getting a car ready for winter
December 11, 2013 4:55 AM   Subscribe

My friend has 2 cars; a '77 Toyota sedan, and a "06 Subaru Forrester. Most of her driving is in the city and some highway. I have brought up the idea of winterizing them both; tuneups, de-icer, scraper, better wiper blades, windshield fluid, tires, more weight in the rear, sand, shovel, emergency flash, cell phone charger.......she has let me know the tires are not changing. Any ideas for making the cars, and her time in them, safer and more secure? Best battery? Oil?
posted by ebesan to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If she has good all-weather tires, there's no need for snow tires. Most of the rest of your list is just basic car maintenaince and safe driving techniques: the tune-ups, the fluids, the battery, having a scraper & shovel. Even the wiper blades: if she has decent wiper blades already, she's gold.

What she should have in the car, besides a cellphone charger, are a blanket and a couple bottles of water. A car-club membership, like AAA, is a good idea too: someplace she can call in any weather for flat tires, a tow truck for dead-car trouble or even just running out of gas. I personally recommend against de-icer; yes, there are people who like the stuff, but I consider it somewhere between useless and a problem in its own right. And in well over 40 years of driving, I've never found having a bag of sand (some people use clay kitty litter) to be useful in city or highway driving. YMMV, of course.

Frankly, you sound a tiny bit paranoid: is she a brand-new driver or maybe one with lots of accidents to her name? Because city/highway driving is mostly driving only on plowed roads, unlike way out in the country where you'd be more on your own.
posted by easily confused at 5:11 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is your friend also in New York? Because not getting winter tyres is downright foolish for the temperatures you guys have there. However if she has all season tyres on and she will only drive in the city and has the flexibility in her schedule to be able to stall a few hours until her relevant routes are ploughed she should be fine. Winter tyres will always be better, but all seasons are probably good enough.

if she doesn't even have all season tyres, then she's an idiot and she shouldn't even consider driving in adverse conditions over the winter. Seriously.

In terms of actual 'winterizing' she really only has to make sure that the cars have appropriate coolant concentration so they don't freeze up. Making sure the battery is in good health is also a good idea as if it will fail, it will do so in cold weather.

Washer fluid is always a good idea, in good, cold-resistant concentrations, too. I agree that in a normal car, a bag of sand in the back of it won't make much difference to anything at all - in a truck with no weight over the drive wheels? Yes. In a car (especially a Subaru)? Nope.

Seconding the little stuff that's smart in the winter - a blanket, water, never letting the fuel tank get below half way if you can at all help it. That sort of thing.
posted by Brockles at 5:17 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: she's never been a comfortable driver. Long highway driving is tense in good conditions. I am trying to raise her comfort level, by sounding sensible and precautionary, not alarmist.
posted by ebesan at 5:40 AM on December 11, 2013

In that case, what she might find more useful than 'more stuff in the car' is a professionally-taught defensive driver school. Let's face it, most of us learned from some combination of family/friends/HS driving class; perhaps a good refresher course could ease some of her worries.
posted by easily confused at 5:56 AM on December 11, 2013

Winter tires are by far and away the best prep she can make. Aside from changing tires, there's really very little else to do on a modern car. They improve stopping distance by 30 to 40%. Concern isn't just how well they clear snow, but how well they grip grip on cold pavement.

Carry equipment should include a decent set of jumper cables (and be shown a couple of times how to use them) and a window scraper or two at minimum. If you want to go all out, the winter car kit here is a decent start.
posted by bonehead at 5:56 AM on December 11, 2013

she's never been a comfortable driver.

Then she needs to put on the best possible tyres she can find. Seriously. Grip between car and pavement is by far the most confidence inspiring element of winter driving. I was stunned with how good winter tyres are in conditions I'd be very nervous of back home in England. People in Canada (Toronto - comparable to NY conditions) can essentially just drive normally for the most part in anything other than 'during a storm' driving. You absolutely cannot do that with summer tyres and you have to be more cautious with all season.
posted by Brockles at 6:05 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Snow tires are the best thing she could do to her car. Those by far outweigh all the other stuff you're considering collectively.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:13 AM on December 11, 2013

Response by poster: all great ideas thx
posted by ebesan at 6:24 AM on December 11, 2013

A Forester with all season tires - if they're in decent shape and good tires - will be fine. We have never had problems with those and live in Michigan, do lots of messy winter driving. Our Foresters are far and way the most controllable, safe with messy roads vehicles I've ever driven. I'd be more concerned about the state of the Toyota - how rusted out is it? A 77 that's been through a lot of winters is likely to be on the fragile side.
posted by leslies at 6:42 AM on December 11, 2013

Better and proper length windshield wiper blades can make a big difference in visibility. I got these on Sweethome's recommendation. Get the rear blade as well. Super easy to install; if she's nervous a gas station mechanic would probably do it for free when filling up.

Oh and for serious window ice scraping, a metal edge wallpaper scraper works better than the plastic-blades and is worth having in the car.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 6:54 AM on December 11, 2013

The absolute best thing she can do is just never drive the 35 year old Toyota (or is that a typo?). The Subaru has all wheel drive and traction control and airbags and side impact protection and roll bars and crumple zones and less rust and and and...
posted by rockindata at 7:40 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: sorry, typo. '97
posted by ebesan at 7:43 AM on December 11, 2013

If she doesn't even have all season tyres, then she's an idiot and she shouldn't even consider driving in adverse conditions over the winter. Seriously.

I just want to point out that "adverse conditions" in the case of summer tires includes such things as cold weather without even getting into snow and ice. The rubber compound in summer tires just isn't designed to operate in below freezing temps. It gets hard, it loses traction, and it gets dangerous.

