By Julie E. Lee
Although the winter months bring joyful holidays with family and friends, they can also bring unpredictable weather and dangerous driving conditions. Snow, black ice, fog and early nightfall are just a few of the driving challenges you may have to contend with this season.
But what’s your first line of defense and the easiest way to ensure a safe winter on the roads? Winterizing your car! Thankfully, winterizing most vehicles is simple, and requires little more than some routine upkeep and maintenance, allowing you to spend more time enjoying all the season’s delights. Prepare yourself for the winter driving season by following these five tips.
- Listen up: If you’ve been hearing any unusual noises while driving be sure to check out the source of those sounds. Starting out fresh should keep your driving safe through the snowy season. If you’ve been hearing your brakes screech or make other unusual sounds it’s time to check out those noises. If your brakes are making noise, check your brake fluid. Brake fluid attracts moisture, which could freeze in the winter and create travel issues. So when the cold air hits, be sure to change your brake fluid to start winter with fresh, dry (no water content) brake fluid in the system. Be sure to use high quality brake fluid, as it will prove more cost effective in preventing winter car troubles. This will leave you with a dry system protected from moisture and rusting during the winter.
- Tune up: Schedule a winter check-up for your vehicle. Have a trained technician inspect your vehicle with special attention to parts vulnerable in winter, such as the battery, engine and brakes. Make sure the technician also checks that your car’s heating and air conditioning system and lights are working properly, and that your exhaust system isn’t leaking. Winter is a great time for you to replace your windshield wipers and install snow tires for better traction.
- Clean up: Give your vehicle a “winter cleaning” inside and out. A basic car wash is a good place to start to ensure your exterior is prepared for the barrage of snow and salt, and to also make sure your lights and mirror aren’t obstructed by any dirt. You can also switch out your floor mats for weather resistant mats so they don’t get slippery on snowy days. Most importantly, clean out your trunk to make space for essential winter season supplies like a scraper and shovel.
- Stock up: While you should always have an emergency roadside kit in your vehicle, winter is the time to check the contents and add the winter necessities. Stock the everyday essentials – flashlight, flares, first aid kit, jumper cables, tool kit, paper towels, extra windshield washer fluid, and food and bottled water. Be sure to also pack the more winter-specific items, such as a blanket, hats and gloves, a snow brush, ice scraper, tire chains, snow shovel, and even a bag of salt or kitty litter for added traction in case a tire gets stuck. It’s also smart to keep a pair of winter boots in your trunk in case you need to exit your vehicle in an emergency.
- Fill up: Always keep your gas tank at least half-full. In the winter months, an empty gas tank runs the risk of freezing, whereas a fuller tank prevents moisture from building up and even adds a beneficial weight increase to your vehicle. In addition to your gas tank, fill up on new oil and make sure your anti-freeze is full and contains the appropriate mix (about a 50/50 mix of water and anti-freeze).
Understanding how to prepare your vehicle for harsh weather conditions can protect you, your passengers and your vehicle. But winter weather also requires cautious driving.
If you feel you could use a winter driving refresher, consider taking the AARP Smart Driver™ Course—AARP Driver Safety’s flagship offering and the nation’s first and largest refresher course designed specifically for older drivers. The AARP Smart Driver Course is available in a classroom and online, in both English and Spanish. In some states, you may even be eligible for a multi-year insurance discount upon completion of the course.*
For more information, visit www.aarp.org/safedriving or call 1-888-AARP-NOW (1-877-846-3299).
*The insurance premium discount is not available in all states for the online or the classroom versions of the course. Please consult your insurance agent for further details.
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Julie E. Lee is Vice President and National Director of AARP Driver Safety in the Education and Outreach group at AARP. She directs the largest driver improvement course in America designed for drivers age 50 and older. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .