Nov 12

Fall and Winter Driving

by Stacia Dahl, Montana AARP

This question came in from Karen who stopped by our booth during our Day of Service in Butte.

Q: We bought our granddaughter her first car as she headed off to college this fall. I am worried about her driving during the winter months. What tips
or advice do you have that I can provide to her?

A: Whether you are new to auto ownership or a seasoned, long-time owner, the time to prepare for winter driving is before the snow flies. As we know in Montana, we can get snow any month of the year, but our winter driving season is nearly upon us. Driving in winter weather—snow, ice, wet and cold—creates a great challenge for vehicles and drivers. Keeping your vehicle in good technical repair reduces your overall chances for mishaps, accidents or disaster while driving in winter weather. Prepare yourself for the winter driving season by following these five tips.

1. Listen up: If you’ve been hearing any unusual noises while driving be sure to check out the source of those sounds. Starting out fresh should keep your driving safe through the snowy season. If you’ve been hearing your brakes screech or make other unusual sounds it’s time to check out those noises. If your brakes are making noise, check your brake fluid. Brake fluid attracts moisture, which could freeze in the winter and create travel issues. So when the cold air hits, be sure to change your brake fluid to start winter with fresh, dry (no water content) brake fluid in the system. Be sure to use high quality brake fluid, as it will prove more cost effective in preventing winter car troubles. This will leave you with a dry system protected from
moisture and rusting during the winter.

2. Tune up: Schedule a winter check-up for your vehicle. Have a trained technician inspect your vehicle with special attention to parts vulnerable in winter, such as the battery, engine and brakes. Make sure the technician also checks that your car’s heating and air conditioning system and lights are working properly, and that your exhaust system isn’t leaking. Winter is a great time for you to replace your windshield wipers and install snow tires for better traction.

3. Clean up: Give your vehicle a “winter cleaning” inside and out. A basic car wash is a good place to start to ensure your exterior is prepared for the barrage of snow and salt, and to also make sure your lights and mirror aren’t obstructed by any dirt. You can also switch out your floor mats for weather resistant mats so they don’t get slippery on snowy days. Most importantly, clean out your trunk to make space for essential winter season supplies like a scraper and shovel.

4. Stock up: While you should always have an emergency roadside kit in your vehicle, winter is the time to check the contents and add the winter necessities. Stock the everyday essentials – flashlight, flares, first aid kit, jumper cables, tool kit, paper towels, extra windshield washer fluid, and food and bottled water. Be sure to also pack the more winter-specific items, such as a blanket, hats and gloves, a snow brush, ice scraper, tire chains, snow
shovel, and even a bag of salt or kitty litter for added traction in case a tire gets stuck. It’s also smart to keep a pair of winter boots in your trunk in case you need to exit your vehicle in an emergency.

5. Fill up: Always keep your gas tank at least half-full. In the winter months, an empty gas tank runs the risk of freezing, whereas a fuller tank prevents moisture from building up and even adds a beneficial weight increase to your vehicle. In addition to your gas tank, fill up on new oil and make sure your anti-freeze is full and contains the appropriate mix (about a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze). Understanding how to prepare your vehicle for harsh
weather conditions can protect you, your passengers and your vehicle. But winter weather also requires cautious driving.

If you feel you could use a winter driving refresher, consider taking the AARP Smart Driver™ Course. For more information, visit or call 1-888-AARP-NOW (1-877-846-3299).

Do you have a question for AARP Montana? Send your question to “Ask AARP Montana” at or 30 W 14th St., Helena, MT 59601 or call our toll-free hotline at 866-295-7278. As we receive questions, we will consult with both internal and external experts to provide timely and valuable advice.

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