All-season tires will be better. When it gets especially frigid, they won't really get dangerous to drive on the way that summer tires will but they will lose some grip, even on dry roads.

Winter tires are just plain better in the winter. Good all-season tires will be fine, winter tires will good.

This video will show you how much better they can be. On an ice rink, winter tires were able to stop a car in nearly half the distance that all-season tires did.

All season tires will be okay, yes. But, I can promise that if she goes through a winter on winter tires, she won't go through another one without them.

Plus, you're not really spending that much more money on them since you now have two sets of tires, you're driving on each set for only half the time.
posted by VTX at 7:54 AM on December 11, 2013

Snow socks. Used them a few times, fairly easy to use once you get the hang of it, work amazingly well.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:56 AM on December 11, 2013

...more weight in the rear...
Weighting the back end of a front-wheel-drive car is not a good idea.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:59 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I live in Maine. Where do you live?
- This ice scraper for actual ice, and a cheapie for regular use.
- Have the battery tested at a garage. Mine tested fine, but still failed the 1st really cold day. that sucks.
- Windshield washer fluid - in snow & ice, salty splashes make the windshield a mess.
- Competent wipers are a must in all seasons.
- a bucket of sand or kitty litter in case of ice stuckage.
- traction mats got my car unstuck just the other evening, but I was on grass, not asphalt.
- a small shovel.
Some people use a snow brush, I use my arm.

I always have in the car - old pay-as-you-go phone, granola bars, candy(I put candy I don't like in a jar), water, fleece throws (the dog loves them, and they're also useful as padding if you want to haul stuff on top of the car), flashlight, oil, jumper cables, spare hat, mittens, corkscrew, book, matches in a jar with several votive candles(if needed, put lit candle in jar for safety). Just got a flash light that plugs into the lighter so I can keep it charged. w00t!

Your friend is driving not-so-new cars, albeit pretty reliable ones. Subaru should have all wheel drive, so good tires will make it pretty good in snow. Tires are, as others have said, critical to safe winter driving. Mainers know about snow, ice & driving, and still have accidents. Tires aren't cheap, accidents are very expensive. My deductible is 1,000. I could get a nice set of tires for that.

Fix-a-flat is handy to have in the car, too. Fortunately, last time I needed it, there was a gas station across the street.
posted by theora55 at 10:04 AM on December 11, 2013

Where does you friend live?

New York is a pretty big state and I definitely disagree that everyone in New York needs snow tires. I live in metro New York and we don't get anywhere near enough snow to justify snow tires (which have some significant disadvantages driving on dry roads anyway).

Putting more weight in the rear isn't helpful unless the cars are rear-wheel drive.

Since she's doing city and highway driving, it really doesn't seem like there's much to worry about. Things like a cell phone charger, a decent battery, jumper cables, AAA membership are all good things to have for any driver. A shovel is good to have, but for a city driver, it will be most useful for digging out your car when it gets plowed in.

Can you take her to drive around a parking lot on a snowy day? I know for me the first time I skid when driving, I panicked and slammed on the brakes (in an older car without antilock brakes), and nearly got into an accident. A friend took me into a parking lot on a wet snowy day and taught me what to do if my car started to skid, so I wouldn't panic the next time.

Honestly, the best thing she might be able to do is not drive in really bad weather when she doesn't feel safe driving, if it can be avoided.
posted by inertia at 10:43 AM on December 11, 2013

I live in metro New York and we don't get anywhere near enough snow to justify snow tires (which have some significant disadvantages driving on dry roads anyway).

That is just not true. Only studded tyres have a disadvantage on dry tarmac, not normal winter tyres. Winter tyre perform fine (except maybe some minor road noise) on dry roads.

It isn't about snow necessarily, but more about temperature. If the road temperature is below 7 degrees C (44 F) for an extended period, then winter tyres are far better than summer tyres.
posted by Brockles at 11:04 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

You could put winter tires only on the Forester and store the Toyota for the winter. Buying snow tires is expensive, but then you only put wear on your tires half of the year, so they last longer.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:21 PM on December 11, 2013

And get the widest tires that will fit on the current rims. Makes a huge difference. I don't know why tire places don't suggest that.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:23 PM on December 11, 2013

And get the widest tires that will fit on the current rims.

That isn't necessarily a good idea, which is probably why they don't suggest it. For Summer, yes. For winter, not necessarily. Particularly and especially when you consider snow. Fat tyres tend to ride up and slide over snow rather than biting through it to the compacted snow or ice.

It's no coincidence that rally cars on snow have really skinny tyres - something like 2/3 to half the width of the normal road/gravel tyres.
posted by Brockles at 5:07 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

like somebody else stated if its metro NY (I live on long island) we get maybe 3 or 4 snow storms a year. Snow tires aren't worth the money here. good All season tires for the forester are good enough since its awd (one of the best awd systems money can buy).

Just make sure her wipers are new. Make sure she has one of those travel shovels. auto stores have them. You never know when she will be plowed in and have to dig herself out at work. also a bag of kitty litter for if she gets stuck.

For the NYC and long island the forester is good enough without snow tires .
posted by majortom1981 at 4:13 AM on December 12, 2013

we get maybe 3 or 4 snow storms a year. Snow tires aren't worth the money here.

This is not true, is bad advice and is based on a misunderstanding of what the tyres are designed for. They are not 'snow' tyres, they are Winter tyres. According to the climate data for New York (Central Park) there are at least 5 months of the year where Winter tyres are much better suited to the temperatures than Summer tyres are. They are also better than All Season tyres for at least 4 of those months. They are not a waste of money if snow doesn't fall, they are only a waste of money if it doesn't ever get cold, which ain't going to happen in New York.
posted by Brockles at 10:18 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Pre-school playground politics.   |   Finally meeting in real life; the disappointment... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.