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Preparing Your Car for Winter

In the immortal words of Ned Stark, “winter is coming.” Preparing your car for the long Michigan winter is vital to keep your car running properly and keeping you safe.  Here are 5 tips to get you through the winter safely:

1. Emergency Roadside Preparedness: Being prepared with the following items in your car could save your life if you are stranded on the side of the road for a few hours during the winter.  keep these items in your car:

  • Roadside emergency kit which contains a flashlight, road flares, first aid kit, jumper cables, and thermal blanket;

  • Blankets, warm clothes, and extra pairs of gloves;

  • A hand crank radio and portable cellphone charger;

  • Small bag of sand or kitty litter to aid in traction, extra ice scrapper, and small camp shovel to dig yourself out if necessary;

  • Snacks such as nuts, trail mix, or jerky, and water/fluids, though these may freeze if left in your car overnight;

  • Emergency roadside assistance membership. It is important that you have emergency roadside assistance.  A breakdown on the side of the road could cost over $300 depending on how far you need your car towed. Before you sign up for roadside services such as AAA, many automobile insurance policies now come with roadside assistance so check your policy before signing up for additional roadside assistance.

2. Visit Your Mechanic: Now is a great time to have any preventative maintenance done on your vehicle.  

  • Change your vehicles’ oil to a less viscous winter-grade oil that will run better in your engine during the cold months.

  •  Change the washer fluid in your car to “winter” fluid.  Not having “winter” windshield washer fluid in your car could allow the washer fluid to freeze and not work when you need it.  Keeping your windshield clean is vital to safety and winter washer fluid will ensure that you are able to clean your windshield.

  • Have your engine’s coolant system flushed and replenished with fresh antifreeze.  Keeping your engine’s antifreeze levels topped off is vital to its operation and will help prevent you from being stranded on the side of the road.

  • Have your brakes checked to ensure they are working properly.  Most modern cars are equipped with anti-lock brakes which aid in stopping your car if you begin sliding.  Have this system checked to ensure your brakes are working properly.   

  • Have your battery tested.  As the temperature drops your vehicle’s battery capacity decreases significantly.  It is important to have your mechanic diagnose your battery’s life and if necessary have a new one installed.

3. Check Your Tires: The condition of your tires could mean the difference between driving safely or sliding into a ditch.

  •  Test the tread depth of your tire treads using a penny. Insert the penny into your tire’s tread with Lincoln’s head pointed down.  If you see all of Lincoln’s head it is time to replace your tires.

  • Purchase a tire pressure gauge from your local auto supply store and check your tire pressure at least once a month or more frequently if the temperature fluctuates. As outside temperatures drop, the pressure in your tires decreases.  Check your vehicle owner’s manual for the proper tire pressure.  Under-inflated tires underperform and can wear quicker than properly inflated tires.

  • Consider purchasing winter tires.  Cold temperatures harden your tires rubber compound and diminishes their ability to grip the road surface. Consider purchasing a set of winter tires to put on your vehicle, these are made with a softer compound which will grip the road better during the cold weather.

4. Completely Clean Your Car Off:  After a snow fall it is tempting to get into your car and drive away without cleaning your car off.  Not only is this very dangerous, it is also illegal.

  • In Michigan, it is illegal to operate a vehicle with the driver’s vision impaired such as snow on the windshield. It is also illegal to not clear off headlamps, taillights, directional indicators and to allow snow to blow off your vehicle while you are driving.   

  • If there is snow on your vehicle clean it completely off before you drive away.  Not only is it extremely important for safety, it is also illegal and you could be pulled over and ticketed by law enforcement if you do not.  

5. Take Your Time:  Before driving check the traffic report and make sure to give yourself enough time to get to your destination safely.

  • Road hazards such as black ice and slippery road conditions could cause your car to spin out of control if you are not careful.  It is important to operate your vehicle defensively and never tailgate behind someone especially in the winter.  

  • If you slam on your brakes you could likely slide into the back of them if you do not give yourself enough time to stop.  

  • Do not be over confident if your vehicle has all-wheel-drive or four-wheel drive.  While AWD and 4WD vehicles typically operate better in winter conditions this could create a false sense of confidence.  Taking your time and make sure you get to your destination safely.

Bonus: Summer Vehicles

  • Many Michiganders own cars which are simply not suitable for four season driving. A bit of fall maintenance can save many hassles and considerable expense down the road. 

  • Winterizing refers to getting your car, boat, motorcycle or other items ready to be stored for the winter. 

  • This process will help prepare your vehicle for its slumber and ensure a hassle free start to your spring. 

  • Fuels containing ethanol can break down leaving water in a fuel tank and damaging an engine. Use a fuel stabilizer to treat fuels left in a vehicle.

  • If you are mechanically inclined you can grab a shop manual for your vehicle or look at resources on youtube or car specific forums for help winterizing your own vehicle. 

  • Not mechanically savvy? Schedule your winterization around your last oil change of the year. This will likely be needed anyhow and you will sleep better knowing your summer friend will be ready when winter is over. 


          These are just a few ways to help you prepare for driving in the winter.  If there is a winter weather advisory or driving restriction stay home and do not drive your car.  If you have been injured in an accident this winter contact the experienced personal injury attorneys of Biggs & Gunst P.C. today to discuss your rights.

Brandon Biggs