Monday, October 21, 2013

Prepping Your Car Up For The Winter

Winter is upon us, and winter driving comes with it. While safety is an important consideration
all year long, there are certainly some auto maintenance jobs and safety checks that are specific
to chilled air and winter driving that are a good idea to check into before we're knee deep in the
season. To be sure you don't end up a road popsicle, or even worse end up with your holiday budget
on ice thanks to unexpected car repairs, have a look under the hood to be sure things are ship
shape. As with any change of season, you should go to your regular maintenance log to make sure
you are up to date on the maintenance items that should be taken care of throughout the year. The
change of seasons is a great time to go through some once-a-year or twice-a-year auto maintenance

Winter Specific Maintenance 

In addition to the added perils of winter driving, the change in weather can bring peril to your
car's systems. Freezing temps, salted roads and wintery precipitation can gang up on your car if
you don't give it a baseball-bat sized maintenance session. These winter maintenance jobs will
keep you out of trouble:

Check your antifreeze 

Your antifreeze (the juice that goes in your radiator) is an essential part of your car's winter
protection. Your car contains a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze. Make sure the level is full and
the mixture is close to 50/50. Many auto service stations and repair centers will check this
mixture free, or you can buy a tester for around $5. You did remember to perform a radiator flush
last spring, didn't you?

Inspect your tires 

The last line of defense between you and an oak tree are your tires. Winter is not the time to get
cheap about your tires, so take the time to check the tread depth. The National Highway
Transportation Safety Board says you need at least 2/32" of depth to be safe. It's been my
experience, especially in winter weather, that anything less than 4/32" (1/8") be replaced soon.
The old penny test is as reliable as anything to find out whether your treads are ready for winter
action. Also, be sure to check your tire pressure. Believe it or not, they lose a little pressure
when it gets cold, so pump 'em up. Do you need snow tires?

Replace your wipers 

Wipers? What do your windshield wipers have to do with winter weather? Two things. First, anything
falling from the sky is going to end up on your windshield, and unless you have a team of beavers
riding on the hood of your car the task of clearing it falls on your wipers. Second, in areas that
see snowfall in the winter, you're also driving through that soupy muck that's left on the road
once the highway department does their thing. This muck includes a lot of sand and salt, both of
which end up on your windshield. It takes wipers that are in top shape to keep your windshield
clean and safe.

Check your windshield washer fluid 

You'll be using lots of washer fluid as you try to keep your windshield sparkly. A mile stuck
behind an 18-wheeler will have your windshield looking like a Desert Humvee if you're low on
washer fluid. *Tip: Don't fill your washer fluid reservoir with anything except washer fluid, it
won't freeze!

Annual Maintenance Procedures 

On top of the checks you need to perform to ensure safe winter driving, now's a good time to do
some annual maintenance. These aren't necessarily specific to winter driving, but it's a good
point on the calendar to get around to doing this stuff.

Clean your battery posts 

Starting problems are a bummer any time of year. Regularly treating your battery to a cleaning can
keep electrical gremlins at bay.

Inspect your spark plug wires 

Cracked up plug wires affect performance, gas mileage and general reliability. Be sure yours are
in top shape.

Inspect your brakes 

Brakes are not a good area to cut corners. Be sure your brakes have enough meat left to get you
through the season.

Check Your Engine Oil 

This should go without saying and should be done at least monthly. But in case you're an amnesiac
... you should also do an oil change!

Cold weather safety should be a concern for anybody living in a cold climate. These tips will give
you the upper hand when Old Man Winter tries to put a chill on your winter travels. If you're
extra curious about staying generally safe in winter weather, the National Weather Service has an
excellent Winter Safety & Awareness guide that covers everything from how storms brew to a list of
history's billion dollar winter wonders.
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