Winter’s icy grip can put its “hurt” on your car. Just like in summer, extreme temperatures can make your engine work harder and increase the chances that your car will fall prone to extreme weather conditions. The time to prepare your car for winter is before colder temperatures move in. Here’s what you can do to prepare your vehicle for any wintry wallop.
1. Flush the radiator. Topping off the radiator for winter may not be enough. If you haven’t had the radiator flushed in two or more years, then have that done as soon as possible. You should know that there is some controversy whether flushing is necessary or not as evidenced by this Car Talk question. Consult your owners manual for the definitive answer.
2. Inspect the battery. If your car’s battery dies, you could be left stranded. Check the battery’s connections and clean off the terminal. If it is at least three years old, you may need to replace it. Cold weather can kill a weak battery.
3. Check tire tread and consider winter tires. Rotating your tires twice per year is wise. When rotating, determine if there is sufficient tread left. If not, replace your tires. All-season tires are fine for areas where snowfall is not a concern. For everywhere else, replacing your tires with winter tires can give you the extra grip you need. Use four winter tires, not two — you’ll enjoy all-around better grip and handling with the same type of tire across all four wheels.
4. Inspect the brake system. If your brakes don’t work properly, you won’t be able to stop your car. This is where a certified mechanic should come in, to perform a complete brake inspection. Your mechanic will check everything from the brake pedal to the lines and hoses, as well as the brake fluid and assemblies.
5. Examine the exhaust system. While you are with your mechanic, ask him to check your exhaust system too. Your exhaust system controls your vehicle’s emissions and should be checked periodically for leaks and other problems. A leaky exhaust can flood your cabin with deadly carbon monoxide. A clogged system can cause a loss of power and a reduction in fuel economy. Your mechanic will check a variety of parts to include: the catalytic converter, mounting components, gaskets, the muffler and pipes.
6. Inspect all lights. Lights are a safety issue and every light on your car should be functioning as intended. You can perform a visual inspection with the assistance of another person to ensure that the headlights, fog lights, daytime running lights, turn signals, tail lights and other lights are working. If a light is burned out, check the fuse box first — it is far easier to replace a blown fuse than it is to replace a light bulb.
7. Run the heater. You’ve been operating the climate control system throughout the summer and enjoying a consistent delivery of cool air. Now put on the heater to ensure that warm air comes out. You should check the defrosters too. If the heat is not working properly the coolant level may be low or the heater core may not be working. A bad water pump or a failed thermostat are other problems that can keep your car from getting warm. See your mechanic to have him troubleshoot your heating system.
It is also important that you have your oil and oil filter changed on a regular basis, certainly before winter sets in. If your car is due for a new air filter or spark plugs, get this work done too. A new set of wiper blades should be installed as well.
If your winter driving takes you far from home, an emergency car kit is essential. You’ll want to include a flashlight, batteries, a first-aid kit, blankets, boots, water, gloves and snacks. Road flares, an ice scraper and jumper cables are also essential for winter travel.