The kids are back in school and cooler evenings are on the way. The non-profit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) recommends taking this time to prepare your vehicle for the winter ahead. Breakdowns, never convenient, can be particularly dangerous in cold weather.
The following tips from ASE offers 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 often two different schedules: for “normal” and “severe.”
Engine Performance: Have engine issues (hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc.) corrected at a good repair shop. Cold weather will make existing problems worse. Be sure to replace dirty filters – air, fuel, PCV, etc.
Fuel: Put a bottle of fuel de-icer in your tank once a month to help keep moisture from freezing in the fuel line. Note: A gas tank that’s kept filled helps prevent moisture from forming in the first place.
Oil: Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your manual more often, 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, let the radiator cool down before removing the cap, although newer vehicles have coolant reservoirs. The tightness and condition of drive belts, clamps, and hoses should be checked by a certified technician.
Heater/Defroster:The heater and defroster must be in good working condition for passenger comfort and driver visibility.
Windshield Wipers: Replace old blades. For harsh climate, 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 level monthly.
A word of caution:Avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid. Wear eye protection and rubber gloves. Note: the 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 as needed; periodically clean road grime from all lenses with a moistened cloth or towel. Dry rags can cause scratches.
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 are dangerous in winter weather. Examine tires for remaining tread life, uneven wear, and cupping; check sidewalls for cuts and nicks. Check tire pressure monthly; let them “cool down” before checking. Rotate as recommended. Don’t forget to check your spare and make sure the jack operating properly.
Emergencies:Carry gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel, sand or kitty litter, tire chains, a flashlight and cell phone. Keep “high-energy” snacks on hand.