When temperatures start to drop, it's time to get your car ready for winter. The right maintenance, preparation and tools can be literal lifesavers in harsh conditions.
Now's the time to get your car up to speed on all of its regular maintenance. That means taking care of any fluids that may have been neglected while you were out enjoying the summer sun or going in for that 60,000-mile tune-up if you're due. Check, change and/or top off your oil, coolant, brake and transmission fluid as needed. In the case of your oil or automatic transmission, make sure you get a high-quality filter, too. It may seem like overkill to take care of all of your fluids at once, but it's worth it in the long run.
Take a look at the car's brakes too. Are your rotors warped or cracked? Do they have deep grooves or are the pads worn close to their minimum clearance? Your vehicle will be experiencing harsher conditions soon, so nip any potential problems in the bud now. Make sure all your lights are working properly to ensure good visibility. New bulbs only cost a few dollars and are easy to install yourself or easy to have installed when getting your vehicle serviced. The same goes for windshield wipers. If your blades are more than six months old, odds are it's time to swap them out for new ones. And don't forget to fill the washer fluid reservoir with freeze resistant wiper fluid.
Check Your Tires
Go ahead and have your tires rotated and inspected. The last thing you need in cold, wet weather is to be driving on bald or dry rotted tires. Err on the side of caution and replace any tires that are too worn.
We'd recommend looking into snow (or winter) tires, depending on your location or length of time you'll be spending in the snow. Winter tires are made with special low temperature resilient rubber compounds and have deep treads that grip unplowed snow and ice. Even the best all-season tires have compounds that get more brittle as the temperature drops, and when that happens, the tires tend to grip less. The winter tire compound remains pliable when temperatures are low, retaining grip and keeping the car's safety systems, like all-wheel drive and anti-lock brakes, functioning properly.
At this time, also check to make sure your spare tire has enough air in it. Once you've made sure everything looks good, take a look at your tire pressure. With everything up to spec, you'll get better gas mileage and your vehicle will handle and stop better.
Protect the Interior
You can't discount the impact weather can have on the interior of your vehicle either. If you're going to spend a lot of time ducking in and out of the elements, you might want to grab some all-weather floor mats. They're easy to clean and do a great job of keeping the muck in one place. Making sure your windows are clean will also improve visibility and reduce the likelihood of steamy glass.
Maintain the Coolant System
Our most important tip is to take the time to get your car's coolant system checked. Extreme temperatures and harsh conditions can knock it out easily if it's not up to snuff. If any part of the system comes up with a shaky bill of health, swap the parts for new ones. That means having your car's radiator pressure tested and the hoses examined for cracks or bulges. Most shops can quickly test radiators without the hassle of having to remove them from the vehicle.
If you can't remember the last time your water pump was replaced, or if your pump has more miles on it than what the manufacturer recommends, it's time for a new one. While everything is apart, go for a new thermostat as well because you'll save money on labor getting these two done at once.
Even if everything comes up good to go under the hood, replacing your engine's coolant is cheap insurance against extreme temperatures. Over time, antifreeze can actually generate a weak electrical current, which can then cause oxidation and eventually failure inside of your coolant system. You'll want at least a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water to provide protection against below-zero temperatures. Keeping everything fresh inside will put less stress on your vehicle's hardware and save you serious money in the long run.
Stock Your Car
Stranded by the side of the road can be dangerous in the best of conditions, but when sub-zero temperatures or bad weather is involved, it can be downright deadly. Carrying these supplies may save your life:
- a blanket
- jumper cables
- a flashlight
- a first-aid kit
- a small knife
- a couple energy bars
- small shovel
- waterproof matches
- ice scraper
- a bag of sand or kitty litter to help provide traction if your car is stuck in the snow
A little preparation goes a long way to keep your car running smoothly during the winter months. Not only will the right tools and maintenance protect you and your car from the elements, but they will also keep you safe.
This article originally appeared in DriverSide.