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Essential Car Checks just before & during the Winter Season, Make Sure you Have What you Need!

Driving in winter brings a host of challenges to overcome: icy roads, snowy conditions, poor visibility due to fog and short daylight hours… I could go on.

It’s no surprise that winter is the high season for traffic collisions and incidents.  

Prevention is always better than cure, which is why making sure your car is in tip-top condition before hitting the (frozen) road is extremely important.

States with Tough Winter Driving Conditions & Slower Speeds Typically

Below I have compiled a table list of states with severe winter driving conditions.

The worst states have a double check mark. The moderate states have a single check mark. All others are typically the same from summer to winter.

I decided to put the interstate speed limit for all states. Included is the typical speed in harsh winter conditions.

StateWinter Driving ConditionsSpeed Limit (mph)Typical Speed in Winter
Alabama7070
Alaska ✔✔6540 - 50
Arizona7575
Arkansas
7570
California
✔ (Northern Cal.)70 (Trucks 55)55
Colorado
7550 - 65
Connecticut6550
Delaware6555
District of Columbia
5040 - 50
Florida7070
Georgia
✔ (Northern GA)7065
Hawaii 6060
Idaho 80 (Trucks 70)55 - 65
Illinois 7055 - 65
Indiana7055 - 65
Iowa 7055 - 65
Kansas 7555 - 65
Kentucky7050 - 65
Louisiana7070
Maine ✔✔7540 - 55
Maryland7055 - 65
Massachusetts ✔✔6540 - 55
Michigan
✔✔7040 - 55
Minnesota✔✔7040 - 55
Mississippi7070
Missouri7045 - 65
Montana✔✔7545 - 65
Nebraska
7555 - 65
Nevada7575
New Hampshire6560
New Jersey6550 - 60
New Mexico7575
New York✔✔6540 - 50
North Carolina7070
North Dakota✔✔7555
Ohio 7055
Oklahoma
7555
Oregon6560
Pennsylvania7055 - 65
Rhode Island6550 - 60
South Carolina7070
South Dakota8055 - 65
Tennessee7065
Texas 7575
Utah
8055 - 65
Vermont
6555
Virginia 7055
Washington
7055 - 65
West Virginia7055 - 65
Wisconsin
✔✔6550
Wyoming✔✔8055 - 60

The handy tips below will hopefully serve as a refresher and checklist to make sure all the essential points for travelling are covered and your family can enjoy all their winter journeys with the minimum of hassle.

However, no checklist is a substitute for common sense. If you are experiencing the type of instant-boiling-water-freezing weather seen in the US and Canada recently, you should avoid all unnecessary journeys where possible, and exercise extreme caution if you do drive.

Spare Tire – Takes 2 Minutes to Check it

This is one of the most important parts of a car and is often not checked until you need to use it. You want to avoid a situation where you come to use it and find it missing.

Depending on the model the tire can be located under the car, or under the boot. When checking, make sure the tire is inflated to the correct pressure (look at your manufacturer’s notes or the information sticker often displayed inside the car door).  

Good tread on a tire for driving in winter.

Note: Make sure your spare tire is up to snuff for all seasons. You would want to make sure you have the jack and jack-stand to install it in case you get a flat tire. With all of the equipment handy an average person should be able to change a flat in approximately 30 minutes.

Removing suitcases and luggage to get to the tire could add time, so bear this in mind when it comes to packing.

If you know how to change a tire, check you have the tools to do so before your journey. This includes a wheel jack and also the locking wheel nuts.

If you have alloy wheels, locking wheel nuts are often used to protect your alloys from being stolen.

If you do not have the locking wheel nut, you will not be able to remove the wheel.

Proper placement of a manufacturers jack to lift for replacing a flat tire.

Note: Most new vehicles come with a manufacturer jack or a scissors jack as pictured above.  Make sure you check your owners manual first before use. Typically, the proper placement is on the bottom side of the vehicle near each tire. Make sure you place the scissors jack under the lip. Some vehicles, like Honda, have a specific lip dedicated to lifting the vehicle with a scissors jack.

Check Essential Fluids to Keep Your Vehicle Running Smooth

Driving long distances requires the engine to be at optimum performance and therefore it is important to check the oil levels (using a dip-stick) and water/screen-wash in washer bottle.

Proper oil level on a dipstick.

Note: When checking your vehicle’s oil level make sure it is between the maximum and minimum mark as illustrated above. If you have an older car with a slow oil leak make sure it stays between the marks. No need to add more oil if the reading is okay. I have an older Honda and it leaks a slight bit of oil. I don’t fret over it.

Always check these levels when the engine is cold and the car has not been running. During the winter, it’s advisable to add a small amount of de-icer to the screen-wash, or buy a pre-mixed solution, to prevent water instantly freezing on the screen.

Below I’ve added a list of fluids to check in your vehicle. In fact, you want to do this year round. Having car issues is a lot worse in the winter though. 

