Ultimate Winter Driving Guide

BestRide.com is pleased to bring you this special driving section on Winter Driving. This is the first of many special sections we will be publishing over the coming months. It is our hope that it is interesting and helpful for you. Please share it with friends and family.

At BestRide, we are more than just another online car shopping site. We are also your source for news and information on what’s happening in the auto industry today, and how it affects you and your family.

Here’s wishing everyone a safe and fun winter!

Enter the Guide

Winter Driving Guide


Winter Is Coming

We are here to help you navigate the season.

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All-wheel drive has become a lot more prevalent, but every time it snows, you still see dozens of SUVs jammed in snowbanks off the road. Why? Lack of experience, lack of preparation, lack of maintenance. Driving in the winter doesn’t have to be something to fear, though. With a little experience, an investment in some equipment, some proper maintenance and good preparation, you can laugh at winter and learn to actually enjoy driving in the snow. BestRide and our friends at Car Talk are here to help, with our comprehensive Ultimate Guide to Winter Driving.

We’ve been in touch with experts in winter driving techniques, tire technology and even winter car seat safety, to give you a complete guide to prepare yourself and your car for the coming winter.

116000 Injuries on snowy, icy or slushy roads annually
1300 Highway deaths on snowy roads annually
70 % of US roads located where snowfall is greater than 5 inches per year
70 % of population living in states where snowfall is greater than 5 inches per year
chapter one

The Basics

What you need to know to stay safe on the road this winter


At BestRide.com HQ in Massachusetts, the Registry of Motor Vehicles Drivers manual devotes exactly 201 words out of 164 pages to driving in winter. That’s just 45 more words than it expends on “If your vehicle stalls on railroad tracks and a train is coming.” We don’t know about you, but we’ve had a lot more scary experiences in the snow than we have on the railroad tracks.

If you’re not learning about winter driving from the driver’s manual, then, how about your driver’s ed. course? Here’s a sample of cancellation policies for driver’s education classes from around the country:

If you’re not taught how to drive in the snow by the Drivers Manual, and you’re not taught in driver’s ed., are we really surprised that people are petrified to drive in the snow and ice? For most Americans, winter driving is something only learned through personal experience, and most of that happens as the car beelines straight for a snowbank.

chapter one

Every car has different handling characteristics. You should know what your car can and cannot do in the snow. (Hint: It can't do any of the things it was doing on the TV commercial that made you buy it.)

To try and provide some deeper information on winter driving, we contacted the experts who actually run specialized, high-performance, winter driving courses.

Road & Track called Team O’Neil “The Finest Rally School in the Country,” and runs a comprehensive winter driving course at its facility in Dalton, New Hampshire. We talked to Wyatt Knox, the school’s Director of Special Projects, and champion rally driver, about what drivers should be aware of in the snow and ice. For the record, this is no replacement for actually taking the course (we’ve provided a link to the school’s website below), but it should get you thinking about what to expect.

Good winter driving habits start with good driving habits in general, and being attentive to the task at hand is paramount. “Being aware of your surroundings simply means paying close attention to what’s going on in and around your car, especially with the road and its periphery well ahead of yourself. Being able to react properly in an emergency is great, but spotting something wrong well ahead of time may allow you to negate the emergency situation entirely,” Wyatt says.

Winter drivers need to be more attuned, thanks to changing driving conditions. “We need to assess the actual road surface and changes in temperature much more carefully than we normally do, and adjust our speed to those conditions and the capabilities of our vehicles,” he says.

chapter one

It's not a bad idea to do a little driving in an empty parking lot on a snowy day just so you know what to expect from your car when you drive on snow-covered roads—especially if the car is new to you. Try braking hard, so you’re familiar with the feel of ABS brakes when the anti-lock system kicks in. Leave yourself plenty of room and watch out for those glass storefronts!

Wyatt suggests assigning different surfaces a numerical value from 0-100%, based on how much grip those surfaces provide. “Ice might be 10%, snow can be up to 40-50% depending on temperature, gravel roads and wet tarmac are even higher than that,” he says. Different types of snow offer significantly different grip. For example, wet, heavy snow can provide a significantly higher amount of traction than dry, powdery snow. “If you’re unfamiliar with different types of snow, depths, and temperatures, get used to walking around on different surfaces in the wintertime, slide around on your feet a little bit, or get up to a running speed and try to stop yourself. It sounds silly, but even childhood memories and instincts can be very valuable behind the wheel in the winter,” he says.

chapter two

Do you really need all-wheel drive to survive the winter?

