need to change a tire at night. Some models allow you to use your cigarette lighter to get a tremendous amount of light — but you can’t take it with you if you need to walk somewhere — so keep the traditional kind on hand as well.
If you’re reliant upon medication to live, such as insulin, make sure you have at least three days’ supply with you. Many people every winter become stranded overnight in the snow, so hedge your bets by keeping some extra in your winter kit.
A small sack of sand not only helps keep the back of your car heavier and adhered to the road, but can provide traction when spilled on slick surfaces as well. A folding camping shovel doesn’t take up much space, but you’ll be glad to have it if stuck in mud or snow.
Of course, common sense dictates that everyone should be carrying jumper cables, all year long. Pre-packaged emergency kits are available for purchase at many auto parts stores.
Follow these tips to ensure you get to your destination, and please drive safely!
Thanks for reading,
Adam M. Gee, Esq.
NY and PA Personal Injury and Malpractice Attorney
Ziff, Weiermiller, Hayden & Mustico, LLP
303 William Street
Elmira, NY 14901