Don’t get caught off guard this winter. Use this checklist to prepare your vehicle for the cold weather and assemble your roadside survival kit.

Vehicle maintenance

  • Follow your vehicle manufacturer’s scheduled maintenance recommendations.
  • Talk to your mechanic about winterizing your vehicle. Many auto shops will list what’s included in a winterization package, but ask if you’re unsure.
  • Check the fluid levels (oil, brake, power steering, antifreeze and windshield washer).
  • Check the engine hoses and connections for wear, tear, kinks, bulges and punctures. Soft rubber hoses can harden and break over time. If they’re showing signs of degradation, replace them.
  • Inspect the spark plugs, especially if your vehicle struggles to start or idles rough.
  • Install winter windshield wipers. Winter wiper blades are made of sturdier, freeze-resistant rubber for moving heavy snow. They’re not recommended for year-round use, though, so swap them out in the spring.
  • Inspect the brake system and rotors.
  • Check the battery connections and charge levels. Even if you have a newer battery, batteries can lose power based on driving habits, faulty or corroded connectors, or extreme weather conditions.
  • Check engine and cabin air filters, especially if you frequently drive on unpaved streets or in polluted areas.
  • Check the defrost functionality on the front and back windshields.
  • Check the exterior and interior lights.
  • Check the spare tire and make sure it’s functional and inflated. Make sure you have a car jack and extra lug nuts, too.
  • Inspect your jumper cables for wear, including frayed wires or loose connections.
  • Rotate the tires.
  • Ask your mechanic or tire dealer about ordering snow tires so you’ll get them before bad weather strikes. Many tire dealers offer tire storage options in case you don’t have space at home to store seasonal tires.
  • Purchase snow chains before the snow falls and learn how to install them. Chains can get tricky, so talk to your mechanic if you don’t know how to secure them.
  • Mount snow tires if you drive in frigid conditions. Snow tires have unique and deep tread patterns, and some even come with studs. They’re also made of softer rubber, which creates better traction for gripping in cold temperatures. All-weather tires, on the other hand, use a different kind of rubber that can harden at low temperatures, causing the vehicle to lose traction and skid easily.)
  • Maintain proper tire pressure.
    • Familiarize yourself with the appropriate pounds per square inch (psi) range for your vehicle. This information is listed on the driver’s side doorjamb decal or in the owner’s manual. It’s usually 32 to 35 psi.
    • Invest in a tire pressure gauge and check the tire pressure before driving, when the vehicle is cold.
    • Never ignore an illuminated tire pressure alert on your car dash. Tires can lose 1 psi every month under normal driving conditions and even more when it’s cold out and air compresses. When the tire pressure dips too low, the tire can pull away from the rim, causing a flat or blowout.
    • Get in the habit of checking regularly, at least once a month.
  • the gas tank at least half full during cold snaps, especially if you park your car outdoors. Gasoline freezes at minus 100 Fahrenheit, but water vapor could build up and freeze in the gas line, causing a fuel blockage.

Create a roadside safety kit

You might have less trunk space after adding a safety kit, but being well-prepared for a roadside wait is worth it. Customize your safety kit with things like:

  • An ice scraper and snow brush
  • Glow sticks, so other drivers can see you walking along dark roadways
  • A flashlight
  • Flares or reflective triangles to create a visual barrier around your car
  • Survival candles or canned candles to generate heat
  • A lighter or matches
  • A loud whistle to draw attention to yourself
  • A hand-crank emergency radio, ideally one with a phone charger, USB outlet and light
  • An extra phone charger cable