Pre-Winter Car Care
Pamper your car in the fall so it can help you through the cold
The mid-autumn sun washes over the tree tops, reflecting on the foliage that is just starting to show off its vivid colors. The early morning air, with a tiny bit of chill, is pleasantly crisp and clear. My kind of weather, perfect for taking a long route and enjoy the drive. I smile as I skip down the long walkway toward my car.
But my enthusiasm is soon doused by the dreadfully weak “click, click, click” sounds coming from the engine compartment. It’s unmistakable: the starter is not cranking, and the battery is dead! I let out a frustrated sigh, but consider myself lucky. What if this happens in the death of the winter and in the middle of a storm?
The dead battery simply serves as a wake-up call: Do enough of your routine car care before winter so that your ride is safely prepared for the frigid months ahead. Here are a few areas you may want to look into:
1. The battery. You go nowhere with a dead battery. Cold weather affects battery performance, and freezing temperatures can reduce cold-cranking amps (CCA) by 30 percent or more. That’s why horror stories seem to always happen in a snow storm, if movies and TV shows are to be believed. But contrary to what many people think, hot weather can actually take a harsher beating on your battery. So after a long summer, your battery is typically drained to a degree. Even if your battery is not showing obvious signs of weakening, have it tested anyway and, if necessary like mine, replaced before winter sets in so your car can start when it is most urgently needed.
2. The windshield wipers. Wiper blades are an important safety feature of any car, though they are often an afterthought. Their main function is to improve your vision in inclement weather. Clear vision is essential to safely operating an automobile - you can’t drive if you can’t see. Normally you are advised to change your wiper blades at the first sign of smearing, and they should not leave streaks on your windshield. But usually when this happens, it’s too late (imagine the rubber is peeling away when you are driving in a blizzard and you don’t have a spare set handy!) Besides, do you really want to do the work out there when you can hardly feel your fingers? Replace your wipers now, and while you are at it, ensure that your windshield washer fluid tank is full and that the pump and jets are spraying the windshield correctly.
3. The engine oil. We all understand that having your oil changed on a regular basis is one of the most important things you can do to keep your car in good running order. Literally speaking, there is no better way to keep your car in tip top performance and running for a couple of hundred thousand miles than to change your oil as recommended by the car manufacturer. Having fresh oil in the engine is especially important in the winter as you frequently have to get the car moving with a cold engine. Of course no one wants to change the oil on a sub-zero day, so why don’t we be preemptive and do it when it’s still warm out? Make sure you check your owner’s manual and use the appropriate viscosity for the cold climate, and your car will thank you.
4. The engine-cooling system. Over-heating is one of the most common causes for engine failure. That’s why a good working cooling system is so essential for your vehicle. Besides, your car's cooling system operates the heater and defrosts, too. So if something happens to the cooling system, your heater isn't going to work either. Extreme cold can cause rubber parts to fail. Check the radiator and heater hoses for cracks and leaks; they should be firm yet pliable when squeezed. Generally speaking, the cooling fluid should be flushed once every couple of years. If it’s almost time for your car, you might as well save yourself some trouble in the cold and have it done before wintry weather hits.
5. The tires. With the temperatures dropping and snow falling, your tires require more of your attention. When was the last time you check their tread wear? They must have at least a tread of 6/32” to handle snow safely. If they are nearing the end of their useful life span, it’ll be a good idea to get a new set now for the peace of mind. But despite the name, all-season tires, which are equipped on most of the cars on the road these days, are not the most appropriate for winter weather. If you live in an area that is hilly, or regularly has slush, unplowed snow and ice, consider purchasing winter tires. Even if you are confident that your current tires can do a good job in the snow, at least check their pressure as cold air temperature may render them under-inflated – a safety hazard.
6. The safety kit. Most people won’t think about it; and few people ever need to use it. But in one of those rare cases you are stranded, it will be the difference of life and death. A roadside emergency can happen at any time, whether your car is new or old. A range of problems can cause it, from a tire failure or mechanical breakdown to running out of fuel. So stock an emergency kit in your car that includes water, nonperishable food, blankets, flashlights and extra batteries. If you have one, throw in an old cell phone that had been activated, which can be used to call 911 only without a SIM card – just don’t forget to charge it up periodically.
Driving in winter weather can be incredibly demanding on both you and your car, especially when navigating through snowstorms and icy terrains. But being proactive with your routine vehicle maintenance and pre-winter car care can help you avoid the extra stress and get you through winter driving safe and sound.