Get Ready for Winter With Our Car-care Checklist

Be kind to your vehicle this winter with a pre-season checkup that can help you prolong your car’s life and prevent expensive repairs.

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by NEA Member Benefits

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Key takeaways

  • It’s important to prepare your vehicle for frigid temperatures, snow, sleet and ice.
  • Your vehicle requires a checkup before winter hits and throughout the season.

Winter could be the unkindest season for cars. Too often, however, drivers leave themselves vulnerable: More than 70% say they don’t prepare their vehicles for the inevitable frigid temperatures, snow, sleet and ice, according to a Car Care Council survey.

As an educator, you can’t be left without a means to get to and from school when it’s “open for business.” Take action soon to get your ride ready for before the big chill, plus get tips on how to cope with the weather.

BEFORE WINTER HITS

This is what we’ll call a “pre-season diagnosis.” A thorough checkup of your vehicle should include the following:

Stock up on antifreeze. Think of antifreeze as a multi-faceted fluid for your vehicle. It prevents both freezing and overheating. “It also stops rust and corrosion,” says Joe Josko, director of special operations and training for Cottman Transmission and Total Auto Care, a Horsham, Pa.-based national auto repair chain.

“Even if it was OK in the summer, don’t assume it’s fine for the winter,” he says. “A service center can perform a test in minutes to indicate if the antifreeze is up to the task.”

Examine belts and hoses. Inspect these for cracks, swelling, minor leaks, and other wear and tear. Replace them immediately even if you see only minor signs of deterioration.

“Any rubber item in a vehicle is subject to turning brittle in brutal temperatures,” Josko says. “Most of today’s cars have one belt for all power accessories. This is known as the ‘serpentine belt,’ and it can leave you stranded if damaged.”

Test your battery. Don’t assume everything is fine because your car starts right away. Cold air thickens fluids and increases the load on the starter, thus making the battery work harder, Josko says.

In late fall, get a “load test” performed. “Also, look for corrosion at the battery connections and terminal ends,” Josko says. “If you see corrosion, clean it out, then treat with a protective spray to ensure ‘clean’ contacts and proper charging in any kind of weather.”

Check wiper blades and fluid. Replace wiper blades no less than twice a year, especially when winter approaches so you can effectively wipe away snow and sleet.

The windshield washer fluid should be inspected for blockages and leaks. “Not only should you have a full supply of fluid in the system, but you should keep spare fluid in a storage area of the vehicle,” Josko says. “Anyone who’s been in a severe storm knows the full value of a properly functioning washer and wiper blade system.”

Examine exterior lights. All lights—including headlights, brake lights, emergency flashers, turn signals and tail lights—are vital to provide high visibility during ice and snow storms, so keeping them all in good working order is a must. Check functionality and replace bulbs as needed.

Switch tires, if needed. Not everyone needs what are called “winter tires” or “snow tires.” Today’s automobiles offer traction control and ABS braking, and all-season radials often are up to the task in regions that don’t typically get overwhelmed by winter weather.

However, if you’ll be traveling in extreme conditions, opt for winter-designated tires. “Today’s standard, performance-type tires offer superior grip and handling on dry surfaces,” Josko says. “But performance tire compounds harden below 32 degrees, which could reduce the grip. If you have frequent storms, winter tires are the way to go.”

To maximize your road grip in slick conditions, experts recommend that your tires have at least 5/32nds of tire tread.

Protect the exterior. Be sure to apply a coat of wax before the season starts to guard the surface from corrosive salt and sand that road crews spread.

“This goes a long way to preserving the finish, and it makes snow and ice removal easier,” Josko says. “You also can buy products that do the same for windshields, door glass, the rear window and the mirrors.”

ONCE WINTER ARRIVES

Check tire pressure regularly. A frigid stretch will impact tires, which is why you should check the pressure every month. “For every 10 degrees that the temperature drops, your tires can lose about 1 pound per square inch,” says Joe Roger, manager of vehicle services at Firestone Complete Auto Care.

Clean off abrasives. Your vehicle likely will accumulate a substantial coating of mud, salt, sand and dirt during the winter season. Fortunately, modern automobiles are manufactured with noncorrosive metals that stand up to these elements much better than older models.

Still, watch for build-up and periodically clean off your car when it gets really dirty. Take advantage of any unusually warm days to hose it off, and don’t forget about the undercarriage.

“A basic wash will remove the buildup of harmful chemicals in the undercarriage,” Josko says. “But if it’s particularly cold, don’t park immediately if you just washed it, because that could cause items such as the parking brakes to freeze. A reasonable ride of a few miles should help you avoid this.”

Spray off the salt/sand from the tires so they won’t kick that nasty stuff into your car’s body as soon as you start driving again.

Prevent lockouts. Keep a small can or tube of lock de-icer on your key chain or in your purse. “It really helps on those bitter days when the key simply won’t open the door,” Josko says.

Shed some light on yourself. Regardless of the time of day, always turn on headlights during these storms so other drivers know where you are. This will protect both you and everyone else on the road.

“In a ‘whiteout,’ your headlights may be the sole things that other motorists will see,” Josko says.

More ways to protect your car