Winter is not when you want to be broken down on the side of the road

Snow, ice, and cold weather are just part of the winter fun
Credit: Boston Globe
Winter is not the best time of year for being stuck on the side of the road in a disabled vehicle. For the novice car mechanic there are things to do in the driveway, with no experience needed, to prevent unnecessary breakdowns. Follow these simple steps and you can mitigate the risk of being stuck out in the cold.

Battery Check

Cold weather takes a toll on the cars battery. The colder it is the less cranking power your battery provides. A car battery needs to have 12 volts of power to turn your starter and get your engine firing. A battery that fired every time during the summer may not have the power needed when the temperature reaches sub freezing.

To check the battery head down to the local auto parts store. Most auto repair stores, especially the big box parts stores, will hook the car’s battery up to a professional grade tester at no charge. They will be able to tell if a battery has enough life left in it to get through the winter.

With a properly operating battery on board it is important to make sure components are not left draining the battery while parked. Check the headlights and radio when parking. On a last note, if a car is parked without being used for days at a time a battery tender will keep it working--a battery tender is a simple tool that connects to a battery and plugs in to any electrical outlet, it keeps a proper charge on a battery when not in use.

A standard battery tender

Battery Tender(69884)
Credit: Battery Tender


Engine Oil

The life blood of an engine is the oil and winter is no exception. Maintaining the oil will extend the life of an engine and help prevent undue breakdown in cold temperatures. An old myth surrounding motor oil is changing the weight in the winter. Cars built during and after the eighties should just follow the manufactures specifications year round. To find out the proper weight oil for a car just check the owner’s manual.

Oil needs changing every three thousand miles or three months, which ever comes first. This still holds true in cold weather and is difficult for the “do it yourself” mechanic, especially with some snow on the ground in the driveway. If it becomes too cold to do it yourself then pay to have the process performed at a speedy change facility. In between regular changes check the oil on the dip stick once per week. To check the oil level open the hood and find the dip stick, usually labeled oil or with an oil can picture. With the engine-turned off, pull the stick straight out and wipe it clean with a rag or paper towel. Insert the stick back in its hole all the way and remove it once more. Check that the oil residue appears in the proper hashed area on the dip stick.


While it seems counter intuitive to check coolant in cool weather, coolant is just as important in the winter time as it is in the summer. Make sure to check the coolant reservoir during your weekly under the hood check. Coolant should settle at the cold full line after sitting for the night. If it is low, top it off with the proper coolant. Check your owner’s manual for the right coolant for the vehicle. A general rule is do not mix red coolant with green coolant and use a 50/50 pre-mixed coolant solution from the auto parts store. If  water added  without coolant over the summer has not been mixed yet, make sure to add a coolant to prevent the water from freezing in your engine and causing irreversible damage.

Along with checking the coolant weekly check all the rubber hoses under the hood. Just give a good visual inspection for any cracks, discoloration, leaks, or collapsed areas. If a hose does show excessive wear have it replaced before further damage occurs.

4 Wheel Drive

Check to make sure the four-wheel drive system still operates properly before needed in a critical situation. Four wheel drive, like most other things in life, tends to stop working if never used. To make sure it is working engage the four-wheel drive in both high and low. It will be obvious if engaged properly. If unsure put the vehicle in park, block the wheels, and crawl under the vehicle. Grab the front drive shaft going to the front of the vehicle and try to turn the drive shaft clockwise and counter-clockwise, it should not free spin. To help keep the four-wheel drive system operating when needed engage it once monthly even in the summer time. This helps keep the solenoids working properly and will let you know when there is a problem before needed.

Safety First

While these tips will help prevent a break down there are still many things that can go wrong in the winter. Before going out on the road in the winter prepare an emergency kit that includes:



Emergency Kit(69888)
  • water
  • first aid kit
  • space blankets
  • road flares
  • flashlights
  • battery's
  • a car charger for a cell phone
  • three MRE’s

Make sure when going out someone knows where you are going and about when you will return. Have a fully charged cell phone with you to reach help if needed. Following these winter driving tips will give peace of mind heading out the door and prevent panic if the worst situation does occur.