I'll make it clear- this post generally doesn't apply to those of you who live in a state that doesn't see freezing temperatures for winter months, but for the many that do, its time for a reminder!
October has rolled in, frost is coming, colder temperatures are coming- is your vehicle ready to take it all? Planning ahead now may save you time later, or even prevent your car from breaking down in the worst winter conditions.
Small problems tend to be noticed more during colder months- if your car battery is weak, it may stop starting the car at all, if your spark plugs are worn, it may be hard to start your car, etc.
Here are some things to do in preparation for winter:
1) Check your battery. Go to your preferred place for vehicle maintenance, and have them test your battery, a service which is typically free. A machine will put a simulated load on your battery which replicates the strength needed to start your car when it is cold- when the fluid is much thicker. If your battery can't produce more than a few hundred cold cranking amps, it's probably time for replacement. For best piece of mind, get a battery with a good warranty- generally, you can find a warranty that offers free replacement for three years (36 months) and prorated warranty coverage for 48 months beyond that. That way if your battery doesn't last as long, you'll have a credit coming towards another.
2) Check your coolant/anti-freeze. Some forget that coolant is anti-boil and anti-freeze. Over time, the elements in the coolant can slowly loose their properties, thus offering your engine less protection. If you're in warmer climates and plan to travel to cooler climates this can be especially important. Make sure to check the level of protection that your coolant has- many times this test is also free.
3) Test your heat. It sounds silly, but many times a car can lose its ability to heat your cabin. If your thermostat goes bad, it may not open, never circulating the warmer coolant that is a key part to heating your cabin. If your heat doesn't work, have a mechanic check your system and replace parts so that you aren't stuck in a freezing car this winter.
4) Check your tires. With ice and snow a possibility in a majority of states, many of you should be aware of how your tires handle. If you have little or no tread, driving in such conditions may be like ice skating- a dangerous proposition. More and more folks are purchasing winter tires- specifically designed for winter use. If you can't afford another set of tires (which runs several hundred dollars), be sure to replace any worn tires with good all-season tires.
Some good reminders as well: make sure your windshield washer solvent doesn't freeze. Some solvents freeze and will clog up your tank should you need to spray your windshield.
Make sure to keep you vehicle free from long-term salt and road grime. Paying for a car wash or even a monthly pass is not a bad idea if you're in an area with frequent snow storms. Paying a small amount for car washes will be less than the cost of expensive rust repair. I've seen the difference between a car that was taken care of in winter and one that wasn't- there was a clear difference.
Taking a few steps now will go a long way to make sure your car is safe, warm, and reliable this winter.