Prepping Your Car for Cross-Border Trips During the Winter

The sun descends behind the mountains, and snow covers your car’s windshield. You try to turn the ignition on, but the car produces a screeching sound. You fidget in your seat; trapped in an unfamiliar place.

Never let the aforementioned situation arrive. In the next five minutes, learn the techniques that seasoned travelers use to prep their cars for cross-border trips during winter.

Check Your Battery

Car batteries can last from three to five years. However, the cold weather triggers batteries to wear out faster.

Motor oil thickens in winter, requiring more effort from the battery and starter motor to turn engines over in cold temperatures. This additional strain can shorten the lifespan of your battery, and it may not have enough amperage to start your car when the temperature really drops.

Use a computerized battery tester to check battery condition. The tester also scans the starter, alternator, and the whole charging system. Auto part stores test car batteries for free as well.

You should also clean the battery terminals with a wire brush or battery cleaning tool. Otherwise, corrosion builds up on battery terminals and posts. The corrosion prevents the charging system from recharging the battery.     

Spray the terminals with battery terminal protectant spray. The spray reduces further battery terminal corrosion.

Measure Tire Tread Depth and Pressure

Half-worn or bald tires can cause hydroplaning, and reduced traction on snow. The condition occurs when worn-out grooves resist the water that wants to escape from under the tire. Your car slides through the water, and you lose control over the car.

Furthermore, worn-out tires overheat and puncture. Therefore, always steer clear of them.

In a bald tire, the groove depth falls to 2/32 of an inch (1.6mm). A groove depth of 4/32 of an inch (3.2mm) or less offers lower traction on the road.

Make sure to replace these tires with a new tire with a groove depth of at least 10/32 of an inch (8mm). 

Pep Boys Service Manager Harry Haynes stated that tires deflate at temperatures below the freezing mark.  Lower tire pressure wears out the tires faster, leading to reduced traction and safety. Plus, the lower pressure leads to worse fuel economy.

Check tire pressures every week to fix these issues.

Use Winter Tires

Winter tires offer up to 50% more traction than all-season tires.

This allows your car to drive through snow and water with less skidding. The tires offer a better grip than all-season tires on dry roads, too.

The tread patterns on a winter tire contain wider grooves. Water is shed from under the tire with less resistance, and the car avoids hydroplaning. 

Install winter tires in a set of four, because matching tires maintain balance and control. However, don’t leave your winter tires on all year. The softer rubber compound can wear quickly when it gets hot.

Get Winter Wiper Blades

When it snows and you turn on your windshield wipers, the blades tend to spread swatches of snow on the windshield. This is because the snow gets trapped inside the blades.

Opt for winter wiper blades to avoid this issue. Winter wiper blades offer a rubbery protective layer, which allows the wiper blades to work in snow and rain.

Winter wiper blades are much stronger than typical wiper blades. They handle heavy snowfall and freezing rain better than their summer counterparts.

Service Brakes Regularly

Service vehicles scatter road salt in the winter to speed up the melting of snow and ice so that your car won’t skid on the road. However, the salt corrodes the brake rotors.

Get a mechanic to inspect your brakes before the winter season. In addition, repeat the process again in midwinter.

Precipitation, like snow, degrades brake fluids. Water molecules build up inside the fluids and harm the car. Because of this, make sure that you replace normal brake fluids with fluids made for winter.  

Keep the Tank Full

Moisture builds up in empty spaces of the gas tank, and this moisture dilutes the fuel, causing your car’s fuel pump to strain. If left overnight, this moisture can freeze and cause damage to the entire fuel system.

The solution is to keep your gas tank full, as moisture won’t build up in a tank filled with gas. You can also utilize a fuel system moisture inhibitor that you pour right in your gas tank. The HEET brand is widely available in most service stations and auto parts stores, but all brands typically work the same way.

Coolant Level

Liquid engine coolant transfers heat away from your car’s engine, and to the radiator. It also protects the engine from corrosion.

If your car runs low on coolant, it could be unable to transfer enough heat out of the engine. This can lead to overheating, even on very cold days. You can schedule an appointment to have a mechanic check your coolant level for you, or look up a YouTube tutorial to do it yourself if you are comfortable with it.

Coolants can last up to ten years. Remember, the life expectancy of coolant varies between car models. 

Lubricate Hinges and Locks

Freezing water seeps into car window tracks. When you try to open the window, the water creates drag. This damages the window regulator cables.

A spray of silicone or dry Teflon lubricant fixes the problem. Simply lower the window and spray the lubricant into the window track. Then, open and close the window 2-3 times. This process spreads the liquid all the way down the track.

In winter, water seeps between the car door and weather stripping. If the water freezes, the door won’t open. You can apply lubricant here as well to avoid this scenario.

Door and trunk locks corrode if you never lubricate them. The corrosion prevents you from using the key. So, if your key fob battery ever dies, you won’t be able to open the door. To combat this, you can use graphite lock lubricant to protect the locks from corrosion.

During the winter months, roads are often salted to prevent sliding. These road salts can accumulate on the latch mechanism, and the salt corrodes the latch mechanism causing the hood to become stuck.

Lubricate the latch mechanism before the winter season. One lubrication session prevents corrosion for the entire winter season.

Maintain Your Car

The principal solution to prep your car for cross-border trips during the winter is to invest in the maintenance of your car. Many of the items on this list will not need to be done specifically for a winter trip if you have kept up on maintenance throughout the year.

However, in some cases, the car you’re driving may not be your own. For instance, if you are flying to another country for your winter road trip, you will most likely be renting a car. Be sure to visually inspect the vehicle for most of the items on this list, and have any issues rectified by the rental company before you take possession of the car.

You should also make sure you have travel insurance with coverage for road trips before you depart for your trip. This way, if your trip is cancelled or interrupted for a covered reason, or you encounter an emergency medical issue while abroad, your insurance can provide you with financial coverage.

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