Most people have returned from their summer vacations, the kids are back in school and cooler evenings are on the way (if they haven’t begun already). The non-profit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) advises taking advantage of this time to prepare your vehicle for the winter ahead.
The following tips from ASE provides a road map to Fall car care.
First Things First – Read your owner’s manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommended service schedules. There are usually two schedules listed: normal and severe.
Engine Performance – Have engine drive-ability problems (hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc.) corrected at a good repair shop. Cold weather will make existing problems worse. Replace dirty filters (air, fuel, PCV, etc.).
Oil – Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your manual more often (every 3,000 miles or so) if your driving is mostly stop-and-go or consists of frequent short trips.
Cooling System – 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 anti-freeze and water is usually recommended.) If you’re doing your own work, allow the radiator to cool down completely before removing the cap. The tightness and condition of drive belts, clamps and hoses should be checked by a certified auto technician.
Heater/Defroster – The heater and defroster must be in good working condition for passenger comfort and driver visibility.
Windshield Wipers – Replace old blades. If your climate is harsh, purchase rubber-clad (winter) blades to fight ice build-up. Stock up on windshield washer solvent – you’ll be surprised how much you use. Carry an ice-scraper.
Battery – The only accurate way to detect a weak battery is with professional equipment. But do-it-yourselfers can do routine maintenance. Scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections; clean all surfaces; re-tighten all connections. If battery caps are removable, check fluid levels monthly.
A word of caution: Be sure to avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid. Wear eye protection and rubber gloves. Note too that removal of cables can cause damage or loss of data/codes on some newer vehicles, so refer to your manual for instructions.
Lights – Inspect all lights and bulbs; replace burned out bulbs; periodically clean road grime from all lenses with a moistened cloth or towel. To prevent scratching, never use a dry rag.
Exhaust System – Your vehicle should be placed on a lift and the exhaust system examined for leaks. The trunk and floorboards should be inspected for small holes. Exhaust fumes can be deadly.
Tires – Worn tires will be of little use in winter weather. Examine tires for remaining tread life, uneven wearing and cupping; check the sidewalls for cuts and nicks. Check tire pressure once a month. Let the tires “cool down” before checking the pressure. Rotate as recommended. Don’t forget to check your spare, and be sure the jack is in good condition.
Fuel – Once temperatures begin to drop, put a bottle of fuel de-icer in your tank once a month to help keep moisture from freezing in the fuel line. Note, too, that a gas tank that’s kept filled helps prevent moisture from forming in the first place.
Emergencies – Carry gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel, sand or kitty litter, tire chains, a flashlight, a cell phone and a charged extra battery or portable charger. Put a few “high-energy” snacks in your glove box.