It is now is time to get our vehicles ready for winter. This should not be too expensive and should really help safeguard you from having much trouble this fall and winter season.
Here are the steps I recommend to protect your car:
- Obtain a tire pressure gauge and check your tire pressure. Your optimum tire pressure should be in your manual, but it can also be found on the side of your tire. If you don’t have an owner’s manual or have trouble reading the side of your tire, you can have this done at a local tire shop for free. If your tire pressure is low, fill them up to the recommended settings. This will help you keep traction during wet, icy or even snowy conditions. At least once a week you should visually inspect your tires. Low air pressure can be caused by a puncture, slow leak or sharp items in the road. If you do have a puncture in a tire, a local tire shop can often patch your tire for around $8-$10. This is much cheaper than buying a new tire for $100-$125. Properly inflated tires can give your vehicle better traction, but they can also give you better gas mileage, which is an additional bonus. You should also check the condition of your spare tire. Is it a real tire or donut? Do you have a tire jack that works? If you have room, change out your donut with a real tire. A donut tire is basically designed to only get you to a tire shop. Putting a real tire in your spare compartment can save you hassle later.
- Fill your windshield washer reservoir with wiper fluid. Water can freeze in your lines. Also check and/or replace your windshield wiper blades. These should last at least six months to a year. At your local auto parts store they should sell wiper blades recommended for your vehicle by the manufacturer. In some cases you can upgrade to a better brand of blade for approximately $25 per blade. While at the auto parts store, check your heater and defroster to make sure they work. This will come in handy in the mornings when you are trying to clear the frost from your windows.
- Check your battery. Open your hood and visually inspect your battery. Is there corrosion on the battery posts? Is there any kind of liquid on the top or the sides of the battery? When is the last time you have purchased a new battery? If it has been more than a year, I would recommend taking your car to an auto parts store and having the charge checked. I have had great luck purchasing my batteries on warranty from an auto parts store. If I have any problems, I get a free replacement. If you have corrosion on the posts of the auto battery, you can use a can of coke to clean the battery posts off. Just pour the coke on the posts, and watch the corrosion dissolve. You can then take a battery scrub brush and scrub the terminals as well.
- Is your car due for a tune-up? If so, now is a great time to have it done. When you have your vehicle serviced, tell them to check your belts and hoses for any signs of wear or tear. Ask them to show you what needs to be changed, if anything, BEFORE they do the work. This takes a little bit more time, but can save any unnecessary work from being done on your car. The cold also can do a number on your radiator hoses and your belts, including serpentine or power steering.
- Make sure your antifreeze mixture is just right. This year I bought an antifreeze coolant tester for $3.50. It shows the ratio of coolant and water. The ideal mixture of water to radiator fluid is a 50/50 mixture. If more water than radiator fluid is in the radiator the freezing or boiling point of the water is a lot higher. If you run on just water the radiator could freeze at 32° F. With a 50/50 mixture the water has a freezing point of -32° F. It is recommended that if your ratio isn’t right you should flush your radiator and refill it. If you live in an apartment and do not have access to a water hose, you can buy premixed radiator fluid. All you do is fill your radiator and drive; no need to add any water.
- Pack an emergency kit to keep you in your car with the following items:
- At least five flares
- A working set of jumper cables, preferably 25 feet long. You never know which direction your car will be facing when your battery needs a jump. You might need the extra distance to reach the other person’s vehicle.
- Cold weather attire, including gloves and jackets
- A blanket, which can also be used to cover someone in shock in the event of an accident
- A gallon jug of water and some hard candy. The candy can prevent thirst if you are stuck.
- Some nonperishable snacks, including granola or energy bars.
- A flashlight
- An umbrella
- Paper towels
- A tool kit with a pair of adjustable vice grips
- A small medical kit. I have run across more than five accidents in my life, and I was always the first one on the scene. I also have cut myself while working on my own car. Bandages, tape, aspirin and general medical supplies can be very helpful in some situations.
- A small fire extinguisher. If your spark plug wires or someone else’s catch on fire, having a small extinguisher means the difference between the car being destroyed or being able to get it repaired and drivable again.
If you don’t have the funds to get some of this stuff now, just buy incrementally over time. You won’t break your bank, but you will slowly give yourself peace of mind.
My father taught me a phrase from his days in the military that applies perfectly here: prior planning prevents poor performance.