Routine Vehicle Maintenance

There are a number of essential items that you need to check on your vehicle in order to be one step ahead of the hostile winter weather.

Fluid Levels

Oil – Of course, this should be checked weekly, if not, at the least, bi-weekly. It is important to choose the correct grade of oil and not the cheapest for your engine. Check the owner’s manual for details.

Anti-Freeze/Water – The cooling system prevents your car from overheating and provides the hot air for the interior heater. If you don’t have the correct amount of Anti-freeze in the system, the risk of the water freezing inside the engine is high. The outcome is that the engine block can crack, rendering the motor useless and a very expensive repair bill. There are a lot of good tools that are relatively cheap to enable checking the level of anti-freeze in the coolant system. The most common tool looks like a turkey baster. You draw fluid into it and it’ll tell you what temperature you are currently protected.

ATF (Automatic transmission fluid) – If your car is an automatic, it is important to check the fluid in your gearbox. If fluid levels are low, the vehicle will not propel forward or backwards. In order to check the ATF, you must do this with your engine running. Of course, follow the safety tips covered in the safety section. Wear goggles and keep your hands, loose clothing and long hair away from moving parts. Dip the ATF and top up accordingly. It is good advice to use a funnel, as, unlike the oil, where you have a dip and a filler cap, with ATF, the fluid goes down the dipper tunnel.

Washer Fluid – Keep your windshield clean so you can see! Invest in some screen washer fluid and dilute this with water, of in particularly harsh States, use neat. My personal recommendation is to use no other chemicals other than store bought windshield wash to prevent streaking on the glass.

Keep It Clean

During the winter, the local authorities are good at keeping the roads clear of Ice and snow by applying salt, or more commonly known as grit. Salt and water are the two main ingredients of oxidisation which causes metal to rust. Prevent rust onset by regularly washing your vehicle during the winter. Use a good quality vehicle shampoo and make certain to spray out the wheel arches and inside the fenders with a water hose or pressure washer.

Brakes

Make sure your brakes are in good working order. Check you brake pads, rotors and shoes for excessive wear. If they need replacing, you must do this immediately. See the braking system section for details about checking and replacing brakes. If you are unsure of how to do this, given the nature of the braking system, take it to a reputable repair shop. Many shops will provide a free brake check service, just be sure what you are being told is the truth and always get a second opinion.

Tires

Check your tires, including the spare for pressure, wear and defects. Take a look at the tread pattern to see if there is excessive wear on the middle or sides of the tread pattern. If there is any doubt that they are defective, have your tires replaced. Also check the side walls for bubbling and splitting. If there are any splits or cracks, you must replace them immediately. If you are using snow chains, make certain that they are in your trunk and ready for the occasion. See our section on Tires for a more detailed analysis.

Trunk Items

During the winter, while you are out driving, there is nothing worse than being caught in a snow storm. Be sure to have the following items in your trunk at all times.

  1. Blankets

    Two reasons – firstly to keep you warm if your engine dies, and secondly to get you out of a sticky situation. If you get stuck in the snow, place the blankets on the ground in front and behind your drive wheels. This will enable traction and help you in getting unstuck.

  2. Shovel or Spade

    To dig your drive wheels out of the snow, should you become submerged in a deep snow drift.

  3. Winter/Waterproof Jacket

    Even of you are going on a short journey, sometimes you jump in the car and go, sometimes in just a sweater. The heater will keep you warm! What if you have to get out of the car? You’ll get very wet if it’s snowing and very cold! So keep an extra jacket in the trunk. If you don’t need it, be a good Samaritan, someone else might need it!

  4. Warning Triangle

    Mandatory in continental Europe, carry a warning triangle just incase you run off the road. Place it 1- 200 meters away from the rear of your car to warn other drivers of a hazard.

  5. Wheel Wrench and Jack

    Make sure you have a Wheel Wrench and Jack, just incase you have to change a tire. Being stuck without one in winter because you loaned it to someone, will make you kick yourself, hard!

  6. Snow Chains

    Don’t be without them if the weather suddenly calls for them.

  7. Snack Pack

    If you get stuck in the middle of nowhere and you get hungry, what are you going to do? You reach for your snack pack of course! Pack a few items of non perishable foods and drinks so at least you can have a snack if the situation calls for it. Personally, I have a small gas stove that I carry in my trunk. There’s nothing like a nice hot can of beans when you’re stuck in the snow. Pack some instant coffee and sugar. Melt some ice in the used tin and make a mug of coffee to warm you up! Be sure to replenish the gas and carry a spare and of course, replace what you eat!

  8. Change of Clothes

    How stupid does that sound? But what if you are stuck and you have to dig your car out of a drift? When you get back in the car, you are cold and wet. Your clothes are wet. So change them!

Now you are all set for winter. The key here is to be prepared for every eventuality that might happen out on the road. By following this checklist, you are one step ahead of the weather!

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