The chill is on, and
soon snow will be falling in most of America. Certainly, TV news
anchors will be happy, for this gives them the chance to stand
outside in a blizzard, where they will prattle on about something
you could figure out by looking out the window. With mock
seriousness, they’ll convince you it’s as life threatening as a
nuclear war, a zombie apocalypse, or an all-day marathon of
“Keeping Up with The Kardashians.”
It’s not. But even
if your id can’t handle winter, you can ensure that your car can.
Whether you live in the Snow Belt or the Sun Belt, now is a good
time to assess your car’s health.
Here’s what you
Nothing else affects
your car as much as an under-inflated tire. Cold weather causes
tires to lose air pressure; cold air is more condensed than warm
air. So, it’s a good idea to check. The proper inflation is posted
on the driver’s side front door jamb on newer cars and trucks.
While you’re at it,
check the tread. Take a penny and place it upside down into several
places across the tire. If the top of Abe Lincoln’s head is
showing, replace the tire. Also, check the state of the tread
itself. If a tire is worn on both edges, it is under-inflated. If
it’s worn in the center of the tread, it’s overinflated. If you
spot cups or dips in the tread, have the suspension or steering
Finally, most cars
are equipped with all-season tires. Sports sedans and sports cars
are commonly equipped with summer performance tires for better
dry-weather grip, while hybrids and electric vehicles have
low-rolling resistance tires (aka lower grip) for better efficiency.
Consider replacing them with winter tires or studded snow tires to
improve winter traction. However, fuel economy and/or battery life
As the temperature
drops, the need for juice rises. Replacing your battery ahead of
time is beneficial in two ways: You can buy a new one on sale, and
you won’t be left stranded.
Deciding when to
replace it is simple. For example, if you have a 36-month battery,
you can expect three years of trouble-free charging. As the 36-month
mark approaches, consider replacing the battery shy of that point.
Also, have your
car’s alternator, voltage regulator, belts and connecting cables
checked by a mechanic.
If the wipers are
streaking, replace them. Also, replace windshield washer fluid
that’s been diluted with water with pure washer fluid that won’t
freeze below 32 degrees.
If you can’t
remember the last time your vehicle’s cooling system was flushed,
check your records and your vehicle’s owner’s manual. Flushing
the system removes sediment and rust particles to prevent clogging.
Be sure to use a 50/50 mix of antifreeze to water. Also, be sure to
use the proper antifreeze. Many newer vehicles specify a new,
longer-life engine coolant, not the traditional green type. Finally,
replace any dried-out, cracked hoses.
Seeing and being seen
is critical in inclement weather. Have someone stand outside the car
to ensure all headlights, fog lamps, tail lamps, brake lights, and
turn signals work.
When roads get slick,
stopping distances increase. If your last vehicle check showed your
brakes to be marginal, or the brakes squeal when coming to a stop,
get them checked and/or replaced.
Do all of your
defrosters work? This might seem like an insignificant item —
until you need it.
—Clean your car
Wash your car to
remove accumulated grime. Then, polish and wax the paint to preserve
the finish. Inside, wipe down all surfaces. For leather, use a
leather cleaner and moisturizer to prevent cracking. Clear out the
glovebox, center console and rear cargo area. Vacuum the seats,
carpet and headliner.
A breakdown, flat
tire or other problem can occur at any time.
emergency and first aid kits are available at auto parts stores, but
you might want to build your own if you don’t have one. Be sure to
include screwdrivers — Phillips and flathead, pliers, socket
wrenches, duct tape, electrical wire tape, electrical wire spray,
WD-40, flashlight with extra batteries, coolant hose repair kit, a
small fire extinguisher, tire gauge, road flares, spare fuses, foam
tire sealant or a portable air compressor, jumper cables, rain gear,
work gloves, roadside assistance phone number, and spare fluids.
Also, consider adding
kitty litter (for added traction under a slipping tire), a
flashlight, work gloves, a small shovel, a windshield scraper,
jumper cables, a first aid kit, cloth or paper towels, drinking
water, nonperishable snacks and a blanket, in case you get stranded.
—One last thought
Taking the time now
to ensure your ride is trouble free will ensure that your winter
driving experience will be as well.