There are four basic drive systems available on any car built today. Each offers advantages and disadvantages.

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Four-wheel drive used to be the standard by which winter vehicles were measured. In general, 4WD was available on trucks and early SUVs. Like conventional cars of the era, most of the time, four-wheel drive trucks sent power to the rear wheels. If the trucks weren’t equipped with an optional limited slip differential, they’d send power to the wheel with – ironically – the least amount of grip, which is why you see trucks sitting idle on almost flat ground with one wheel spinning like crazy.

Four-wheel drive adds a transfer case to the end of the transmission that also sends power to the front differential. Without some kind of locking differential, four-wheel drive vehicles really could only send power to one rear wheel, and the opposite front wheel if they were on a slippery surface.

Four-wheel drive worked well, but for most people, who didn’t want to manually shift to 4WD from 2WD, and didn’t want to get out of the truck and lock the hubs manually, it was a chore.

The operation of modern four-wheel drive systems (like those found on the Chevrolet Silverado, Jeep Wrangler, Ford F-150 and Ram 1500) have improved dramatically, with pushbutton electronic transfer cases, automatic locking hubs, and automatic locking differentials. Four-wheel drive offers distinct advantages for heavy duty and off-roading. But they still suffer from the same issues that 4WD vehicles of the past did: They’re not for use on dry pavement, and you need to shift into 4WD when traction is limited.

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Instead of a heavy, somewhat clunky transfer case, all-wheel drive vehicles have a center differential instead.

They come in a number of different types, including a locking Torsen or torque-sensing differential (found on Audi vehicles, the Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus GX470), a non-locking center differential (found on the Chrysler 300C, the Cadillac Escalade, SRX and Toyota Highlander) multiple clutch systems (found on the Acura RL and RDX, Honda Ridgeline and Pilot) and multi-plate clutch coupling systems (found on the BMW xDrive cars, Honda CR-V and HR-V, Lincoln MKS and MKZ, and Subaru vehicles.

The biggest advantage of all-wheel drive is – as the name implies – that all four wheels have the potential to be powered at any given time. It doesn’t mean that they’re all powered all the time, though. There are four major types of all-wheel drive systems, and they all work differently.

Most all-wheel drive cars drive under normal conditions with a bias toward the front or rear wheels, sometimes as much as 100 percent. In dry conditions, sportier cars tend to devote the most torque to the rear wheels, and basic transportation tends to divert most torque to the front. When snow covers the roadway, though, all-wheel drive systems work with the traction control, antilock brake and throttle position sensors to determine which wheels have the most traction, and send the most torque to those wheels. Some all-wheel drive vehicles have the ability to send torque to just one wheel that has traction, but not all can.

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Front-wheel drive cars have a transaxle that sends torque to just the front wheels. The greatest benefit front-wheel drive cars afforded when they became popular in the 1980s was packaging. Without a center transmission and drive shaft tunnel, you could comfortably seat six people in a large front-wheel drive car that had the overall dimensions of a smaller car.

The disadvantage to front-wheel drive cars is that the traction and steering duties are both falling to two wheels. When front wheel drive cars lose traction in snow, they also lose the ability to steer.

Limited slip differentials in front wheel drive cars are rare, so generally, the transaxle sends torque to the wheels with the least traction. Modern cars with traction control can overcome this disadvantage by using the anti-lock braking system to send torque to the opposite wheel.

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Rear drive cars power just the rear wheels. Most vehicles from the dawn of the automobile to the 1980s had this drive configuration, but they fell out of favor as front-wheel drive cars became popular.

The disadvantage to rear-wheel drive cars is especially pronounced when climbing a hill, since weight transfers from the front of the car to the rear, leaving the rear wheels to push the vehicle up the hill.

The advantage to rear-drive is that it splits the steering and driving duties between the front and rear wheels. A limited slip differential is more common on a rear-wheel drive vehicle, sending available torque to the wheel with the most traction. Similar to front-wheel drive cars, modern traction control systems can do the same thing.

