Winter Prep: Do it Now

BMW snow plow
After the hottest summer in living memory and a weird, fickle fall, some steady winter weather is almost welcome here in Kansas City.  Yesterday, for example, it was 77 degrees before the sun came up, though it was about 35 when it went back down.  Very weird.

But it got us thinking about winter preparations and the best ways to get a car ready for the cold, grey hood of the non-sweating months.  Have a few tricks we’ve gathered over the years:

Check your belts, hoses, seals. Winter is hard on rubber.  As it sits under your hood, alternating between exposure to the extreme heat of a roaring V12 V8 4-cylinder and the extreme cold of just being outside, rubber expands, contracts, and breaks down.  If the printing has worn off of your belts, replace them.  If your hoses are cracked and bulging, take care of it before the snow flies.  You don’t want to do it at 5 below beside the highway with a puddle of steaming antifreeze at your feet.

Flush your radiator. Speaking of antifreeze, that slimy gunk under your radiator cap becomes pasty gunk in the winter.  Get rid of it and give your water pump a break.  Your car will heat up faster and you won’t get frostbite on your earlobes.  This is a simple, straightforward job, but the tricky part comes in getting rid of your old coolant.  Be sure your area has a hazmat disposal center before you start.  If not, just pay the shop.

Scrutinize your tires. This one’s pretty obvious.  If you lack tread, you’re going to have trouble on the wet pavement.  Do the penny test.  If you need some new car shoes, consider winter tires.  The softer your tires, the more grip you’re going to get.  Winter tires are designed to get softer at a lower range of temperatures than summer or all-season rubber.

Get some tire chains. When the rubber alone isn’t enough, you might need a set of tire chains to get you through a rough patch.  Some states even require them.  See our full write-up for details.

Assemble your gear. Tire chains are only one item you should keep in your vehicle for winter.  Put together a kit to keep in your trunk/tool box/hatch.  Include warm gloves, a first aid kit, a tow strap (for your own vehicle, even if it can’t pull out others), jumper cables, a map of your area (since winter accidents can close whole highways), and some emergency food.  Try not to break into that last item in the middle of a normal work day.

Wax now and wash your car regularly. Rust is winter’s greatest weapon against your car’s body.  And your greatest defenses are waxing and washing.  A solid protective coat of wax now will keep the salt and moisture from eating away your clear coat and giving your paint a once-over.  It’s even worse for bare metal like exhaust pipes and undercarriage brackets, so wash your car every week or two.

Clean out the garage. To take things a step further, a garaged refugee will always survive more winters than a driveway car.  If your garage is full of junk instead of car, now’s the time to move your best gas-powered friend inside.

This list is by no means complete.  What do you do to prepare your prized daily driver for polar weather?

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