10 Fail-Safe Ways to Ensure Your Vehicle is Winter Ready
Whether you live in the frigid cold of Anchorage, Alaska where the temperatures can routinely reach below freezing or in the depths of Crescent City in California, it is important to take steps to protect your vehicle. It has been said that preventive maintenance is probably the single most important thing you can do to maintain the safety of your car and save money on repairs in the future.
As a general rule, when the kids go back to school, which is around Labor Day, you should start getting your car ready for the winter. Make it easy on yourself and write it down. For me, I write a reminder in my planner in January as I am preparing my annual calendar. This way, I don’t forget the winter checkup. Well, I almost don’t forget. Each year, my husband has to remind me, but I had good intentions.
Don’t let the winter weather catch you unprepared…Take the following steps to ensure your vehicle is Winter Ready:
- Check your Tires. Since I usually get an oil change about every 3,000 miles, my tires are checked and rotated at that time. However, when the air gets colder, the air in your tires contracts and the tires need to be brought back up to the proper pressure. So it is still good to check the pressure going into the winter month. To save money, you can buy a cheap tire pressure gauge and do the reading yourself. The proper tire pressure for your tires will be written on the inside of the driver’s door. Now how easy is that? Another important aspect of your tire is going to be the amount of tread on your tires. It is very dangerous to drive especially in the winter when there is insufficient tread on your tires. The more tread you have the better your car can grip and stay on the road. There are two cheap methods that I have heard of to check your tread: look at the wear bars on the tire or do the penny test. [pullquote-left]In today’s economy, this is one of the few times a penny has great value.[/pullquote-left] For the penny test, turn a penny head down and stick it between your tire tread. If you can see Lincoln’s head fully, your tires probably needs to be replaced. Tip: Check your spare tire to ensure that it is still inflated.
- Replace Windshield Wipers Blades. If your wiper blades have become brittle, no longer make proper contact with the windshield surface, or aren’t wiping correctly, it is a good idea to replace them. No need to pay someone, you can easily install new blades on your own car and save money! Just follow those how-to directions with pictures located right on the package. As a matter of fact, most auto parts stores will do a free installation with the purchase while you wait.
- Tip: Keeping your windshield and windows clean helps reduce fogging of your windows. When dust and fingerprints mar the surface of the windshield/windows, moisture particles from condensation adhere easily. Routinely clean your windows to avoid running into this issue. This is a chore that I used to delegate to my daughter for a little extra allowance.
- Tap off Your Fluids. Check your car fluids to ensure they are at an appropriate level, color, and smell. I am not that familiar with all cars to tell you where every compartment might be located so the best thing to do is to check your car manual. My fluid compartments are clearly labeled and easy to spot when I lift up my hood.
- Oil – Even though I regularly take my car to the shop to get oil changes, I still check my oil to ensure it is at the proper level. I do this by pulling out the oil dipstick. I wipe it off and put it back in so the next time I pull it out, I can check to see if it is at the full level. One sign that something may be going on with your engine is if the fluid is dirty and you have had an oil change within 3,000 miles. Check with your mechanic.
- Gas – In harsh weather, try to keep at least a half of tank of gas.
- For cars that you are not driving and will be parked all winter long, put Sta-bil in the gas tank. This additive will help keep your gasoline fresh for up to 12 months, eliminating the need to drain your tank during storage seasons. I haven’t actually applied this tip to my car, but a good friend gave me this tip to share. He usually puts this in his classic 1983 mustang and swears by it!
- Transmission Fluid – Normally this fluid shouldn’t be low because it is a closed system unlike your engine oil tank. However, you still need to check it to ensure the coloring is good. Transmission fluid should be red and not smell burnt. (Check transmission fluid with the car running. Engine Oil and Coolant should be checked when the car is not running and not heated/running hot.)
- Windshield Wiper Fluid – Visibility is fundamental to safe driving so it is imperative that your fluid be filled.
- Brake Fluid – Like transmission fluid, this is a closed system so your brake fluid should never be low. Once you check the level through looking in the reservoir tank, view the coloring. Brake fluid should appear a golden color not brown. If darkened, check with your mechanic.
- Coolant or Anti-freeze Fluid – This is easy enough to check because you can see the full level through the plastic reservoir . Just make sure your fluid comes up to the line. If you don’t have enough antifreeze, your car could overheat. Also, make sure that it is antifreeze and not just water because you do not want the coolant to freeze because ice expands and may crack the radiator or engine block. Antifreeze will always be colored so if it looks colorless, rusty, or has things floating around in it, you may need to have your cooling system flushed.
- Power Steering Fluid – I don’t think that I have ever had to refill my power steering fluid. View the fluid through the reservoir. It should maintain at its level. If it doesn’t, this may be a sign that something may be wrong.
- Keep Some Junk in Your Truck – Something that I have done for years is keep an emergency kit in my car. My kit includes: a blanket, first aid kit that has a small amount of aspirin and scissors, flashlight with extra batteries, work gloves, a small bag of cat litter, bottled water, protein bar, package of tuna, jumper cables, flares, ice scraper, can of deicer, hazard vest, and paper towels. During my fall check up, I rotate the products in my kit to ensure they have not expired and are still good for use. Some of these items are under my front seat and the remainder are kept in the truck. When my daughter was younger I would keep an additional amount, but now that I usually ride alone, my supply is in a smaller amount.
- Check Air Filter Condition – Clogged and dusty air filters limit the performance of the defogger so it is a good idea to keep a clean filter.
- Check the Charge On Your Battery. Cold weather reduces a battery’s available cranking amperage. Most auto supply shops will conduct this check for free.
- Inspect Belts and Hoses – Take a quick visual under your hood to see if you can detect any leaks or belts and hose that may be worn out. You will need to get them replaced before they fail. If you wait and those belts do fail, you’ll break down, and the damaged belt can damage other accessories, making the repair even more expensive.
- Check Lights – Sometimes our lights burn out without us knowing. This is a good time to check the lights inside and outside to include signal lighting of your car.
- Check Fuses – Fuses are inexpensive and easy to replace. To determine if a fuse needs to be changed, locate your fuse box and look inside for a broken filament similar to the old light bulbs (the thin strip of metal inside) or notice if one has black inside.
- Renew Your Auto Club Membership – Chances are you joined an auto club to get help if you ever have a problem with your car. Good news is that companies like AAA and AutoVantage have many benefits beyond roadside assistance that can help you every day.
As you can see, I am not a mechanic. I just know a little bit to keep my car running well and enough to keep my repair bill low.
Something else that I do is track my the maintenance on my car. I have an android based phone and use the free Car Maintenance Reminder application. This application helps me keep track of my fuel efficiency, cost, and mileage, but also gives me a place to track all of the maintenance and repairs on my car.
If you have never actively prepared for the approach of winter, you may want to start doing so this year. The National Weather Service models are predicting a 99% chance that this winter will be harsher than any we have seen, possibly in this century. What are your thoughts?
Photo Credit: kozzi