Is your car ready for winter? If you have a warm blanket in the trunk and good tires on your car (snow tires if you live somewhere that merits them), you’re off to a good start. But follow these other smart safety precautions and you’ll really be firing on all cylinders.

Quick winter car safety tips

  • Check your tire pressure. Air pressure drops in cold weather, and improperly inflated tires can cause poor handling, irregular wear on the tires and lower gas mileage, says Dawn Leyden of Firestone Complete Auto Care in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Don’t forget to check the pressure in your spare, too.
  • Keep the right stuff in the trunk. That means a blanket, but also a hat and gloves. You’ll also want a bag of salt, sand or non-clumping kitty litter for traction in case one of your tires gets stuck in the snow, plus extra windshield fluid and of course, an ice scraper and shovel. If you have to lie on the ground to change a tire, you’ll be glad you stashed a tarp or garbage bag in there. Throw in a brightly colored cloth to tie to your antenna in case you get stuck. Also keep a few snacks, like granola bars and unsalted canned nuts, on hand, as well as bottled water. The bottles should be only two-thirds full to keep them from bursting if they freeze, Leyden notes. No matter what the season, it’s always smart to carry a flashlight and batteries, flares, a first-aid kit and jumper cables.
  • Gas up. Tend to hit E before a fill-up? That’s a riskier move in the winter, when storms could mean getting stuck in long traffic jams. Play it safe: When the tank’s half full, stop and refuel. If you do get stranded, you’ll be thankful for the extra gas because it means you can keep the engine running —and have heat.
  • Park nose to nose. You never know when your car battery might die. If it does, getting a jump-start will be easier if you’re parked hood to hood with another car, says Leyden. Alternatively, pull up to the side of a building. “That way, cold air and snow aren’t going through the front portion of the vehicle and getting inside the radiator and condenser.”
  • Make time for a warm-up. In freezing temps, your engine needs to warm up before it can function properly, says Leyden. Before you drive, she recommends running the engine for 5 to 10 minutes if it’s in the teens or 10 to 15 minutes if it’s below zero. Plan ahead so you won’t end up in a rush on the road.
  • Raise your wipers before a storm. This way, they won’t freeze to the windshield.

Pre-season to-do's

  • Get your car serviced for winter. Have a service center confirm that all your car’s systems are ready to withstand low temps and poor driving conditions. Have all fluid levels checked, including brake and power steering fluid, oil, antifreeze and windshield defroster. The technician should also give your battery, brakes, belts and tubes, radiator, exhaust and ignition system a thumbs-up. A reputable service center should be happy to perform a courtesy check of these systems, says Leyden.
  • Switch windshield wiper fluid. According to the National Safety Council, you should switch to a windshield wiper fluid that also contains a de-icer to keep the spray from freezing. 
  • Replace worn wiper blades. After all, when it comes to driving in a storm, being able to see is key.