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Winter Vehicle Preparation: 20 Top Tips

Winter vehicle preparation is essential to keep you and your loved ones safe. When a winter storm is on the way, it’s best to avoid traveling in a vehicle, but this isn’t always an option, and there is no accounting for a freak storm.

If you are caught in a bad snowstorm while driving a vehicle, there are several things you can do to prepare for survival in the event the car gets stuck in the snow or breaks down.

I’m writing this article because my son is heading to North Dakota to attend college. Winter temperatures in the area regularly hover below zero without wind chill. I hope this information will keep him and you safe on the wintry roads.

20 Top Tips to Winterize A Vehicle

winter vehicle preparation

Fall is a good time to winterize your vehicle to ensure you don’t get stranded on the side of the road. Following is a list of 16 things you can do to your car to make it winter-worthy.

#1 Radiator (winter vehicle preparation)

Winterize your radiator with an antifreeze mix.

Ensure your vehicle radiator has a minimum of 50% water to 50% coolant in the reservoir. An antifreeze tester (hydrometer) will tell you the freezing point of the coolant you have in the reservoir.

Most Auto stores sell a 50/50 premixed antifreeze if you don’t want to mix your blend.

Do not use distilled water in your radiator. It causes electrolysis which can damage your cooling system.

Warning: Never remove a radiator cap when the engine is warm. Let the engine cool down before removing the radiator cap, or coolant can spray out and burn you.

Antifreeze Concentration Chart

Temperature On Antifreeze Tester °FAntifreeze ConcentrationWater Concentration
Antifreeze Concentration Should Be At Least 50%
Chart Compliments of Wayne’s Garage

#2 HVAC System

  • Test your car heater and window defroster to ensure they blow hot air

#3 Lubricate

  • Lubricate door and trunk locks with a graphite spray
  • Lubricate hood latch and door hinges with WD40
  • Lubricate door seals with silicone spray

Food to Stockpile for Shortages and Economic Collapse

#4 Belts (winter vehicle preparation)

  • Check belts for cracking and dry rot.
  • Replace your timing belt at 60k miles or when suggested by the vehicle manufacturer

#5 Hoses

Inspect for

  1. Cracks, Loose clamps. Sponginess
  2. Bulges
  3. Hardened glass surfaces caused by heat damage
  4. Replace if necessary

#6 Lights

Check headlights, reverse, blinkers, hazards, and tail lights.

#7 Brakes

Cold weather doesn’t damage your car, but poorly maintained brakes affect your vehicle’s performance on snow and ice.

#8 Fluids

Check brake, transmission, and power steering fluids to ensure they are at the correct levels.

#9 Engine Oil (winter vehicle preparation)

  • Motor oil gets thicker as temperatures go down. A thinner viscosity of oil makes for a more leisurely engine start.
  • The best kind of oil for your vehicle can be found in the owner’s manual.

#10 Wiper Blades 

Windshield wipers should be in good condition.

  • Make sure to clean your windshield of snow and ice before turning your wipers on, or you will cause damage.
  • Keep an extra set of wipers in your trunk.

#11 Battery

Check the condition of your

  • Battery
  • Starting System
  • Charging System
  • Most auto parts stores will test your battery for free.
  • Clean your battery terminals
  • Tighten battery connections

#12 Consider snow tires (winter vehicle preparation)

  • Snow tires have tread patterns designed for driving on snow and ice.
  • The rubber in snow tires is softer and offers higher performance when driving in cold weather.

#13 Snow-chains

Some areas require snow chains, and some do not allow them.

  • If they are allowed, use snow chains when there is ice or snow on the roadway.
  • If you drive with chains on clean pavement, you will damage your tires and the road.

#14 Spare Tire

Your spare tire should be in working order and adequately inflated.

  • Make sure you have a jack and tools to change a flat.

#15 Tire Tread

  • Check the tread depth, have at least 4/32-in of the tread left on the tire. Any less will affect the performance of your vehicle on snow and ice.

#16 Check Tire Pressure

As temperatures drop, so does your tire pressure.

  • Proper tire inflation increases contact between the tire and the roadway, improving traction and driveability.
  • Check tire pressure regularly.
  • Check your owner’s manual for optimum tire pressure, or check the sticker on the door jam on the driver’s side.

#17 Windshield De-icer Reservoir

The reservoir should be filled.

  • Carry an extra gallon of de-icer in your vehicle in case you run out.

Printable free download checklist for winter car maintenance. Click here

#18 7 Tips For Winter Car Travel (winter vehicle preparation)

  1. Travel in Daylight if possible
  2. Stay on known and main roads, and avoid rural service roads and unfamiliar paths that may not be serviced regularly.
  3. Be aware of weather forecasts, road reports, and storm alerts, and plan accordingly.
  4. Travel with a full tank of gas, or keep your tank at least 1/2 full. You will need gas to run the engine and keep the heat going.
  5. Let family or friends know when you leave and arrive at your destination and the route you will take. If you are late or don’t show up, they will have a general idea of where you might be.
  6. Allow extra time to make your journey; travel in the snow takes longer.
  7. Dress for cold weather before you leave the house, don’t depend on the car heater to keep you warm. Consider wearing layers. It would help if you also had warm shoes or boots, gloves or mittens, a stocking cap, and a scarf.

