Top Tips for Winter Car Safety

Winter is in full swing, and some of us aren’t used to icy driving conditions. It recently snowed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for the first time in many, many years. When this happened, I had a few questions about car care, and about safety while driving my vehicle in the snow.

Spontaneous Traveling Mamas may find themselves on an impromptu road trip that ends up in a colder destination. These tips from Jiffy Lube can help all of us keep our cars, trucks, and mini-vans running during frigid weather — whether you’re traveling through a northern state or if you live in a snowy clime and just want to do daily errands safely:

* Check your antifreeze/coolant
Antifreeze helps control the temperature of a vehicle’s engine. Since it remains liquid and does not freeze in cold temperatures, antifreeze also helps protect the engine during extreme cold starts. Servicing your vehicle’s cooling system according to your vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations can help you avoid costly repairs down the line. Check your owners’ manual for how often it should be replaced.

* Watch the wiper blades
The normal life expectancy for most windshield wiper blades is six to 12 months. Check and clean the windshield wiper blades or replace them if necessary. Checking and replacing them as needed can improve visibility to help avoid a very dangerous situation on the road — particularly in snowy and stormy conditions.

* Make sure the battery is strong
A weak battery is less reliable and can take longer to start your car on cold mornings. In fact, a weak battery could lose about one third of its power or more in colder conditions (e.g. below 32 degrees Fahrenheit). Make sure that connections are tight and free of corrosion and have your battery tested to ensure it has ample power to withstand the cold. Start the car with the heater, lights and window defrosters turned off to minimize battery strain.

* In case of emergency
Maintain a vehicle emergency kit including a first aid kit, jumper cables, flashlight, bottled water, extra blankets, gloves and hat, granola/energy bars, duct tape, and a can of Fix-a-Flat. You never know when you will need these essentials. If you have little ones still using formula, keep a few extra servings of powdered formula to mix up with your bottled water, just in case you do end up on the side of the road.

* Clean the engine air filter
The engine air filter is a vehicle’s lung. A clean air filter helps the engine combust an optimal air-to-fuel mixture, making it run more smoothly and efficiently. When your air filter is clogged, your engine has to work harder and therefore is not operating at peak performance. Check your vehicle owner’s manual to find out when it needs to be replaced.

* Pay attention to oil grade
Motor oil lubricates the engine, keeping it cool and reducing the friction between moving parts. As motor oil circulates, it also cleans away harmful dirt and contaminants. In general, you should use the lightest grade of oil your vehicle’s manufacturer recommends for the conditions you drive in. During the winter, this may mean an even lighter grade than usual. Most vehicle owner’s manual specifies the correct grade of motor oil for your vehicle during certain driving conditions and seasons.

* Keep an eye on tire pressure
Under-inflated tires create extra friction where the rubber meets the road. Improperly inflated tires also wear unevenly, which can impact your vehicle’s traction on the road and possibly lead to a dangerous blowout. Check your tire pressure regularly and make sure all of them are filled to the correct level — and remember your spare tire, which can lose pressure in the cold.

Proper tire pressure is vehicle-specific. Tire pressure information for a vehicle is found on a decal typically in the vehicle’s door jamb or in the vehicle owner’s manual. Do not follow the pressure listed on the sidewall of the tire, as this number is specific to the tire, not the vehicle.

Consider visiting the knowledgeable folks at Jiffy Lube to help you with your winter car maintenance. To find the location closest to you, log on to JiffyLube.com.

Special thanks to the experts from Jiffy Lube who provided these tips just for Traveling Mamas readers. Do you have tips for driving during the snow that you have found helpful? Please share them with us in the comments below.

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  1. Join the AA or RAC (what do you call it in America? The auto club?)

    Make sure the battery on your mobile phone has plenty of charge in it.

    I always carry a couple of old jute sacks in the car in winter … good to get you going on slippery bits. But, they’re a bit hard to find these days, and plastic ones are no good. Maybe an old blanket or something might make an acceptable substitute.

    Keep a parka and a pair of boots with you, in case you have to leave the car.

  2. Slow down when driving! And know how your brakes work–antilock brakes work differently than older brakes; front-wheel drive is different to handle than rear-wheel drive.

    Here in the frozen north I have a winter survival kit that lives in the trunk from November through April. In it, there are extra hats and mittens, hand warmers, emergency candles, flashlights, and the like, as well as food and water.

    My best advice, though–if the weather’s bad, don’t go out unless you really have to.

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