Prepping Your Vehicle for Fall & Winter Weather in the PNW

Automotive Tips

An improperly set up vehicle can cause more difficulty, or even danger, when driving, especially with the added risks of inclement weather. In fact, an average of 156,164 car collisions occurred on icy roads each year between 2007 and 2016 in the United States. Many of these crashes were likely preventable. One of the primary ways to prevent potentially deadly crashes in the fall and winter is to plan ahead and prepare your vehicle for inclement weather. Keep reading for a checklist of important maintenance services to keep you, your passengers, and your vehicle safe this fall and winter.

Why is Prepping Your Vehicle for the Fall and Winter Important?

Cars are made to be safe and reliable, but improper care will lead to improper performance of many vital functions. This is especially important to keep in mind when your region is prone to rapid temperature or weather changes. For instance, if your antifreeze is low, the car can’t cool itself efficiently. If the temperature outside spikes, then the car might have a hard time coping. Or if your tires are old and bald, and the road is hot, the tires will be more prone to bursting.

As the seasons change, the driving conditions change with them. In summer, the weather is fair and traction/braking on the road is at an optimal condition. During fall and winter, the rain is more prevalent, and the colder temperatures chill the tires a little, which makes it harder for the rubber to grip the road (warm tires are sticky tires). It’s always a good idea to use this transition period to run all your checks on the vehicle, setting it up for success in the more demanding times of winter.

A Checklist of Important Maintenance Services

When the weather starts to shift, there are a few main components that should be checked for proper function. Every car is different, but if you use your car’s manual, and some useful tutorials online, you can learn to care for your car yourself. Or, if you don’t have the time, skill, or comfort level, you can turn to trusted mechanics and have them take care of it all for a fee.

Although each car’s settings are different, here is a list of some of the top maintenance items to fix/have checked out:

  • Tires: As mentioned above, if a tire is worn down, then it will risk bursting if cornering hard when it’s hot out. Also, a worn tire won’t provide as much grip in wet, cold, or especially frozen conditions. Something you can do for free is checking the tire pressure. The air inside the tire can be affected more than you’d expect by outside conditions, and proper pressure is very important in maintaining stability and grip.
  • Engine Fluids: Although overheating is less worrisome in cold weather, if your coolant doesn’t contain the proper balance of antifreeze, you may find it freezing if the car sits for too long. Ensure that your motor oil is also sitting at the correct level and that you give your car a moment longer than normal to get the oil flowing before driving off in the morning, just to ensure that it coats all the important parts.
  • Charging System: The last thing you want to do is deal with a broken-down car in a cold snap. Car batteries tend to die more easily in the winter thanks to the added strain of cold temperatures. One of the leading causes of this is a poorly maintained charging system. In essence; if your battery is old it won’t hold a charge as well, if the alternator is old, it won’t charge the car effectively, and if the cables have degraded, the extra juice can get wasted along the way. Get the system tested by a professional auto mechanic, or test it with a voltmeter yourself, and save yourself the headache in a couple of months.
  • Heater/Defroster: Without a functioning heater, the inside of the car can be anywhere from moderately uncomfortable to sit in, to a cold that keeps you shaking behind the wheel. If your defroster is malfunctioning, you won’t be able to see through your windows (which is very important). Oftentimes the problem is a simple fix like a cracked hose or blown fuse, so check it out while you have extra time.
  • Brakes: Stopping is vital no matter the season, but during the colder/wetter seasons the system is tested more ruggedly since the conditions will be harsher. If your pads or rotors are in poor condition, they may not wipe debris away from the pads properly, getting things stuck on the mating surfaces causing poor contact.
  • Wiper Blades: While easily forgotten during the sunny seasons, wiper blades are a simple but vital component to safety in the wetter months. Older blades can cause chattering on the windscreen and uneven wiping and streaking, or in severe neglect, can lead to scratching. All of the outcomes above are not ideal in any case. Fortunately, replacing them is a relatively inexpensive and simple task.

Key Considerations for the Pacific Northwest

When living in the Pacific Northwest we see heavy rains almost year-round, giving us the risk of hydroplaning more often than most. Black ice is also a common occurrence, meaning rough situations can be right around the bend. If you or your car aren’t prepared, things can get out of hand rather quickly. Tire care and wiper conditions are very important for residents here, so taking care of them can make a huge difference in comfort and safety alike.

Also, snowstorms can sneak up on us, since they are rather infrequent. Having chains or snow tires for if they’re needed is a simple, although sometimes inconvenient, preventative step that can keep you and your family out of trouble.

Mechanics That You Can Trust

When it comes to car care and maintenance, you should always choose a mechanic you can trust. The last thing you want is to give your car over to someone to set you up for a safe journey only for them to overcharge you for services or do something poorly. The mechanic occupation had been plagued with poor business practices for years and still isn’t perfect, so choosing the right mechanic for you can be a challenge at times. Be sure to see our article on how to find an honest mechanic if you need help.