#19 Driving on Snow and Ice

Aerial of Winter Road
  1. Drive slowly to counteract limited traction, which affects your ability to steer and stop the vehicle 
  2. Make turns slowly and think ahead, especially at intersections and curves in the road.
  3. When your vehicle skids, turn in the direction of the skid. Be ready for a second skid as the car straightens out.
  4. If you hit a slippery spot, take your foot off the gas, but don’t use your breaks. Keep your vehicle as straight as possible until the car slows.
  5. Increase your following distance between vehicles (ice or snow can increase your stopping distance by 10x)
  6. Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Quick action leads to a loss of control.
  7. Don’t stop the vehicle unless you have to
  8. Don’t use your cruise control in snow or ice.
  9. Avoid an accident. As a last resort, you can steer your vehicle into a snowbank to avoid collision with another car.
International Harvester Scout in snow storm

#20 Winter vehicle kit (37 items to keep the vehicle)

Keep your family safe with vehicle preparation and storing everything needed to survive in the event of a foul-weather breakdown. The following are 37 things to consider storing in your vehicle for the winter season.

Cold Weather Sleeping and Clothes:

  1. Warm blankets, preferably wool
  2. Mylar space blanket for a heat reflection
  3. Sleeping Bags are big and bulky but worth having if you break down
  4. Heavy-duty snow boots
  5. Mittens (Gloves don’t keep your fingers as warm as mittens because the fingers are separated.)
  6. Extra hats, gloves, and scarves, preferably wool and not cotton (once cotton gets wet, it stays damp and loses its ability to insulate.
  7. Snowmobile suit or the clothing you wear when skiing
  8. Hand and feet warmers-These work well. I use these when shoveling snow; they make a huge difference. Place warmers inside your mittens and shoes. Warmers are air-activated.

Emergency Signaling and Communication For a Stranded Vehicle

  1. Triangle reflectors/ Road Flares/Neon plastic strips to mark the outside of your vehicle to alert other drives of your location
  2. Glow Sticks can be placed next to the windshield and the rearview window and can be seen outside the car. Glowsticks last up to 12 hours.
  3. Smartphone charger/adapter that is dedicated to the vehicle
  4. Smartphone

Light, Heat, and Safety Gear for Your Winter Car Kit

  1. Flashlight with spare batteries, you can also use the flashlight on your smartphone
  2. Fire Starters: Tin can with sand in the bottom and emergency candles or votive candles. You can light the candles inside the can, which will give you some light and put off heat.
  3.  Matches to light the candles in your coffee-can heater, lighter, and tinder for fire starting
  4. Hand crank emergency radio with a flashlight
  5. First aid kit for basic first aid
  6. Fire extinguisher
  7. Toilet paper for personal sanitation 
  8. Hand Sanitizer/ Baby Wipes for personal sanitation
  9. 30′ of cordage or rope, tie it to the vehicle and use it as a guide rope to get back to your car.

Food and Water for Your Winter Car Kit

  1. Non-Perishable food like granola bars, trail snacks, raisins, hard candies, and chocolate, food keeps you warm.
  2. Hydrating keeps you warm. Bottled water is placed in a cooler to keep it from freezing. Otherwise, you will have to thaw it out.
  3. Metal Container to melt snow for drinking water

Roadside Tools for Your Winter Car Kit

  1. Sand, kitty litter, traction pads, or old pieces of carpet for emergency traction
  2. Heavy Duty Towing Strap so a passing vehicle can pull you out of a snowbank and vice versa
  3. Snow Shovel to dig your tires out and to keep your exhaust and radiator clear. If you don’t have room for a full-size snow shovel, then use a small collapsible shovel.
  4. Jumper cables
  5. Ice scraper
  6. Car escape tool to cut a seat belt or smash out a window if you’re trapped in the vehicle
  7. An emergency tire repair kit can be used, but having a functional spare tire is preferred.
  8. Carry extra gas, use non-ethanol as it lasts longer and doesn’t produce as many fumes, and add fuel stabilizer to increase shelf life
  9. Have a portable Lady Jon/Jane Porta Potty in case someone needs to go to the bathroom
  10. Simple Tool Kit including screwdrivers, a wrench kit, and duct tape

Insulation for Your Winter Car Kit

  1. Three mil trash bags (contractor grade) can be used for sanitation, as a water-proof outer layer, or to cover windows and make a warm zone. Trash bags have so many uses in survival situations I can’t list all of them here.  
  2. Cardboard is easily broken down and an excellent barrier to the cold. Lay the boxes flat in your trunk or under a seat.
  3. Duct Tape and paracord can be used with a wool blanket, contractor bags, and cardboard to create a warm zone in the car.
  4. Tarp can be used as a blanket or to create a warm zone in your vehicle
  5. Knife or multi-tool to cut tape, trash bags, cardboard, or rope

Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Keep on prepping!

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