Vehicle FluidWhat to Look For
CoolantLook for the clear overflow plastic container near the radiator. If the liquid is below the minimum line, fill with a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze.
Power steering fluidThe small tank is located near the firewall, at the windshield’s base. Level should be between the minimum and maximum levels.
Brake fluidUsually in a clear reservoir marked with minimum and maximum lines. Fill if it’s low, but then have the system checked: there could be a leak or the brake pads may be wearing.
Engine oilRemove and wipe clean the dipstick, then insert it for a clean read. The dipstick should have a normal range indicated. If the oil is low, add more following recommendations in your owner’s manual. Be careful not to over-fill. Make sure to change the oil as per the schedule in your car’s owner’s manual.
Windshield washer fluidEasy to find. It’s important to keep your windshield clean, esp. when it is raining.

And, I am a fanatic for using synthetic oil. If you are not using it I recommended it.

Why? It is better for your vehicle in the long run. Plus, it is cheaper in the long run too. Below I’ve added a table explaining this.

Type of Oil Cost of Oil ChangeRecommend Mileage Between Oil ChangesCost per MileChanges per 100,000 MilesCost Savings per Oil Change Over ConventionalGallons of Oil Saved per Change
Conventional$253,000$.008333n/an/a
Synthetic Blend$325,000$.006420$5.000.6
Pure Synthetic$457,500$.006013$7.001.5

Batteries can Die when You Least Expect it

It is important the battery is holding its charge and working correctly. If you are not sure, or have been experiencing any problems with the car starting, get this checked out before your journey.

Image Credit: WikiHow

Note: If you have a multi-meter checking a car battery is easy. If you check your battery as illustrated above, your car’s battery should read approximately 12.6 volts. If it is running it should read approximately 13.7 to 14.5 volts.

Battery issues could simply mean a spark plug needs replacing, but addressing them could avoid a dangerous breakdown.

Changing a spark plug in a vehicle.

Note: Changing your spark plugs is fairly easy. Most manufacturers recommend changing every 20 – 30,000 miles for copper spark plugs. If you want your plugs to last longer then use platinum or iridium plugs. Typical problems for vehicles with bad plugs are running rough, skipping, rough idling, and stalling.

Emergency Kits – Lifesaver in All Car Breakdown Situations

Breakdown kits are vital if you run into a car trouble in sub-zero temperatures, especially if you are in a remote area. It’s advisable to pack for every eventuality and include:

  • A torch (charged up)
  • De-icer
  • Scraper
  • Small snow-shovel
  • Gloves
  • High Vis jacket
  • Blankets
  • Socks and suitable footwear for walking
  • Umbrellas
  • Jump leads (booster cables)
  • High calorie food such as chocolate, which can be eaten slowly
  • Water

Note: Something most drivers do not thing about until it is too late. An emergency breakdown kit will come in handy for any driver. You can pick one up at Target or Walmart for about $30.

Winter Driving Checklist
Easy Steps for Window Tinting
Weekend Maintenance Car Tips
Changing Car Maintenance Throughout The Year
5 Cool Car Hacks

Alternate Route Planning – Using Technology to Your Advantage

Technology has allowed us to plan routes, alternate routes and driving times using Sat Nav and mobile phones.

Using google maps on your phone for directions

Note: As most of you know the best maps are by Google. They have come a long way in making great maps with awesome accuracy. Don’t leave home without it when travelling long distances by vehicle. Especially during the winter.

However, it is important to have an up-to-date road map in your car, so you can reach your destination if the technology breaks or inclement conditions cause a roadblock. Fallen trees and black-ice spots can cause havoc and lead to closed roads in winter.

Stay In Touch – Be Wary of Traffic Announcements, Delays, & Other items

Plan ahead and make sure the car stereo is set to pick up traffic announcements. It is also worth checking on websites like the Highways Agency for any road incidents that might affect your route such as accidents that have closed a section of the motorway and causing heavy delays.

Note: Waze is a popular app for finding alternative routes while driving. Combined with Google Maps you should be able to get to your destination with ease. And being able to avoid traffic congestion plus other issues. Another cool feature of Waze is an application to prevent texting and driving.

These can save valuable time if you need to plan an alternative route, especially if you are driving at night and cannot easily see the paper road maps.

Sources

http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/roadinfo/wo.htm

http://wisconsindot.gov/Pages/safety

https://www.mdt.mt.gov/travinfo

AAA winter driving tips

https://www.codot.gov/travel/winter-driving

http://511.alaska.gov/alaska511/

http://www.michigan.gov/msp/0,4643,7-123-1878_1711-18077–,00.html

Elizabeth Madeley
This is a post written by Liz at ChipsAway car repairs, to ensure families are safe and prepared when driving in the winter. Typically icy winter conditions have not been too much of a concern this winter in the UK, with mild conditions meaning that storms and floods have been more of an issue. Our thoughts are with all those in the USA and Canada affected by the historic winter taking place.

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