Each drive system has its advantages and disadvantages. However, no drivetrain will get you through the snow and ice if all four wheels don’t have traction, and no drive system offers any advantage in steering or stopping your vehicle once it’s moving.

chapter one

Accelerate slowly and gently, turn slowly and gently, and brake slowly and gently. To do this, you have to anticipate turns and stops. That means what? Going slowly, leaving plenty of distance between you and other cars. Rapid changes of direction can lead to skids and loss of control—electronic stability control notwithstanding.

The only way to maintain traction, steering and braking capabilities is to equip your vehicle with four winter tires. “Whether your vehicle is front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, or rear-wheel drive will not only affect your car’s ability to accelerate on a slippery road, but also dramatically affect your car’s handling and braking characteristics,” says Team O’Neil’s Wyatt Knox.

“Modern safety systems such as ABS (Anti-Lock Brakes), TCS (Traction Control Systems), and DSC / ESP (Dynamic Stability Control or Electronic Stability Platform) are becoming more and more common every year,” says Wyatt, “and should be understood and experienced by every driver so that they can feel these systems working and know what they’re trying to do in a skid control or emergency situation.”

Matt Edmonds from Tire Rack agrees. “We’re trying to dispel the myth that all-wheel drive is enough to help you get through the winter,” says Matt. “All-wheel drive is confidence-inspiring on acceleration. The benefits stop there.” Ron Margadonna , Senior Technical Marketing Manager from Michelin North America puts it this way: “The brakes stop the wheels. It’s the tires that stop the car.”

chapter three

Why winter tires are your best investment

Wyatt Knox from Team O’Neil lays it out in no uncertain terms: “Winter tires are a complete no-brainer in this day and age: tests have proven that two-wheel drive cars equipped with winter tires consistently outperform all-wheel drive vehicles with all-season tires in winter conditions. Quality winter tires will give you the best possible advantage to getting through the winter unscathed.”

chapter one

If you really, truly need to get around before the streets are plowed, four top-quality winter tires are the single best thing you can get. The reason you'd you want them-- even if you have all-wheel drive-- is that they not only help get you started, they also increase your traction when braking and turning.

To illustrate the point, Tire Rack runs the RAV4 to 10 miles per hour on the ice. With four Blizzak DMV2s, the RAV4 stops seven feet shorter, approximately half a car length. At just 30 miles per hour, the tires alone translate into stopping 56 feet shorter. That’s about three and a half car lengths.

It’s the same story with the Camry. At 10 miles per hour, the WS80-equipped Camry stop eight feet shorter than with all-season tires. At 30 miles per hour, it’s a 63-foot difference.

To get a sense of those tests, we talked to one guy who performs them, year in, year out, to figure out which winter tires are best suited for what conditions. Matt Edmonds is a vice president with Tire Rack. Along with being a massive retailer of tires via the internet, Tire Rack does a tremendous amount of testing to provide customers with the things they need to know before they buy. Some of that testing occurred just last week at a pair of skating rinks near its facility in South Bend, Indiana.

“We had two vehicles on two sheets of ice,” Matt told us the day after testing. “We typically use a BMW 328i because BMWs tend to stay consistent throughout the life of the vehicle, and they also accept a wide range of wheel diameters. For this test, though, we used a current Toyota Camry and a Toyota RAV4.”

By having a front-drive car and an all-wheel drive car, Tire Rack can show how something other than an all-wheel drive vehicle can stop and turn more effectively than an all-wheel drive vehicle with the proper tires mounted.

Both test vehicles made runs on the ice with the tires they were equipped with from the factory, and FOUR Bridgestone Blizzak tires (a note on that later). The Camry received the Blizzak WS80, and the RAV4 got the Blizzak DMV2. The DMV2 utilizes the WS80’s same winter compound, but it has a tread and a carcass more appropriate for SUVs and CUVs.

Winter tires have changed dramatically since the Blizzak was introduced in 1988 when Japan outlawed the use of studs in snow tires. In recent years, studded tires have been similarly banned in 11 states (Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Texas, and Wisconsin, and Maryland only allows studs in some counties). Studded tires are prohibited in Ontario, but permitted in all other Canadian provinces, typically between October and the end of April.

