This past week, we’ve all suffered through the first bout of cold weather – and with it comes the sad reality that the warm, comfortable days of summer are behind us. Ahead, Thanksgiving and Christmas will ring in the new winter season that is now quickly encroaching upon us. As attentions are turned to Christmas sweaters, family dinners and holiday traditions, little thought is spared to the Family Truckster that whisks everybody to and fro during this hectic time. However, when the leaves start falling and the snow starts accumulating, your car needs to be ready to take on Old Man Winter. What does that mean? It means making sure your car is up to date with proper maintenance. So before the harsh weather sets in, here are some important measures you should be doing to get your car ready for the upcoming winter season:
Check your battery. The battery serves a very important purpose – essentially, starting your car. If the battery is too weak or has too low a charge, it won’t be able to supply enough power and your car will groan and protest against starting. In colder weather this issue becomes more severe, as the lower temperature puts more strain on the battery when the car is started. To check your battery, get a voltage test done. This can be done at a local garage, or you could purchase a small handheld device if you’re more of a DIYer. The test will tell you how strong your battery is and whether it is ready for the upcoming winter season. A battery check should be done before every winter season.
Check your tires. This cannot be stressed enough. Driving down the road, there are only four small contact patches keeping you and your 4000 pound car on the asphalt. Those four patches? Your tires. Tires generate extreme heat as they cope with the speed and pressure of barreling down the road at speed, and as such their condition and inflation needs to be monitored. To check for proper inflation, measure the PSI of each tire to determine whether it is in spec with the manufacturer’s recommended pressure. PSI is pressure per square inch, and every tire has a recommended amount of pressure that should be maintained at all times. This amount is recommended by the car manufacturer, and is printed clearly on a sticker on the door jam. With the onset of cold weather, PSI often fluctuates. If it drops below a certain point it can be dangerous, putting excess wear on the tire, rim and suspension. It could also lead to a blowout if severe enough or left unchecked. Check PSI with a cheap tire gauge at least monthly. If it’s below 25-28 pounds, take a quick trip to the local gas station and pump a few pounds. It’s well worth it, for both your tires and your safety.
Checking tires, continued: Be sure to check the date code on the sidewall. A good rule of thumb with tires is every five years, replace. In all tires, the rubber compounds break down from the inside out, a condition known as dry rot. As such, one should be especially wary of old tires. If they’re over the hill or of indeterminate age, dump ‘em and upgrade – nobody needs to suffer a blowout on the highway because they were too cheap to buy new tires. Lastly, check tread wear. As the miles rack up, the tire tread slowly wears away. If you’re not keeping too close an eye, they can (and eventually will) go bald – i.e., no tread left. With no tread means no traction, and in the winter this means no grip in snow or ice. One doesn’t need a Bryant degree to know that no grip will lead to a slippery wintry accident. Be smart – check your tires.
Check your belts, hoses and fluids. Your engine isn’t powered by voodoo magic; it’s able to come alive thanks to various belts, hoses and fluids. As time goes by, fluids become depleted or lose potency. Belts and hoses fray, crack and become brittle. Just as we don’t enjoy eating stale foods or drinking flat soda, our cars don’t enjoy old fluids or brittle belts. A sad car leads to an even sadder wallet, so pop the hood and take a peek at your belts and hoses. They should look good, and still be firm but not brittle to the touch. Don’t expect a slick and smooth appearance, but visible wear should be menial. Make sure there are no heavy cracks or abrasions, as this could lead to serious trouble not too far down the road.
Checking fluids: Be sure to check for proper levels at all reservoirs, and take a look under the filler caps to make sure there’s no particles or any other foreign substances inside. Be sure to inspect brake and power steering fluid, as well as coolant and oil, the lifeblood of your car. Coolant is especially important and often overlooked, as it cools the engine block and prevents overheating. Oil is just as important – it serves the function of keeping every internally moving part lubed up. Without proper lubrication the meshing metal components within your engine will clash, gnash and destruct themselves in short order, leaving your car about as usable as a dog sled in the Sahara. During your fluids inspection, don’t forget to check your windshield washer level. While not nearly as vital as the fluids mentioned prior, it still is convenient to be able to clean your windshield at a moment’s notice in the splashy, slushy winter roads.
The above list is by no means exhaustive. Rather, it outlines some of the basic but vital things you can do to keep your car in top nick for the winter season. A car, too often taken for granted, is likely the most expensive asset you own. Its complexity and intricacy means maintenance is a very real factor of ownership. To ensure your car continues to provide reliable transportation to match your needs, keep up with servicing and follow these tips. Many a car is consigned to an early grave thanks to neglected upkeep, and by doing a little preventative maintenance, you can prevent your car from meeting a similar fate.