As harsh temperatures affect much of North America this week, keeping your vehicle running can be a challenge. There are a number of steps to take that can help your vehicle continue to run in the cold as well as safety items to keep with you at all times. With these vehicle winterization tips, your vehicle will be ready for winter and everything it throws your way.
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A key to keeping your vehicle running when it gets extremely cold out is keeping the block warm. Most vehicles have a block heater, which simply needs to be plugged in to keep it warm. A block heater helps to keep the engine warm, thus increasing the chance of the vehicle starting and can help warm up the vehicle faster. Depending on how cold it is, the block heater will need to be plugged in for around 3-4 hours, if not more, to be truly effective.
Sometimes also called a Battery Blanket, these devices wrap around the battery and can be plugged in to keep the battery warm, much like a block heater. These are especially useful on extremely cold nights. I had one installed on my truck before winter and it helps quite a bit. It’s not recommended to leave it plugged in for long periods of time, but if you can plug it in 30 minutes to 1 hour before you have to go anywhere, then it can make a huge difference in starting your vehicle. I also find that a warm batter takes a boost better than a cold one.
Let it idle
I know, this isn’t ideal. After all, letting your vehicle sit idling only adds to the pollution issue. However, when it is extremely cold, it can help to let your vehicle sit and run for a few minutes before driving. Some people will argue that it is perfectly fine to start your vehicle and immediately drive in the cold. I find it all depends on how cold it gets. Anything above -20C/-4F and you are probably fine to go without the idle time. However, as it gets colder it’s a good idea to start your vehicle 5-10 minutes early before taking off. Spend that time that it’s idling and warming up to make sure your windows, lights and license plates are snow and ice free, then get in and go.
Whether it’s the summer or winter, it is a good idea to keep an Emergency Kit in your vehicle. On top of a basic vehicle emergency kit, it is a good idea to keep a blanket in your car, along with a spare set of gloves and a hat. These can come in handy if you are stuck at the side of the road due to snow. Toss a couple of granola bars or other snacks, plus some water, into your emergency kit as well. They will likely be frozen but it’s better than having nothing.
Keep that tank topped up
Since on those colder mornings you may need to run your vehicle for a few minutes before driving to work or school, it is a good idea to keep your gas tank near full. Of course, it’s also important for if you run off the run or get stuck in a storm. This means you will be able to continue to run your vehicle to keep warm until help arrives. Just make sure that the exhaust pipe is clear when you are sitting idling.
Tires and breaks
Keep an eye on your tire pressure and the amount of tread left on your tires. The last thing you want it to have to drive on snowy or icy roads with bald tires. Snow tires can also help when the roads get slippery, as they provide extra grip. Having your brakes inspected before winter starts is a good idea as well. You don’t want to be driving around with worn out breaks.
A handy item to keep in your home if a battery booster pack. Extreme cold can kill a batteries life, so you need to be ready for when the battery doesn’t have enough power to start your vehicle. A Jump Starter can help start your vehicle on those cold mornings, without having to wake up your neighbor to use their vehicle for a boost. Last year, we bought a battery booster similar to this and it has been a huge help, especially this winter. We have already used it 3 times in the last 2 weeks. Just makes sure you don’t keep it in your vehicle, as the cold will also affect it and to regularly check to see if it has a good charge. Some boosters also come with an attached flashlight, air compressor, and USB charge ports.
Other things to consider
An ice scraper and brush are a must have. You never know when you will have to deal with a heavy layer of snow or some ice on your vehicle, so having one is a good idea. It can also be handy to keep one inside your home for those times when you can’t open your door before clearing it off.
If you drive a truck, then you may have an issue when the roads get slippery due to the weight difference between the front and back end. An easy solution to this is to add weight to the bed of your truck. Sandbags can be purchased or made and tossed into the bed to add that extra weight. However, I find that the cheapest and easiest option is to use snow. It’s free, I have to shovel it off the driveway anyway and it adds plenty of weight to the vehicle. You may need to refill the bed if you end up with some warmer weather, but in many places, there is an abundance of snow all winter long.
A foldable shovel can be a good idea if you live in an area that can get frequent snow storms. These shovels fold up to take up very little space and can be used to dig out your car.
Make sure your cell phone has a full charge before heading out on a trip. It’s a good idea to let someone know when you are leaving and when you should arrive at your destination, just in case.