Get Your Brakes Ready for Winter

Winter is nearly here — where did the rest of the year go? Amidst all the Thanksgiving preparations, there are a few other things you should prepare, including your car’s brakes. What do you need to do to get your brakes ready for those cold winter months?

Inspect

Before the roads get salty, it’s time to get your car ready, and that starts by inspecting your brakes.  Start by taking off your tires and visually checking your brakes and brake pads. Look for leaking brake fluid, uneven wear on the brake pads and signs of unnatural wear and tear on the brake rotors.  If you see any signs of wear, now is the time to change your brakes. Cold temperatures, salty roads and the extra pressure you put on the brakes to stop on snowy roadways can all cause worn brakes to fail.

In this case, it’s better to be prepared than to end up sliding into a snowdrift because your brakes stopped working. Winter driving is challenging enough without making it harder on yourself with faulty brakes.

Bleed

If you live in a cold climate, you don’t want to leave dirty brake fluid in your lines. Even if the liquid itself doesn’t freeze, dirt and debris can make it harder for your brakes to actually stop your car. Take the time to flush out your brakes — you can choose to pick up a pressurized brake flusher from your local auto parts store, or you can make one yourself with a clean pump sprayer and a few couplings and some vinyl hose. Use the pressure generated by the pump sprayer to flush out your brake lines before you refill it with brake fluid.

Turn

When you’re driving on snow or ice, you’re putting a lot more pressure on your brakes than you would under normal driving conditions. Worn brake rotors — or drums, if you drive an older car that still has drum brake — can fail under these circumstances.

Thankfully, in most cases, you can have the surfaces of your rotors or drums turned or re-cut to create an even surface to ensure reliable braking. If the rotors or drums have worn out over the years, or are too thin from excessive turning, they are easy to replace and are relatively inexpensive.  Don’t go into your winter months with worn brake rotors or you’ll be calling lots of tow trucks throughout the snowy weather.

Prepare

This might not apply specifically to your brakes, but preparing for winter weather is probably the best thing you can do to keep yourself safe during the cold months.

Start by switching out to snow tires once the flakes start to fall.  These tires will give you better handling and make it easier to control your car while you’re driving.  While you’re swapping out those tires, make sure all your fluids are ready for cold weather — flush and replace your antifreeze, switch oil to a thicker viscosity and replace your windshield washer fluid with a variety suited for lower temperatures.

Finally, update your emergency kit or create an emergency kit if you don’t have one yet just in case you get stranded in poor weather. Stock up on non-perishable snacks, drinking water, and warm clothes and blankets to keep you alive, along with tools like shovels, kitty litter, chains and ice scrapers to get you going again. Even if you’ve been driving in snow your entire life, you must always prepare for the unexpected.

Brace Your Brakes

In many cases, your brakes are all that stand between you and everything else on the roadway.  Make it a point to get your brakes ready for cold weather before the temperatures start to drop.  You’ll thank us later.

Scott Huntington is an automotive writer from central Pennsylvania. Check out his work at Off The Throttle or follow him on Twitter@SMHuntington.

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