Studs were effective on ice, but they had a lot of drawbacks during the 90 to 95 percent of time drivers are on dry or wet pavement, according to Tire Rack’s Matt Edmonds. “Studs are uncomfortable, noisy, and they really have worse driving characteristics when it’s not actively snowing or icy,” he says. “Plus, they’re hard on roads and represent an environmental issue with increased dust and debris.”

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Ron Margadonna, Senior Technical Marketing Manager from Michelin North America, stresses that there’s a distinct difference between “snow tires” and “winter tires.” “Snow is only one element you’re presented with during the winter,” he says. “Twenty-five years ago, ‘snow tires’ were knobby and had big lugs and big voids between those lugs.”

The difference between modern winter tires and those old snow tires is night and day, in the ratio of rubber on the road, and the chemistry of the rubber. Think of rubber ratio in terms of a racing slick. They have a 100 percent rubber ratio. Snow tires from the 1980s and 1990s could have a rubber ratio of 65% rubber, 35 percent void between the rubber blocks.

“Modern winter tires have a 70/30 rubber to void ratio,” says Michelin’s Ron Margadonna. Tires like the Michelin’s X-Ice and Latitude X-Ice have a more aggressive tread pattern and tread blocks that are open and aggressive to dig through the snow to the pavement below. In addition, individual tread blocks are heavily siped, meaning they have a zig-zag pattern sliced into each tread block that allows the block to move and conform to the road below, digging through the snow. Siping provides many more biting edges.

“We traded the voids for more functional rubber. That’s the single most important evolution in winter tires since about 2001: developing a rubber compound that offers maximum traction at temperatures well below freezing,” says Michelin’s Margadonna. “Those compounds maintain their flexibility as temperatures drop below 32 degrees. Compared to all-season tires, they give more grip in colder temperatures.”

Tires like the Michelin X-Ice aren’t designed for just snow. They’re designed for what Ron Margadonna calls ‘white road’ and ‘black road’ conditions. White road would be roads covered with snow and ice. Black roads would be everything else you face in the winter months: cold, wet, dry, freezing rain, sometimes all in the same commute. The stuff that makes winter so completely unpredictable.

Finally, the rubber compound that winter tires use alone provides a much greater advantage compared to summer or all-season tires. “Winter tire compounds work in the coldest temperatures,” says Matt Edmonds. “They’re designed to stay soft at 40 degrees and below, where all-season tires need to work between about 20 degrees and 110 degrees. In cold temperatures, all-season tires get much harder and are less able to mate to the pavement. At 40 degrees or lower, summer tires become almost plastic-like.”

Inside the rubber, winter tires have micropores in the compound. When warm tires cut through snow, they melt the snow into a thin film of water, which is what makes snow and ice so slick. The micropores give someplace for that water to go. “The latest generation of winter tires have a hydrophilic coating that actually sucks water into the tires,” says Matt.

The final consideration is diameter. Instead of having to mount and dismount winter tires, you can get a winter wheel and tire package that allows you to just swap wheels every winter. That opens up the option to select a smaller diameter, which allows for more sidewall. Anyone who has lost a tire in a late winter pothole can appreciate that bit of extra cushion. Increasing the sidewall maintains the size of the air chamber in the tire, while simultaneously allowing the tire to be narrower, reducing the opportunity for a wider tire to “snowshoe” or float on the surface of the snow, rather than biting into it.

chapter one

Because it's such a pain to get your winter tires remounted and balanced every year, splurge and get yourself four steel rims—maybe even used ones from a recycler-- and mount the winter tires permanently on those rims. That'll make the changeover in the fall and spring a snap.

How do you identify a winter tire? Michelin’s Ron Margadonna points to the symbol on the tire’s sidewall. “Just before the turn of the millennium, the tire industry realized that there wasn’t a consistent way to identify a true winter tire,” he says. The M+S [for Mud and Snow] marking appeared on all-season tires, which was originally designed to describe the geometry of the tread design. But as winter tires evolved into their own class, the M+S designation was confusing . If it says “snow” right on it, isn’t it a winter tire?

So the industry developed the “mountain and snowflake” symbol to indicate that these modern winter tires not only had a more aggressive tread pattern than an “all-season” tire, but also had a winter-specific rubber compound. “Tires carrying that symbol are designated for severe winter duty,” says Margadonna.

