Now is the time to make sure your vehicle is ready for the frigid onslaught. Here are some things you should check.
TIRES: Nothing else affects your car as much as underinflated tires, and unless you check your tires’ pressure regularly, odds are they need air or nitrogen. That’s because cold weather causes tires to lose air pressure. You can find the proper amount posted on the driver’s side front doorjamb on most newer cars and trucks.
While you’re at it, check the tire tread depth. Take a penny and insert it upside down in several places across the tire. If the top of Abe Lincoln’s head is showing, it’s time to replace the tire. Also, check the state of the tread itself. If a tire is worn on both edges, it is underinflated. If it’s worn in the center of the tread, it’s overinflated. If you spot cups or dips in the tread, it is usually a sign of worn parts. Have the suspension or steering systems checked.
Finally, if your car has summer performance tires, consider replacing them with winter tires or studded snow tires. The latter are permitted in Nebraska and Iowa between Nov. 1 and April 1.
BATTERY: As the temperature drops, the need for more juice rises. Replacing your battery ahead of time is beneficial in two ways: You can buy a new one on sale, and you won’t be left stranded.
Deciding when to replace it is simple. For example, if you have a 36-month battery, you can expect three years of trouble-free charging. But as the 36-month mark approaches, think about replacing the battery a bit shy of that point instead of waiting until the last minute.
Also, have your car’s alternator, voltage regulator, belts and connecting cables checked.
WIPERS, WASHER FLUID: If the windshield wipers are streaking, replace them. Also, use up washer fluid that’s been diluted with water. Replace it with pure washer fluid that won’t freeze below 32 degrees.
COOLING SYSTEM: If you can’t remember the last time your vehicle’s cooling system was flushed, check your records. Then, look at the owner’s manual. Flushing the system removes sediment and rust particles to prevent clogging. Be sure to use a 50-50 mix of antifreeze to water. Also, be sure to use the proper antifreeze. Many newer vehicles specify a new, longer-life engine coolant, not the traditional green type. Finally, replace any dried-out, cracked hoses.
LIGHTS: Seeing and being seen is critical in inclement weather. Have someone stand outside the car to make sure the headlights, fog lamps, taillights and turn signals work.
BRAKES: When roads get slick, stopping distances increase. If your last vehicle check showed your brakes to be marginal, or the brakes squeal when the car comes to a stop, get them checked or replaced.
DEFROSTER: Do all of your defrosters work? This might seem like an insignificant item — until you need it.
Beyond parts, there are other things to think about.
CLEAN YOUR CAR: Getting your car cleaned and detailed does more than remove the accumulated salt, sand and grime of summer. A great wax job seals the paint and preserves the finish.
Inside, a clean car is a pleasant car. Wipe down all surfaces. For leather surfaces, use a leather cleaner and moisturizer to prevent cracking. Clear out the glove box, center console and rear cargo area. Vacuum the seats, carpet and headliner.
You’ll have the peace of mind that a new life form isn’t spawning under the seat.
BE PREPARED: A breakdown, flat tire or other problem can occur at any time.
Pre-assembled emergency and first-aid kits are available at auto parts stores, but you might want to build your own. Be sure to include screwdrivers — Phillips and flat-head — along with pliers, socket wrenches, duct tape, electrical wire tape and spray, WD-40, flashlight with extra batteries, coolant hose repair kit, a small fire extinguisher, tire gauge, road flares, spare fuses, foam tire sealant or a portable air compressor, jumper cables, rain gear, work gloves, roadside assistance phone number, a disposable camera (to record accident damage), spare fluids and nonperishable food.
Also, consider adding kitty litter (for added traction under a slipping tire), a small shovel, a windshield scraper, cloth or paper towels, drinking water, nonperishable snacks and a blanket, in case you get stranded.