A parked black car in snowy Ohio

Get Your Used Car Ready for Winter

I can’t help myself; I’m sorry but I just have to do this: Winter is coming! Now that that’s out of my system, let’s talk about used cars in the winter and how to make sure you are ready. If you’re reading this in sunny California, then go enjoy a day at the beach because you don’t have to worry about any of this. For the rest of us, however, whether you have a used car in Columbus, Ohio; Green Bay, Wisconsin; or Buffalo, New York; you’re bracing for winter and making sure you’re ready for it.

Owning a used car often means you have less reliance on a dealership or manufacturer for maintenance and routine check-ups. This can save you money, but also means that bad weather and poor road conditions can be much more intimidating. But don’t worry. There are some simple things you can do to make sure your car is ready for winter and keep yourself and your passengers safe.

Check Your Oil

So this is something you should be doing pretty routinely anyway, but when bad weather is right around the corner, then it becomes even more important. Check your oil levels to make sure they are high enough and if you are getting close to the need for a full oil change, then don’t hesitate. It will be a lot easier to do it yourself or take it in to have it done, now than when everything is covered in snow and ice.

Also, be sure to check your vehicle’s owner’s manual to see the viscosity of oil that you should be using in cold weather. Oil often thickens when it gets cold, especially as temperatures approach and pass freezing. Using the right viscosity will ensure your oil does not get too thick, which keeps your used car running better.

Check Your Battery

Again, this should be a part of your routine maintenance, but it’s more important than ever when the weather is about to get nasty. Check your cables and posts on the battery to be sure they are free of corrosion, dirt, and any cracks or breaks. If you own a voltmeter, then check the voltage of your battery to make sure it will get you through the winter. If you don’t own a voltmeter, then you can have a mechanic do it for you. If the voltage is too low, then replace your battery.

Getting stuck in a snowy parking lot late at night might not be as dreadful as it was 30 years ago, thanks to mobile phones. But it’s still not a fun way to spend a Saturday night, and you don’t want to have to rely on the kindness of strangers to give your car a jump. Finding out your battery is dead on Monday morning is also a pretty lousy way to start the week.

Check Your Tires

See a theme here? Routine maintenance is the best way to make sure your used car runs smoothly year-round, and in winter it is vital. Driving in snow and ice is all about getting as much traction as possible. So make sure your tires are properly inflated by checking your tire pressure. You can look in your owner’s manual to see how much pressure the manufacturer suggests for your vehicle in cold weather.

It’s also important to check your tire treads for wear and tear and make sure your tires look like they are in generally good shape. If weather in your area is particularly icy, or you have to deal with a lot of hills, then winter tires may be a good idea. These can be expensive but are usually a lot cheaper than driving into a ditch or slamming into another vehicle on the road.

Check Your Radiator

The antifreeze or coolant in your radiator is vital to making sure your engine doesn’t freeze up in the winter. Usually you want to have about a 50-50 mixture of antifreeze and water inside your radiator. If you’re in an area with particularly cold winters, then something like a 60-40 mixture of antifreeze to water might be more appropriate to make sure your engine keeps running.

Check Your Wipers and Fluid

The ability to see through your windshield when driving in winter weather is pretty important. Test your windshield wipers before the first winter storm hits to make sure they work and actually clear off your windshield. You should also be sure your wiper fluid is full and check this throughout the winter to help keep your view clear.

Check Your Defroster and Heater

You should also test your window defroster since you need to keep the inside of your windshield just as clear as the outside. Test your heaters in the autumn, before the full chill of winter, and take your car to a mechanic if they are not working properly. Your heaters not only make your ride more comfortable in the cold but can also save your life if you become stranded in a snow bank or on an icy, rural road.

Keep Your Gas Tank Full

This is less of a preparedness step and more of a general procedure during the winter. It’s a good idea to always keep your gas tank full at the end of the day, rather than telling yourself you’ll just head to the station in the morning. Not only will this give yourself time in the morning to let your used car warm up before leaving, but it helps you avoid ever running out of gas.

It’s also worth noting that in the winter, if your gas tank is low, moisture can gather near the top of your gas tank and drip down. This water can get into your fuel line and potentially freeze, creating a blockage. To avoid this, be sure your gas tank remains at least a quarter or half full at all times.

Have an Emergency Kit

This is something that can honestly save your life. Make sure you have proper emergency supplies in your used car at all times, but especially in the winter. This includes some water bottles and dry food that you can drink and eat if you become stranded. Have a change of clothes, in case your clothes become wet and cold, along with some blankets to keep yourself warm if your battery dies and you have no heat. A change of shoes, particularly snow boots, can also be very helpful, especially if you are wearing shoes that are not practical for long walks.

A snow brush and ice scraper is essential for clearing off your vehicle before driving, so you have proper visibility. Keep jumper cables in your car as well, so that you can be that Good Samaritan who helps someone else out if they are not as ready for the winter as you are. You should also have a flashlight with new batteries and a well-stocked first aid kit for yourself or anyone with you who might get injured in an emergency.

A silver Chevy SUV drives down a snowy Columbus road

Slow Down and Drive Safe

Finally, this isn’t a note about your used car so much as it is about you: be sure to slow down. Rain, snow, and ice make roads extremely treacherous and driving slower is the single best way to avoid a collision. When visibility becomes bad and roads get slippery, go slower and drive more cautiously. Avoid distractions including mobile phones, conversation with passengers, and daydreaming while driving in the winter, so you can stay focused and get where you’re going safely.

These simple tips will help you get the most of your used cars in Columbus, Ohio, the Northeast or anywhere that gets rough winter conditions and keep you safe through your winter commute.