The holidays are nearly here and along with them the cold air. Now is the time to make certain your vehicle is up to the rigors of harsh winter travel. Fall is the perfect time to undo the wear and tear your car withstood during summer's tough conditions while, at the same time, getting ready for cold weather driving. Breakdowns are costly, both in time and money, but during cold weather months they can also be dangerous. Many of these items you can check yourself, but some require specific knowledge, training and testing equipment. I highly recommend you find a qualified repair shop that specializes in your make of vehicle and have them perform a "Winterization".
First Things First
Read your owner's manual and follow the manufacturer's recommended service schedules.
Enhance Engine Performance
Make sure your engine is in peak condition to withstand harsh temperatures. Winter only magnifies existing problems like pings, hard starts, sluggish performance, rough idling, stalling, etc., but the proper maintenance routine can help remedy those problems. Check and replace any dirty filters (air, fuel, cabin, etc.). Schedule a time to get engine driveability problems corrected at a qualified repair shop.
The cooling system should be flushed and refilled as recommended. The level, condition and concentration of the coolant should be checked periodically. A 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water is usually recommended.
Check Belts & Hoses
Engine belts lose a certain amount of flexibility during cold weather. They should be inspected for signs of fraying or cracking and checked for proper tension. Hoses are under increased stress during temperature changes. Inspect them for soft spots and cracks.
Use the grade of fuel recommended by the manufacturer. The octane recommended for your vehicle can be found in your owner's manual and usually on the inside of your fuel filler door. Also, refill your tank when it's half empty instead of completely empty. A gas tank that is kept filled helps prevent moisture from forming and freezing in the fuel line.
Heater & Defroster
You don't want to be caught in the cold. Be sure to check the heater and defroster for proper operation. They must be in good working order for passenger comfort and driver visibility.
Inspect blades for cracking and top up washer fluid. Usually, the older your vehicle is, or if you predominately drive on the interstate where trucks throw grit, your windshield will be pitted. You may have noticed this when driving into the sun. The more pitted your windshield, the more quickly you'll go through wiper blades. Make sure your blades are fresh and stock up on windshield washer solvent. You'll go through a lot of it over the winter. Don't forget to keep an ice scraper handy.
Your car's battery becomes less affective in cold temps. The only accurate way to detect a weak battery is with professional equipment. A maintenance shop will scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections; clean all surfaces; retighten all connections. If battery caps are removable, check fluid level monthly.
An exhaust leak can be deadly at any time, but especially when traveling with the windows up. Your vehicle should be placed on a lift and the exhaust system examined for leaks. The trunk and floorboards should also be inspected for small holes.
Chassis Lube Service
Lubing parts such as door lock cylinders, door hinges, check straps and hood and trunk latches helps prevent freezing and binding during cold weather.
Inspect all lights to make sure bulbs are illuminating and operating correctly. Periodically clean road grime from all lenses. Don't use a dry rag, they'll scratch!
Pressure can change dramatically with changing temperatures. Worn tires will be of little use in winter weather. Examine tires for tread depth, correct tire pressure, uneven wear, cupping; check the sidewalls for cuts and nicks. Check tire pressure once a month. Be sure to let the tires cool down before checking the pressure. Rotate your tires as recommended. Remember to check your spare and make sure your jack is in good condition.
Have a qualified repair shop check the power steering system for leaks and fluid integrity. Have them check the struts, drive axle boots, shock absorbers, brakes and brake fluid level. They should also test drive your vehicle and do a complete visual inspection.
Prepare for Emergencies
Plan ahead! Carry gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel, sand or kitty litter, jumper cables, tire chains, and a flashlight. Put a few protein bars in your glove box.
We hope these tips help you avoid costly maintenance in the future. Safe travels this winter!