Car Tips For Minnesota Winters
While written originally for a Chicago audience, this is sure to be helpful for car and truck owners in Minnesota as well, even though Minneapolis average temperatures are 10 to 15 degrees colder in January and February. Keep warm and safe on the roads with these car tips for Minnesota winters!
Cars, like people, don’t function as well in cold weather. Your car doesn’t like it anymore than you. Because most employers frown on hibernating, we’ve compiled a list of precautions to increase the odds of your car functioning in extreme or unseasonable cold.
If you don’t have time to visit the mechanic, there are some things you can do on your own to optimize your vehicle’s performance.
Change the battery. Mechanics recommend changing it every 3 years, though you could get away with 5 years, depending on how much you drive and how you drive. If you see a mechanic, have him or her check the battery and replace the spark plugs.
Make sure the cables are not loose. With the engine off, see if the cables can slip free from the nodes. Don’t yank, but be firm. Tightening the nut is easy to do and can save you from a mid-drive battery loss that requires you to get out of the car and take off your gloves.
Check for corrosion. If there is a white powder, not unlike the dead skin of dried winter hands, around the nodes or the clamps then that could be a sign of corrosion. If you can’t get a new battery, then at least clean the nodes and clamps with baking soda, water and a toothbrush.
Under the hood:
While you’re there, check the status of your S belt, or serpentine belt. It’s the big one that is immediately visible at the front of the engine. The visible, or back side, has grooves like a tire. If they’re cracked or worn, then it might be time to consider changing it so it doesn’t snap in cold cold cold weather.
Fill your fluids:
Spend a buck and get a “winter blend” type of windshield wiper fluid. Winter blends have a greater concentration of alcohol and less water, so less likely to freeze.
Fill your antifreeze. If it hasn’t been flushed in a few years, then it could use it. Green-colored antifreeze is the most common; whichever color you choose, don’t mix colors. Coolant and antifreeze are interchangeable terms. Coolant is typically sold premixed, that is it is half water, half antifreeze, as it needs to be. Antifreeze can be pure and needs to be mixed. Check the bottle; it’ll tell you.
Check your oil. If it’s due for a change, consider refilling it with a lower viscosity oil. On the bottle it lists two numbers, or grades, the first for low temperature viscosity, the second for high temperature. 10W-30 is a common designation.
Visibility is key in all forms of driving, but winter conditions can limit visibility, and not just because of your faux-fur hood. If your blades have done just a mediocre job with the snow, it’s only going to get worse with the freeze. Winter wipers do a better job of swatting away moisture and can be had for under $20 for the pair.
Having the correct tire pressure is essential for proper handling. A temperature change of just 10 degrees can cause a ten percent reduction, or constriction, of air in tires. So tire pressure can be affected from day to night temperature. Check the optimal tire pressure of your vehicle on the label inside the driver’s door frame or in the owner’s manual. DO NOT USE THE PSI on the TIRE! That’s max capacity for the tire, not for your car’s specific load.
Additional preventative measures:
Buy an emergency kit with cables, first aid kit, flares, battery powered air compressor and other things that can prevent a minor inconvenience from becoming a major problem.
Check the clarity of all your lights. If your headlights are all fogged up, consider cleaning them with toothpaste. We haven’t tried this yet, but hear the results are magical.
Weather conditions are variable, and all cars handle them a bit differently, so as a car owner you have a responsibility to know your car. While this may not be legally advisable or practical in the current driving climate, consider finding a parking lot with no obstruction and practicing turns and braking in the conditions. Find out how the car reacts to your driving and adjust your driving accordingly. It shouldn’t be fun. Avoid doing cookies, but practice fishtailing to teach yourself how not to overcompensate by wrenching the wheel too far one way or the other. What level of acceleration might cause a spin out, how does the car turn in snow—all these things can be researched at minimal speeds.
Practice skids. If you’re in a skid, take it easy, don’t slam the brake; turn the wheel in the direction you want the vehicle to face, which you may have to do several times in a skid to straighten out. The most important thing is don’t freak out.
Letting the car warm up is a comfort more for us than the car. Best practice is to start the car, then drive very simply until the oil gets heated. It’ll heat faster driving at slow speeds without sudden acceleration than just idling in your driveway. In extreme cold, however, many professionals recommend idling for a minute or two. Idling for 10-15 minutes, as Midwesterners are prone to do, could dilute the oil with unburned fuel, resulting in increased engine wear.