The last thing any of us need is to have the car break down in harsh winter weather. Spending some time winterizing your car could help prevent a breakdown or accident and save on repair costs and gas in the bargain.
Here are 12 quick and easy fall and winter maintenance tips. Some things you can do yourself, and others require a mechanic. All will save you money down the road (pun intended):
Tune-up: If you’re due for a tune-up, do it now, before winter arrives. Cold weather magnifies existing problems such as pings, hard starts, sluggish performance and rough idling. Check your owner’s manual for the tune-up schedule and follow it.
Brakes: This is still your car’s most important safety system (after you, the driver). Get your brakes checked and brake pads replaced if necessary, so they’ll be able to stop on that proverbial dime on slippery winter roads.
Battery: Cold weather is hard on batteries. Have the battery and charging system checked for optimum performance, especially important now that so many computerized safety systems run off battery power.
Antifreeze: Clean, flush and put new antifreeze in the cooling system. As a general rule of thumb, this should be done every two years, advises the nonprofit Car Care Council. And while you are at it, check that door locks are weather-proofed, too, so you aren’t locked out on a below-zero day.
Heater and defroster: Check now, before you need them, that they are working properly. Ditto the heated seats, if you are lucky enough to have them.
Wipers: As a general rule, wiper blades should be replaced every six months. If yours have been leaving un-wiped patches on your windshield, replace them now before the cold weather stiffens the rubber even more. If you are in a climate where you use snow tires, consider using winter wiper blades. It’s a good idea, as well, to check the rubber seals around doors and windows. If necessary, use a silicone treatment specially made for vehicles to reinvigorate them.
Lights: Check that exterior and interior lights and headlights work and are properly aimed. If headlights seem to be less powerful than they used to be, clean them. Use only a special cleaner that won’t scratch the finish, such as the 3M Headlight Restoration Kit.
Washer fluid: Use cold weather washer fluid in cold weather, and fill the reservoir. Keep the bottle in the trunk or cargo compartment to refill as needed when road salt mucks up the windshield.
Tires: Fall is a good time to rotate tires, for more even wear and a more comfortable ride. In winter, pressure should be checked weekly. Always check tire pressure in the driveway, since driving as little as a mile to the supermarket can affect the reading. And don’t forget to check the spare, too, especially if you’ve been lucky and haven’t needed it for a while.
Exhaust system: Check for carbon monoxide leaks, which can be especially dangerous during cold weather driving when windows are closed.
Filters: Be diligent about changing both the oil and the oil filter at recommended intervals. Dirty oil can spell trouble in winter. Consider changing to “winter weight” oil if you live in a cold climate. Have your technician check the fuel, air and transmission filters at the same time.
Gas: Keep the gas tank at least half full at all times to reduce the chance of moisture forming in the gas lines and possibly freezing.
Two additional tips: Be sure your collision insurance is up-to-date, just in case. And, keep an emergency kit with an ice scraper and snow brush, jumper cables, flashlight, flares, blanket, extra clothes, candles/matches, bottled water, dry food snacks and needed medication. A friend of mine in Jackson Hole won’t even drive the few miles from home to the supermarket in winter without an emergency kit — and gloves and a hat. And a fully-charged mobile phone.