Winterize Your Car

November 30, 2011

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, winter is right around the corner. It’s only a matter of time before more snow will be falling, salt will be spread, and the rumble of plows will fill our ears. As we sit in the warmth of our homes or workplaces, our cars are exposed to everything that Mother Nature decides to share. Garages can offer some protection, but cars have to deal with freezing temperatures, slippery conditions and corrosion-causing substances every time we drive to pick up groceries or commute to work.

While we did get a stressful taste of winter weather over Halloween weekend, temperatures have been relatively warm lately. We can certainly expect it to get much colder in the next month, so it is important to make sure your car is ready. Here are some suggestions to help you get started.

Perhaps the most important part of your car is what binds it to the road: its tires. In science class, we learned that temperature affects how much air contracts or expands. In much the same way that hot air expands and rises to lift a hot air balloon off the ground, the air in your tires is affected by the winter’s coldness. As the temperature gets colder, air contracts and can leave your tire slightly deflated. You can be sure that your tires are inflated to the correct pressure at any Connecticut gas station, which are required by law to have air compressors and a free supply of air.

Some drivers even switch their normal tires to studded snow tires, which actually have small metal studs to help provide traction when traveling on icy roads. If you decide to use this type of tire, please be aware that state officials have limited their use to between November 15th and April 30th because roads can otherwise be damaged in the absence of snow or ice.

Since days are shorter and nights are longer, it’s essential to make sure you have a clear range of vision from the driver’s seat. Throughout the year, headlights can get covered with dust or other material that lessens their ability to project as much light. Washing them with a paper towel and glass cleaner can solve the problem to help you see through the darkness. Windows can also build up layers of frozen precipitation that can impede vision as well. Ice scrapers and your defroster are the best solution to hardened ice, sleet or snow.

While driving, you may have noticed a large orange truck assisting a car on the side of the highway. These trucks are part of the Department of Transportation’s roadway service patrol called the Connecticut Highway Assistance Motorist Patrol (CHAMP) program. Among the complimentary services they provide, CHAMP drivers help motorists change flat tires, jump start engines, push vehicles to the shoulder, provide fuel and offer shelter. If you should find yourself in need of assistance on I-84, I-91 or I-95 during their weekday patrol hours of 5:30am and 7:00pm, you can be confident that a CHAMP truck will be on the scene shortly to help you out. However, you should also consider joining organizations, such as AAA, which provide helpful automotive assistance while on the road.

As a police officer, I am also familiar with the importance of traffic safety. I see firsthand that many accidents are caused by people following other cars too closely. When conditions are slippery or visibility is limited, this becomes even more of an issue. Please make sure that you leave plenty of room between you and the car in front of you, especially during inclement weather.

These suggestions should be an annual tradition that can help prevent problems later in the season. From changing your oil to refilling antifreeze coolant, small steps such as these can help ensure that your car will be prepared for winter. Emergency kits should always be a priority as well. These types of tasks can be a mundane way of getting ready, but it’s part of the beauty of living in New England.