Most people who refuse to switch to winter tires provide the argument that winter tires have a negative effect on fuel economy, but, according to Matt Edmonds, most people are experiencing fuel mileage penalties because they’re not monitoring their air pressure. “From 70 to 40 degrees, you can be down three PSI in every tire in a matter of days,” he says.

The US Department of Energy also suggests that fuel economy can be 12% lower at 20 degrees F than at 77 degrees F. (There are multiple reasons for that we’ll talk about in Chapter 5.)

chapter one

If it's -10 now, and the last time you checked your tire pressure was back during that sweltering heat wave in July, your tires’ air pressure can be as much as ten pounds low, which will jeopardize your car's handling. Don’t forget to reverse the process come spring, too!

The fuel economy difference might be something you recognize in the winter, but it’s got little to do with the tires on your car.

chapter four

How to see and be seen when the snow is falling

You can have the greatest all-wheel drive system every built, with the most aggressive winter tires known to man, but if you can’t see down the road, you’re going to end up plowed into the same tree as the guy driving a 1977 Camaro with baloney skins for tires. It’s not only important to be able to see out your windows, but it’s just as critical that you’re able to be seen.

Your wipers are your most constant companion in the winter months, but if they’re the same dried-out old wiper blades you were running all summer, then it’s time to huck them in the trash in favor of some new wipers.

Winter tires can help you cut through the snow, and winter wipers can help your wiper blades stay in contact with the windshield. Most wiper assemblies have surfaces for ice and snow to form, making them all but useless after a few miles in the driving snow. “The best solution for the winter season is the beam blade. Bosch ICON™ with ClearMax 365™, Bosch Evolution™ and Bosch Clear Advantage™ are the key beam offerings from Bosch,” says Martin Kashnowski Director, Product Management, Wiping Systems Robert Bosch LLC. “Some manufacturers offer a winter blade. However, if the rubber boot over the blade should tear, the water can collect inside and freeze, causing the blade to become ineffective. By design, beam blades are not affected by snow and ice buildup. The enclosed tension springs help keep the blade flexible and effective in wintry conditions.”

All Bosch beam blades are manufactured with a patented beam arcing technology, which ensures a snug fit and consistent amount of force distribution across the blade onto the windshield. That consistent pressure on the glass – across the entire blade – is extremely vital in bad weather, as inconsistent beam arcing will result in areas of the windshield being un-wiped, which impair the driver’s vision.

Swapping out to a set of Bosch blades is easy for most car owners by just following the directions in the package, but if you’re not up to changing them yourself, visit your dealer. Auto parts retailers like O’Reilly, Pep Boys, Advance Auto Parts all offer free wiper installation at their stores.

Riding around with two feet of snow on the roof, and a peephole to see out of is a bad practice, but it’s also becoming illegal in more and more states. Alaska, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania all have laws requiring motorists to keep their vehicle clear of ice and snow, and New York has pending legislation to do the same. It’s not only dangerous for you, it’s dangerous for the cars driving around you.

chapter one

Clear off the entire car, not just a little peephole in the windshield. You need just as much, if not more, visibility in poor conditions because you have to keep your eyes peeled for pedestrians, and every other knucklehead on the road. Make sure every glass surface is clear and transparent by using a snowbrush and/or ice scraper. Your side-view mirrors, and all all lights should be brushed and cleared as well. And don’t forget the license plate, so the cops can figure out who they’re chasing.

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Your headlights not only allow you to see down the road, but they also allow others around you to see you coming. Keep them clear of any snow and ice.

The biggest issue with headlights in cars since about 1986 has been the UV degradation of plastic composite headlamp lenses. Take a walk through your parking lot at work and you’ll see that about 60 percent of the cars out there have seriously fogged headlamps.

We provided a solution last year, but 3M has a brand new kit that takes our method and packages it into a convenient $30 item. Using increasing grades of their Trizact sanding medium and a final polish, you can restore your foggy headlamps in about a half an hour.

When we restored one headlight on a Toyota Corolla at 3M’s Auto Boot Camp in October, we noticed a 10-fold increase in light output, versus the unrestored headlight. For short money and not a lot of time, it’s a major improvement. You can also use the kit to restore faded, scratched taillamps.

chapter eight


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The Department of Energy says that fuel economy can be 12 percent lower at 20°F than at 77°F, and it’s even worse for hybrids.

chapter one

Since questionable hoses, belts, water pumps and the like can leave you stranded in the winter, it's better to bite the bullet and fix them before the temperature plunges.

