Getting your vehicle ready for holiday travel doesn’t necessarily require the skill of a professional mechanic or demand hours under the hood. In fact, armed with these nine tips you can easily prep your car for a winter journey yourself. But don’t wait until you’re ready to hit the road. Perform these safety checks now so you can make any necessary repairs before the big day.
1. Inspect windshield wipers.
Damaged windshield wipers can reduce visibility and lead to potentially dangerous driving conditions, especially during inclement weather. Make sure your car’s wipers are in good condition and operating as they should. If they are streaking or skipping across the windshield, or the blades are split, dry-rotted, or worn, replace them. Install heavy-duty winter wipers if you live in (or are traveling to) an area that receives a significant amount of snow and ice.
2. Top off windshield washer fluid.
Windshield washer fluid helps your windshield wipers perform at their best during wintery weather. Before you take off for Grandma’s house, fill your vehicle’s windshield washer reservoir with high-quality, “no-freeze” fluid — and keep an extra gallon stored in your car just in case.
3. Test defrosters.
If your vehicle’s defrosters aren’t working properly, snow and ice can build up quickly on windows and mirrors and hinder visibility. If your window and mirror defrosters aren’t operating as they should, there are a few easy ways to troubleshoot the problem.
4. Install floor mats correctly.
An improperly installed driver floor mat may interfere with the operation of the vehicle’s brake pedal, accelerator, or clutch, which can lead to an accident. To help minimize this risk, use only floor mats that are the correct size and fit for your vehicle, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation, and keep mats in place with retention clips.
5. Gauge tire pressure.
Proper tire pressure helps maximize your vehicle’s fuel efficiency and stability and can reduce the risk of a flat tireor a blowout — all things that are particularly important during a long, wintery drive. Before you get behind the wheel, check each tire and make sure it is filled to the manufacturer’s recommended inflation pressure specified in your owners manual. Keep in mind that as the temperature drops so will tire pressure, so check your tires periodically throughout your trip. For the most accurate reading, wait until your car has been parked for at least three hours before checking tire pressure.
6. Check tire tread.
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the average winter holiday road trip length is 275 miles. Whether or not your road trip will be that long, make sure your tires are prepared for the journey by ensuring the tread is 1/16 of an inch or greater. If it isn’t, the risk of hydroplaning increases and your car’s traction and breaking ability diminish.
There are a few quick and easy ways to check tire tread depth. One method is to insert a penny into the tire’s tread with Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, the tread isn’t sufficient and the tire should be replaced.
Tip: If you’re going to face harsh winter road conditions, winter tires may be a worthwhile investment. When compared to traditional tires, winter tires offer better grip, improved stopping power, and better all-around control when roads are wet or snowy.
7. Stock your vehicle with essentials.
Before you embark on a long road trip this holiday season, put together a car emergency kit. At minimum, your kit should include an ice scraper, a flashlight, a blanket, jumper cables, flares, abrasive material like sand or kitty litter, and a small shovel. Of course, you’ll also need food, water, and any necessary medications. If you’re traveling with young children, elderly folks, or pets, make sure your kit contains extra blankets and any items specific to their needs.
8. Ensure lights and signals are in working order.
Walk around your vehicle and check that the headlights, taillights, break lights, turn signals, and hazard lights are working properly. You’ll also want to be sure the lights are free of debris, and take time to clean them during your trip as built-up snow, ice, and dirt can reduce their effectiveness.
9. Add roadside assistance to your auto insurance policy.
Most auto insurance policies offer roadside assistance plans. If you’re not signed up for roadside assistance, consider adding it to your coverage before your trip. In addition to services like towing, flat-tire repair, and lock-out assistance, some roadside assistance plans also offer travel interruption reimbursement, as well as hotel and car rental discounts.
With everything else on your to-do list, it’s easy to overlook car care. But if you face less-than-optimal weather conditions during your holiday road trip, you’ll feel more secure knowing your vehicle is up to the task.
Written by Alexia Chianis
Wanderlust junky and mom of two, Alexia is a former police officer and U.S. Army Captain who draws on her experiences to write about a myriad of safety topics. Learn more