Special Section: Car Care: Start getting your car ready for winter

Published on Wed, Oct 17, 2012
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Winter has a tendency to sneak up on us, especially after such a warm and sunny fall. While you can simply dig a warmer coat out of the closet when the first cold hits, preparing your car for winter takes a little more foresight.
Luckily, getting your car ready for the winter is not an intensive process and you’ll save yourself a lot of stress by taking a little time to prepare. Stan Calhoon of Birch Bay’s Bay Automotive Repair recommends you take the following steps to help ensure there aren’t any surprises when the temperatures drop.
Check fluids. Most importantly check your coolant to make sure you have enough, as you’ll be left without heat if you don’t. Consult your owner’s manual to find the correct blend and type if you need to add more. Most coolant is the regular green antifreeze or Dex-Cool (yellow); both can be purchased either concentrated or premixed. Calhoon says you can’t change the type of coolant, so whether you have regular or Dex-Cool, stick with it. It’s never a bad idea to keep extra coolant in your trunk in case of emergency, and Calhoon recommends the premixed antifreeze, so you don’t have to bother mixing it with water if you’re stuck. Also, check that your brake fluid, oil and transmission fluid are at the proper levels. Calhoon said transmission fluid should be bright red. If it’s starting to turn brown or dark, both the fluid and filter should be replaced.
Wash and wax your car at a professional car wash. It may seem counterintuitive to get your car nice and shiny for what’s often the sloppiest season, but a wash can remove harmful compounds that may cause damage when mixed with sand (or salt if you’re traveling out of the area). A coat of wax offers an extra layer of protection from the elements. Professional car washes also use up to 20 percent less water over washing your car at home. They do this by treating and reusing their water, rather than releasing toxic chemicals and grime into the storm drains, which often occurs at home.  
Check your tires. Checking to make sure your tires aren’t worn and are properly inflated is especially important before winter sets in. Cold air can cause your tires to lose pressure, so be sure to check again once the temperature drops – the recommended tire pressure for your vehicle can be found on the inside of your driver’s or passenger’s side door. Cracking, presence of wear bars and shallow treads are all indicators that you may need to replace your tires.
Check your wipers. Make sure you have a reservoir full of wiper fluid. Checking the wiper blades for wear and replacing them if needed can prevent visibility headaches once wet weather arrives.
Test your battery. The next time you have the car in for an oil change, ask the mechanic to test your battery to make sure it can provide enough starting power once the temperature plummets.
Get your brakes inspected. While you have your car in, ask for a brake inspection as well, as you’ll need them to be in good working order when driving on slick roads.
Pack a winter emergency kit. In addition to stocking your car with a scraper and brush, it’s a good idea to include a few provisions in case you get stranded in snowy and cold conditions. Pack extra blankets, hats and gloves, high-energy snacks like granola bars, drinking water and a first-aid kit. Calhoon said to keep a bag of cat litter in your car to help with traction and a collapsible shovel, chains or cables in case you get stuck. 
Whether it’s snow, ice, fog or freezing rain, winter driving certainly presents its challenges. A few simple preparations before winter hits readies your car for the challenges winter throws your way. And by making winter maintenance an annual ritual, you’ll not only help keep you and your family safe, but also prolong the life of your car by preparing it to stand up to the elements.