Autumn means apple cider, leaves floating to the ground, Halloween decorations — and falling temperatures. You probably plan to get your family ready for cooler weather by taking that winter wardrobe out of storage, turning on the heater for the first time and making hearty stews for dinner instead of light summer salads. And, just like another member of your family, your car also needs a little cold-weather TLC. Here are a few things to think about as the mercury starts to dip.
As the temperatures change, you may want to change your oil and replace it with a different viscosity, which simply refers to how thick or heavy the oil is.
Your engine’s oil becomes thinner as the temperature rises, so in warmer climates, a thicker, higher-viscosity oil will help keep your engine properly lubricated. For the same reason, heavier oils aren’t as effective if you’re traveling through extremely cold, blustery conditions. Be sure to check your owner’s manual to see which oil viscosity is recommended for the weather conditions that you experience.
Your car’s radiator is like a Thermos. It helps the engine stay at a proper temperature, regardless of how hot or cold it is outside. As a result, your car’s coolant or antifreeze deserves attention when temperatures start to fall.
If the system isn’t filled properly, your engine could freeze in the winter, which means the car won’t start. Additionally, antifreeze that’s old can lead to rust and corrosion, which could cause leaks. As a result, it’s important to flush your radiator and refill it with fresh antifreeze when recommended by your car’s manufacturer.
Car batteries can die without much notice, and extreme temperatures can cause battery problems. Old batteries don’t hold a charge as well, which can make your car’s electrical system work harder. Check the battery’s positive and negative terminals to make sure that there is no rust or corrosion, and consider replacing your battery if it’s getting older. If you have an older battery and the temperatures are falling, getting your battery tested to ensure it’s in good working order and possibly replacing it could help keep you from becoming stranded.
No matter what the weather is doing, good maintenance is always a good idea — but, since extreme temperature changes can affect your car, it’s an especially good idea to make sure your car is in good working order before winter sets in. Pop the hood and make sure that all your car’s fluids look good and are filled to the proper level.
While you’re checking your fluids, it doesn’t hurt to inspect some other odds and ends under the hood that may fail in extreme conditions. Seasonal changes are a good time to look at your belts and hoses to make sure that the rubber is in good shape. You may want to replace them if you see any cracks or imperfections, especially if you’re planning a road trip.
No matter the temperature, it’s always a good idea to make sure you’re not running on empty. But, there are a few extra reasons to keep a full tank of gas when the temperature drops. If you get stranded in the middle of a blizzard, your car’s engine could be your only heat source, and a full tank of gas also helps keep moisture from forming in the fuel lines, where it can then freeze. If you’re in a really chilly area, you can also add fuel de-icer to your tank to keep the gas from freezing.
Prepping your car for a chilly winter means more than just a checkup under the hood. Take a look at your windshield wipers and exterior lights and make sure they’re in good working order. Plus, make sure that the lenses of your exterior lights are clean, and replace any burnt-out bulbs.
Windshield wiper blades are constantly subjected to the elements, so it’s important to replace worn or dried-out wiper blades regularly to maintain good visibility, especially if a snowstorm is headed your way. And finally, it’s important that you have plenty of windshield wiper fluid, too.
As the temperature rises and falls, so does the air pressure in your tires. As a result, it’s important that your tires are properly inflated. In cold temperatures, you can lose tire pressure at a rate of about one pound per 10 degrees of temperature. Low tire pressure can dangerously affect your car’s handling, lower your fuel economy and, under some circumstances, lead to a blown tire.
Check the pressure when the tires are cold, making sure it’s in the range suggested by the manufacturer in your car manual, and don’t forget to make sure that your spare also has enough air in it. Keeping your tires at the proper pressure ensures that they make good contact with the road surface, and it also maximizes your vehicle’s fuel economy.
While you’re checking out your tires, make sure that the treads and sidewalls are up to snuff. Uneven tread wear, cuts, scrapes or indentations in your tires are all signs that they may need to be replaced.
If a heavy winter storm hits, make sure you clean all the snow and ice off your car before heading out onto the roadways. Getting the wintry mix off your windows ensures that you’ll have good visibility on the road, but if you don’t clean the snow off your roof, hood and trunk, it could fly off and obstruct your view (or someone else’s).
While checking under the hood will help keep your car running, it’s a good idea to make sure that your car will keep you comfortable and prepared, no matter the weather conditions. A properly functioning heater and defroster are important in the winter to keep you warm and maintain good outward visibility.
Depending on the weather, you should also stock your car with some supplies to keep you prepared. A shovel, gloves, boots, an ice scraper and sand or kitty litter (for traction on slippery roads) are all wise additions if you’re trekking through ice and snow. Items like a flashlight, food, water, a blanket, jumper cables, windshield washer fluid and a basic tool kit could also come in handy, regardless of what the weather is like.