With winter on the horizon, fall is the best time to take advantage of our last pleasant days and get a head start on your car’s seasonal maintenance requirements. Perhaps surprisingly, without much more than a good pair of safety glasses and a few basic tools, you can perform much of this maintenance yourself. And, since some of these issues are specific to cold weather and winter driving, it’s best to check them before we enter your engine’s toughest season. Don’t make the roughest time of the year even rougher by skipping these important do-it-yourself safety measures.
Winter-Specific Maintenance Requirements
Freezing temperatures, wintry precipitation, and salt on the roads all conspire against your car if you don’t give it a thorough seasonal checkup. The following annual maintenance tasks help keep your vehicle out of the ditch and off the back of the tow truck:
- Check your antifreeze – The liquid that goes in your radiator is a critical part of your car’s winter protection. Wear your safety goggles to prevent splash-back into your eyes while you fill your radiator with a mixture of equal parts water and antifreeze. You can buy a water-to-antifreeze ratio tester for about $5.
- Inspect your tires – Your best line of defense against the icy roads are your tires. That’s why fall is the time to check your tread depth. The National Highway Transportation Safety Board says you need at least 1/16″ of depth to be safe. But in winter, anything less than 1/8″ may be unsafe. Additionally, be sure to check your tire pressure regularly throughout the season because tires lose pressure quicker in cold temperatures.
- Replace your windshield wipers – Winter requires your wipers to be in tiptop condition to keep your windshield clean and clear, and you safe. Not only is the ugliest precipitation falling from the sky, but salt and sand thrown onto your windshield by vehicles in front of you challenge your wipers. See your owner’s manual for your car’s wiper specifications, and for easy-to-follow instructions on how to change your old wipers for new.
- Check your windshield washer fluid level – You’ll be using a lot of washer fluid as you work to keep your windshield clear this winter. So again, wearing your safety goggles, fill your washer fluid reservoir this fall and on a regular basis throughout the winter as well.
- Clean your battery posts – You never want a freezing winter morning to start off with a car that won’t. Keep corroded battery posts from sabotaging your day by giving your battery a fall cleaning. Just remember, wear safety glasses while applying the cleaning solution and so that tiny specks of stubborn buildup don’t fly up into your eyes as you scrub the corrosion and brush it away.
- Change your spark plugs and Inspect your spark plug wires – Believe it or not, changing your own spark plugs is inexpensive, fast, and simple! But cracked spark plug wires affect your car’s performance, gas mileage, and reliability — all things you want for winter driving. So while changing your spark plugs, inspect of your wires as well. Anything that doesn’t look like smooth, pliable rubber needs replacing.
- Inspect your brakes – It’s never a good idea to drive into winter on iffy brakes. A proactive approach to wear and damage will save you money and protect you and your passengers. Inspect your brakes this fall before they cost you dearly in some other way.
- Check your oil monthly and perform an oil change as often as your owner’s manual specifies – You definitely want to strap on a pair of safety goggles for this chore, because although it’s entirely do-able for any average Joe or Jane, it involves removing your old oil filter from underneath your car (while it’s still full of old oil that can spill), then carefully screwing the new filter into place — filled 2/3 full of new oil. So remember to hold it upright!
Follow these cold weather safety tips to give yourself the upper-hand — before winter has a chance to freeze your travel plans.