The maintenance you do leading up to the winter months will not only save you money, but it could save your life. We’ve put together a checklist to do at the beginning of the winter and every week or every time you fill your tank, whichever comes first.

Lube, Oil and Filter: In general, you can stick to the guidelines for engine oil laid out in your owner’s manual, but if you live in a place where temperatures are constantly in the near-zero range, you can opt for a lower viscosity oil to help alleviate some of the friction issues of a thicker oil. The “W” in motor oil grades stands for “Winter,” so the lower the number, the lower the viscosity. 10W-30 is thicker than 5W-30, for example.

Battery: Batteries get a real workout in the winter, so either test it yourself or have it tested. You’re interested not only in how much juice it has at rest, but how healthy it is during a simulated starting cycle. If you don’t have a battery tester than can do that, swing by your dealer’s service department, or any of the auto parts stores listed below and they can test it for you in a few minutes.

Coolant: Coolant is a mixture (typically) of ethylene glycol and water, and serves two purposes: It has a higher boiling point than water, so that under pressure, it can run at around 220° Fahrenheit. It’s also resistant to freezing, depending on the ratio of ethylene glycol to water. It also has corrosion inhibitors that keep your engine block from corroding from the inside out.

chapter one

A 50/50 mix of coolant and water will protect your engine down to -34°F. Increasing the ratio to 70% antifreeze protects to -84°F. Antifreeze has a diminished ability to dissipate heat, however, so be sure to go back to a 50/50 mix come springtime. Or move farther north. Be careful to check whether you’re buying full-strength or pre-diluted antifreeze.

Battery Cables: If your battery’s healthy but your car still has a start issue, it’s usually down to a bad negative battery cable. Cables can corrode right under the insulation. Have them replaced if they’re questionable.

Belts: The beginning of winter is a great time to have your serpentine belt replaced. Winter places a tremendous load on the car’s charging system, running wipers, defrosters, heat, and headlights more or less constantly. A failed belt is no fun, and will disable a car pretty much instantly.

Belt Tensioner: When you replace the belt, make sure you ask your mechanic to replace the belt tensioner at the same time. The tensioner is a metal or plastic wheel with a bolt running through a bearing in the center, and they spin about a billion revolutions a day, and if it fails, it releases all the tension on the belt, flinging it to the side of the road, where it’s going to do you no good. It’s cheap enough to do during the belt swap.

Hoses: Think about all the heat cycles a coolant hose goes through every day. Eventually, they fail and when they do, a whole series of bad things can happen: overheating, blown headgasket, scored pistons, the whole magilla. Have your mechanic give them a look and replace them if they’re suspect.

Tires: As we mentioned earlier, winter tires are a must. The best method is to have winter tires mounted on spare wheels, so you can swap them on and off in a few hours on your own if the weather changes dramatically in a few days. Many tire shops will even store your winter tires and wheels at their facility, so they won’t take up space in your garage or basement.

Floor Mats: We’re reading about several late-model cars that – despite modern paint and galvanizing procedures – are having their floors rust out. One way to help keep salt off the floors is to buy a decent set of winter floor mats. WeatherTech makes floor mats that help keep moisture and salt where you can wash them off, rather than seeping through the carpet.

Washer Fluid: Related to our chapter on visibility, always keep the washer bottle full, every time you fill your tank. As snow melts, your windshield will be covered with salt and dirt, and the only way to clean it off is with a full washer reservoir.

Tire Pressure: Matt Edmonds says that tire pressures can drop as much as 1 PSI every ten degrees, causing handling issues, increased tire wear and poor fuel economy. When you fill up, use a tire gauge to check your pressure and fill to the recommended PSI – checked when the tires are cold – on the placard located in the driver’s door jamb.

chapter one

For $20, you can buy a great analog or digital tire pressure gauge. Skip the cheap, pencil-style gauges, which are notoriously inaccurate.

