Winterizing your Vehicle—Where your car meets the road

This is part 1 of our Winterizing Your Car series that will focus on one of the most important safety features on your car—your tires. Check back frequently for more articles about winterizing your car!

Depending on where you’re located, the weather might just now be getting chilly at nights or you might already be in the throes of winter and under a foot of snow. Or, for those of you in the southern hemisphere, spring is in full effect and this article likely won’t apply to you for another 6 months! However, if you’re like most visitors to this site, you’re probably somewhere in North America

and therefore know that winter is right around the corner. Not only does cold weather put a stress on our homes and heating units, it also adds additional stress to our cars. Many of us have had to deal with a dead battery on a freezing cold morning or have been late to work because the windshield was frozen over and wouldn’t defrost quickly enough; a little bit of maintenance and preparation can go a long way to preventing some automotive related headaches.

So, how do you winterize your car? The best place to start is with the parts of the car that actually touch the ground—your tires. If you live in an area that sees a lot of snowfall, then snow tires are an absolute must. Having four matching snow tires with a reasonable amount of tread depth inflated to within the tire manufacturer’s recommendations is by far the best thing you can do to prep your car for driving out in the snow. Do not mix and match snow tires of varying age, tread wear, or manufacturer, and do not mix and match snow tires with all season or performance tires. You might not realize it, but doing so can significantly alter your car’s driving dynamics while traveling over slick surfaces and make it much more difficult to control.

Think about it for a moment. If your front tires have more traction in the snow than your rear tires, your rear tires are more likely to lose traction and cause a spin. Alternatively, if you have more traction in the back than in the front, then your ability to steer and avoid obstacles may be decreased. Having 4 equivalent tires front and rear will help to ensure that your car is as predictable as possible when maneuvering in icy or snowy situations.

If you don’t happen to live in snowy areas, it’s probably not financially prudent to spend money on snow tires, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take a few extra precautions to make sure your tires are ready for the cold weather. No matter where you live, get in the habit of checking your tire pressure on a regular basis—perhaps every time you fill up at a gas station. Many people don’t realize that they have a tire that is slowly losing air until they come out one morning to find a flat tire. The reason this happens is that while the inner structure of a tire can support the weight of a car with a less-than-recommended amount of air in the tire, it’s not designed to do so. Depending on its internal composition and supporting structure, a tire might appear to be “full” of air when in fact the air pressure inside the tire is several PSI low. Once the tire pressure drops below a certain level, the tire’s internal structure can no longer support the partial weight of the car and the tire flattens out. This is a very common occurrence in winter time because of basic chemistry: The colder the temperature, the lower the air pressure. If your car is equipped with tire pressure monitor sensors, pay attention to them even if the warning light illuminates when your tires “look” fine. This is often an early indication that one of your tires is slowly losing a little bit of air. Periodically checking your tire pressure will greatly reduce the risk of coming out one chilly morning only to find that you have a flat.

Tire tread is also something that’s important to pay attention to, particularly in winter months. Winters can be especially wet in some climates, and certain types of tires (such as those found on many sports cars) are actually less effective in colder temperatures. You can tell a lot about your car simply by examining your tire tread, although most people will only casually glance at the visible portion of tread on the outer edge of the tire to make sure the tires have enough tread on them. Just like you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you also shouldn’t judge a tire’s effectiveness based on what it looks like on one edge. When you check your tires, be sure to check the tread across the entire width of each tire. TireRack has an excellent writeup to determine if you have enough tread on your tires here:

http://www.tirerack.com/tires/tiretech/techpage.jsp?techid=51

As the Tirerack article indicates, 2/32” of tread is the bare minimum amount of tread you should have on each of your tires to prevent hydroplaning under typical rainy day driving conditions. Winter driving conditions can be anything but typical, so if your tires are approaching the minimal tread depth, it’s probably time to start thinking about replacing them. If you notice any sort of uneven or odd wear patterns on one or more of your tires, you likely have a suspension or an alignment problem that needs to be looked at by a certified mechanic. Scuffs or “bubbles” on the sidewall can indicate an internal problem with the tire that should be checked out immediately. We hope you found this article helpful and informative. Please check back with us soon for more tips on how to keep your vehicle safe and reliable when the weather turns cold.