Wintertime Road Trip Essentials

Driving during the winter is different than any other time of year. You might face slick patches of black ice and backed-up holiday traffic when you hit the road. Whether you’re driving to visit family or up to the ski slopes, these are essentials you need for any wintertime road trip.

Winterizing your car means getting it ready for frigid temperatures. There are several tasks professional mechanics recommend to make your car perform safely and reliably:

Ensure maintenance is up-to-date: Getting stranded on the road during winter is more than inconvenient – it’s dangerous, too. If there’s a repair you’ve been neglecting or an illuminated warning light, take care of it before winter hits.
Inspect all tires: Tire safety is critical for winter driving. Inspect all your car tires – including the spare – to ensure that the tread is deep enough and that air pressure is at the right level. If you expect snow on the ground, consider making the switch to snow tires.
Check car fluids: Chilly temperatures affect the fluids in your car. Antifreeze is extra important during winter, so check your radiator to ensure it’s filled to the proper level. If your engine uses regular oil you should get it changed to a thinner viscosity oil that flows better.
Inspect the battery: Batteries don’t produce as strong of a current in low temperatures. Inspect the terminals to make sure there’s no current-impeding corrosion and clean them if necessary. If it gets really cold where you live, investing in a battery warmer could help your car start more reliably.
Fix windshield damage: Cold temperatures make cracked or chipped glass more susceptible to damage. Even if the crack or chip is minor, it’s best to get the glass repaired or replaced.
Test the heating system: Having a heater that keeps your car interior warm is a must-have. Make sure your heater works on full blast without problems for extended periods of time. If it doesn’t, get it fixed.
Keep the gas tank filled: It’s a good idea to keep your gas tank at least a quarter full. If you get stuck in snow or traffic, a full tank will keep your engine and heater running for as long as possible.
Clean off snow and ice: Always clean off any snow that’s piled on your car before you drive. It adds unnecessary weight, and becomes a hazard to other drivers if it suddenly falls off.

Once you’ve prepared your car, it’s smart to get some extras that will make it easier and safer to drive on wintery roads. Keep these items in your car at all times during the winter:

Snow equipment: Tire chains improve traction and reduce the chances that your car will slide or spin. Use a scraper with a brush and a bottle of de-icing product to clear off iced-over windows. A shovel can clean off snow piled on your car, and dig your car out if it gets stuck.
Electronics: Jumper cables will help if a cold battery won’t start your car. A car charger for your mobile device makes it easier if you need navigation or to call for assistance. Pack a flashlight with extra batteries in case you have problems after dark.
Physical map: We rarely use physical maps anymore, but keeping one on hand will let you get your bearings if your mobile device runs out of battery or loses signal.
Emergency kit: Flares and warning triangles alert others if your car slides off the road. A first aid kit will help if there are any injuries. Non-perishable food like trail mix and bottles of drinking water are crucial if you get stranded. A fire extinguisher might seem counterintuitive, but can make a huge difference in a worst-case scenario.
Extra clothes: Keep extra clothes on hand so you can layer up as temperatures drop. If your clothes get wet from snow, having extras will let you get dry. A warm jacket, socks, gloves, and beanie are must-haves. A foil blanket is excellent at insulating heat and won’t take up much space in your car.

From icy roads to freezing batteries, there are numerous challenges you and your car might encounter during the cold months. These wintertime road trip essentials will help you get where you need to go safely and on time.

Alex Leanse works at YourMechanic.com. Have a question about anything auto related? You can ask one of their highly trained technicians and get an answer quickly, usually within 24 hours.

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