Automotive Maintenance

Tips for maintaining & driving your car in winter

Winter tire driving in snow

Driving in frosty winter weather is a fact of life in many parts of the United States. 

It frequently comes just as millions of drivers are embarking on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's road trips, and often carries over well into the new year, too. At best, window frost and icy roads are a nuisance; at worst, they can be deadly. We look at what drivers can do to prepare their vehicles for winter's challenges, and how they can adjust the way they drive to help avoid a crash.

Prepare your car for winter

If your car needs repairs, have them taken care of before doing your winter-weather driving.

  • Oil: Change your car's engine oil and oil filter as recommended by the manufacturer. If you're changing the oil yourself, make sure to refill with an oil rated for cold weather.
  • Headlights: Inspect all lights and replace burned-out bulbs. Have badly weathered or hazy plastic headlight lenses restored for better visibility and increased safety. Learn more about headlights and how to maintain them.
  • Engine and exhaust: Have any Check Engine lights or other engine problems corrected as soon as possible. Have your vehicle’s exhaust system examined for leaks, including floorboards and trunk.
  • Tires: Get your tires rotated every 5,000–7,500 miles. Check the tires' pressures once a month. If you live in a cold climate, consider a set of dedicated snow tires. (Not sure what kind of tires you need? Learn about the different kinds of tires and what they're good for.)
  • Battery: Batteries typically last 3–5 years, and failures are common in winter because of increased cold-starting electrical loads. If your battery is old, have it tested.
  • Cooling system: Flush and refill the cooling system with factory-approved coolant at the interval specified by the manufacturer. A 50/50 mix of coolant and water is usually recommended.
  • Heater and defroster: Check for proper system operation to ensure visibility and passenger comfort. Replace the cabin air filter at intervals specified by your car’s manufacturer.
  • Windshield wipers: Replace worn wipers and fill the windshield washer system with winter solvent. If you live in a harsh climate, buy beam-type or rubber-clad blades that help prevent ice buildup.
Traffic jam in snowy weather

Winter driving safety tips

  • Leave at the right time. Watch weather and traffic reports ahead of time to avoid running into built-up holiday traffic or a severe storm.
  • Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads, so allow yourself enough time to maneuver by driving slowly. Also, maintain your speed when ascending a hill rather than accelerating; speed combined with snow or ice can be very hazardous.
  • Maintain speed to get over hills. Build up a little extra inertia before going uphill. Once you’re on the hill, avoid strong acceleration or braking. As you crest the hill, reduce speed and steadily descend the other side.
  • Don’t use cruise control. Without cruise control, you can instantly slow down by lifting your foot off the accelerator. This quickly transfers weight to the front tires, giving them more traction.
  • Increase following distance. The normal dry pavement following distance is 3 to 4 seconds behind the car in front of you. That should be increased to 8–10 seconds during winter driving.
A car stuck in a snowy ditch
  • Don’t panic if you enter a skid. Continue to look and steer in the direction you want the vehicle to go. Avoid slamming on the brakes, as it will further upset the vehicle's balance and make it harder to regain control.
  • Know when to brake and when to steer. When traveling over 25 mph in wintery conditions, AAA recommends steering rather than braking to avoid collisions. Braking on slippery surfaces takes more time, so you should be scanning 20–30 seconds ahead of your vehicle. Don’t brake and steer at the same time—that makes it more likely your vehicle will lose traction.
  • If you become stuck in snow, stay with your vehicle. It provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you. If you leave your car in a severe storm, you're more likely to get lost than find help. Make sure you pack extra jackets, gloves, and hats.
SUV driving in snow

Consider renting a car instead of driving your own

While driving your own car on a long road trip has its benefits, renting a vehicle comes with advantages, too:

  • Prevent wear and tear. Long-distance driving can be hard on a vehicle, especially in freezing winter weather. Keep frost, mud, and road salt off your car by driving a rental.
  • Get the size you need. If you’d like to travel with extended family, but your everyday car doesn’t have the room, rent a larger crossover, SUV, or minivan.
  • Prepare for the weather. Hertz, AAA’s longtime car rental partner, offers SUVs and other 4-wheel-drive vehicles equipped with winter tires.
An Approved Repair technician inspecting a car

Need service? Visit a AAA Approved Auto Repair Shop

The AAA Approved Auto Repair program has been referring members to trusted, high-quality, certified facilities since 1975. AAA members receive a 10% discount (up to $75) on regularly priced parts and labor.1

A father plays guitar for his family in the back of a car on a road trip

Rent with Hertz & save

Instead of putting extra miles on your vehicle, rent an SUV with plenty of cargo space from Hertz. AAA members get exclusive benefits when booking with Hertz, including discounts of up to 20% off base rates. 

Automotive offers & deals

AAA tow truck driver Jeff
AAA automotive services

See how we can help with Roadside Assistance, car buying, auto repair, driver education, and more.


Learn more


AAA Approved Auto Repair

Search approximately 7,000 AAA approved facilities throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Learn more

AAA mobile battery service

AAA Mobile Battery Service

AAA provides a convenient testing and replacement service that comes to you.

Learn more

NAPA store exterior

Automotive discounts

Use your AAA membership to unlock do-it-yourself car care discounts.

Learn more

AAA driving school

Teen driving resources

AAA cares about your teen’s safety and wants to help them develop safe driving habits.

Learn more

back to top icon