Car Wash: Look under any Jeep Wrangler or Toyota Tacoma to understand how devastating winter salt and moisture can be to a car’s underbody. We’re not looking for concours-level cleanliness here, just a weekly spritz to get the road salt off the underbody. You can do it yourself at home if you don’t mind freezing, but a touchless automatic car wash with an underbody option will cost you somewhere between 10 and 12 bucks a week, which is going to seem cheap if you have to repair rust.

Vacuum: Not only does it give you a chance to find all the change you lost over the winter, vacuuming helps remove the sand and salt you track into the car every week. 3M just released a salt removing spray that helps to extract salt from carpets. You can spray that on, wipe off with a microfiber towel and then vacuum to keep the salt from filtering through the carpet.

“When it comes to winter weather, maintaining good condition of your vehicle can keep you and your passengers safer on the road. Chilton DIY’s maintenance interval charts tell you what maintenance is needed and when under your driving conditions,” explains Senior Product Manager of Chilton, Frank Esposito, “Chilton DIY provides digital access to repair, maintenance, and service information 24/7. For more than 100 years, Chilton products have set the standard for reference sources for automotive professionals and DIY enthusiasts.”

chapter six

6 Winter Trunk Essentials

How you prepare yourself, your kids and your car for winter is important, but there are also a few things you’ll want to carry along if those things didn’t work out the way you planned:

Stay Warm

First and foremost, you don’t want to face the elements without proper clothing. It’s true that cars with remote starters make it a lot easier to get from house to car without a jacket, but have a warm coat, a hat, gloves and winter boots stashed somewhere in your trunk if you’re not going to wear them.

Cost: $0 if you have this stuff at home.

Charging Help

As we mentioned in Chapter 5, your first line of defense against a dead battery is to make sure your battery and charging system is in good shape in the fall. But batteries can die at any time, so a good set of 2-Gauge jumper cables with good clamps in the trunk is a top priority. Even better, a booster pack will get you on your way without having to get another driver out in the snow to open his hood. If you’re tight on space, the JunoPower JUMPR is the size of an iPhone and can produce 12 Volts at a peak of 300 amps, enough to start most 4- and 6-cylinder cars.

Jumper Cables: $35 at most auto retailers
Booster Pack: $140 at most auto retailers
JunoPower JUMPR: $99.99 at JunoPower.com


It’s one thing to have your jumper cables at the ready. It’s another to find the battery terminals in the dark recesses of the engine bay when it starts getting dark at 2:30 in the afternoon. We’re a big fan of giant D-cell flashlights, but they take up a lot of space and end up rolling around in the trunk. We’re intrigued by the Secur Products SP-4003 Six-in-One Car Charger that incorporates a car charger, a take-along power bank to recharge your phone, a flashlight, an emergency red flashing light, a window breaker, and a seat belt cutter. It’s a pretty ingenious little package.

Cost: $34.99 at SecurProducts.com

Traction Aid

The old reliable rock salt is becoming as politically incorrect as a lit cigarette. It’s bad for the water table, it will eat your concrete steps in no time, and your pets don’t like it, either. Premiere makes Calcium Magnesium Acetate instead, a long-lasting ice-melter that’s safe for concrete and asphalt sidewalks, and won’t damage the vegetation around them. It’s non-toxic and biodegradable and comes in a 12-lb. shaker jug for convenience.

Cost: $21.99

Snow Brush/Ice Scraper

As we mentioned in Chapter 4, more and more states are writing tickets for not clearing the snow and ice off your car. It’s dangerous for you and for the cars around you. Invest in a good snow brush and keep it at the ready all winter. You can get all manner of snow/ice scraper combos, but we’re fans of the Hopkins SubZero 51” Heavy Duty Arctic Plow with Ice Scraper for pushing and raking the snow off the roof of your SUV without getting covered in it in the process.

Cost: $22.99 at Amazon.com

Tow Strap

So you ignored our advice and ventured out with all-season tires and now you’re stuck reading this in a snowbank in Duluth. It’s a good thing you brought along the Vulcan Standard Tow Strap Kit. You can put a chain in the trunk too, but they’re heavy, dirty and they don’t stretch like a nylon tow strap does. The give in a tow strap can be the difference between getting out of a ditch and yanking your towing eyelet right out of the bumper.

Cost: $19.99 at Quadratec.com

chapter seven

Important Links