Have you or a loved one been stranded on the side of the road due to your vehicle breaking down? If not, you are extremely lucky. Unfortunately, this happens when you least expect it, especially throughout the winter months. Find out what preventative action you can take, plus some helpful tips and tricks on what to look for if your vehicle is not running like it should.

Why Roads Deteriorate During the Winter Months

Throughout the winter months, many of us experience the season’s harsh conditions on America’s highways. Unfortunately, our vehicles bear the brunt of these weather conditions. Due to cracks, crumbling roads and road salt, our vehicles cannot hold up and terrible situations such as flat tires, and damage due to winter roads become a regular occurrence.

The reason roads cannot withstand the winter’s harsh conditions is due to water seeping into the cracks of the pavement, causing swelling and cracks. The roads become even further distressed when salt is added into the mix.

The chloride in road salt is especially damaging to concrete and can corrode reinforcing rods. Communities have to deal with deteriorating roads for months after winter ends.

Salt Makes for Safer Roads, but Unsafe Vehicles

Without salt on the roads during winter storms, drivers would see many more crashes and spun-out ​vehicles on our streets and highways. Salt is used because it lowers the freezing point or water, which melts ice and prevents more from forming. It’s also cheap, costing about $50 a ton. Salt reduces collisions by up to 85 percent, with every 10 percent improvement in surface friction reducing crashes by 20 percent

Unfortunately, keeping the roads drivable is also doing damage to your vehicle.

According to a 2015 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), road salt can be very corrosive to the brake lines of vehicles made in 2007 or earlier.  

To avoid lingering road salt from damaging your ​vehicle further, the NHTSA suggests washing your vehicle's undercarriage regularly throughout the winter and to give it a thorough washing in the spring to remove road salt and other de-icing chemicals.

Road salt affects fuel and brake lines as well as your vehicle’s undercarriage. Wax is often applied to the body of vehicles to protect from rust, but it’s not just a cosmetic treatment. The wax can also be used to seal the undercarriage of your vehicle, helping to prevent winter damage.

Rust affects the structural integrity of the body of your vehicle. If you have an accident, you want the body panels and wheel wells to be as strong as possible. Several winters worth or road salt can undo the protection your vehicle offers.

How to Know When Winter has Damaged Your Vehicle

A flat tire is obvious, but repeated bumps on the road can also cause slow leaks that aren’t as immediately noticeable. Regularly check your tires to make sure they’re properly inflated.

Take your vehicle in for service immediately if you hear any odd clunks, bumps or screeches. If your vehicle bottoms out while driving, your shocks or struts may be worn down.  

A heavy hit could also cause damage to your vehicle undercarriage, so watch for any pooling liquid under your car when you park. Pipes that are already weakened by road salt can be punctured or torn by a hard hit.

Watch for any flaking or scaling from metal brake pipes. If the corrosion is severe, it may be time to have the full assembly replaced.

Pay attention to any warning lights that come on during the winter, especially the brake light. It’s easy to ignore these lights, especially when your brakes seem to be working, but the light may indicate a problem that might grow worse with time.   

Large icicles often form under bridges or inside parking garages. As the weather changes, they can snap off, falling and causing damage to your vehicle. 

How to Winterize Your Vehicle

There are a few easy tips and tricks that can help you prevent winter mishaps from happening to your beloved vehicle.

Protect your engine by switching to a thinner oil if you live in an area where weather conditions drop below freezing. Make sure you refer to your owner’s manual to determine the right oil for your vehicle.

When the temperature drops below freezing, your vehicle’s battery decreases in capacity. Have your battery tested in the fall to avoid difficulty starting on cold mornings.

Winter tires will make your commute easier, but not everyone wants to deal with switching out a set of tires on a regular basis. A set of all-season tires will help your vehicle handle winter roads as well as summer driving.

An emergency kit is an important item to keep on hand in case you wind up in an accident or find yourself stranded. A blanket, flashlight, shovel, road salt (or sand or kitty litter) and snacks are among the things you should keep handy. A charge for your cell phone will help ensure you can call roadside assistance.

Other Winter Driving Hacks to be Aware of

It can be difficult to keep track of where the paint lines are on the road during a snowstorm, but be aware their location may not be clear even when the road is clear during winter. Road salt damages and fades the paint, and plows can scrape it off. Follow the trails of other vehicles to make sure you’re driving safe.

The sand being laid down for added traction sometimes includes larger pieces of gravel that can be flung up by other vehicles. If a piece of loose gravel damages your windshield, don’t delay in getting it repaired. Small chips in windshields can be repaired as a part of comprehensive coverage. When water freezes in the cracks, it can expand and turn a minor repair into a major replacement.

Protect Yourself When the Unexpected Happens

Unfortunately, situations arise when we least expect them, like when your vehicle won’t start and you’re stranded on the side of the road. The good news is with Farm Bureau Financial Services Roadside Assistance you will be safe day and night when you need it most. Don’t wait until you are in the unfortunate circumstance, learn more about it today!