• Jan 8, 2010
Avoid slippery situations like this by winterizing your... Avoid slippery situations like this by winterizing your car before the first snowfall. (Rich Moffitt, Flickr)
It always seems that summer rushes by faster than the wind through your hair. When the temperature starts to drop it's a reminder that months of winter driving uncertainty are on the way, and it's time to get ready.

Clean your vehicle inside and out

Both the interior and exterior of your car are vulnerable to snow, ice and road salt, so use the fair fall days to undertake a complete do-it-yourself detailing of your car.

-Thoroughly wash and wax your vehicle to protect your paint job from the elements.
-Be sure to do the wash and wax before temperatures drop below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
-A clean and freshly waxed car makes snow and ice easier to brush off.
-Remove any detritus before vacuuming the seats and floor.
-Swap out your carpeted floor mats with a set of water-resistant vinyl or rubber mats.

Test the battery and electrical systems

Cold weather can wreck havoc on your vehicle's electrical system and battery, and the increased power demands of defrosters, windshield wipers and heating systems makes an electrical system test a must.

-A simple battery test can be preformed by turning on your vehicle's headlights before starting the engine. If you notice the lights get brighter once the engine is running, a more thorough battery tests should be undertaken.
-Metering voltage with a voltmeter or measuring electrolyte levels for an unsealed, low-maintenance battery are two examples of such tests. If your tests show the voltage lower than 12.4V or if electrolyte-specific gravity resides below 1.225, a recharge or replacement of the battery is likely required.
-If you're not comfortable performing battery tests yourself, any reputable mechanic should be able to run a quick diagnostic test on your battery and charging system. Some auto parts stores are even able to do this.
-Make sure your headlights, taillights, back up lights, and signal lights (including your hazards) illuminate with a visual check.

Check coolant and other fluids

While it's more common to worry about the cooling system in the summer, it's just as important to check it in the winter. If your car's coolant is not mixed correctly, it could freeze and damage your radiator or engine.

-Check the coolant level, which may require looking at a marked level indicator on the overflow reservoir, or popping the radiator cap.
-Never check the coolant when the car is hot, as the cooling system operates under pressure and hot coolant will burn.
-A 50/50 mixture of water and antifreeze is typically recommended for year-round driving, but check your owners manual for specifics.
-You can test the concentration of the coolant with a bulb gauge found at any auto parts store or have your mechanic do it.
-After checking the coolant, examine coolant hoses for leaks or wear.
-Visually inspect other fluid reservoirs in the engine compartment for leaks, such as brakes, clutch, transmission fluid and oil.
-The change in seasonal temperatures may also dictate a change to a thinner viscosity engine oil. Check your owner's manual.

Maximize winter vision

Darkness and blinding snowstorm, coupled with shorter days, can dramatically reduce a motorist's vision during the winter.

-A working set of windshield wipers and an ample supply of winter washer fluid are the best ways to optimize limited visibility.
-Ensure that your wipers have a clean wipe across the windshield.
-If you replace your wiper arms, also make sure that they don't lift from your windscreen at higher speeds.
-For optimal winter visibility, buying special winter wipers equipped with protective shields is an excellent idea.
-When buying winter washer fluid, look for a brand with a deicer agent.

Equipped for the road

Once your car is in good shape for the winter months, make sure it's stocked with anything you might need, should unforeseen circumstances arise.

-You will need a soft-bristled snowbrush and a plastic ice scraper, or one device that combines the two.
-Other tools suited for unpredictable winter conditions include a collapsible shovel, a well-stocked emergency first aid kit and a set of jumper cables.
-For mountain regions, add a set of tire chains to your trunk as it may be the only way you'll be able to drive.
-In case your vehicle becomes immobilized in deep snow you can either buy of set of traction pads or use some scrap pieces of carpet that you keep in the trunk.
-When packing for a longer trip include items such as a blanket, a flashlight, candles and a lighter, flares, and an extra bottle of windshield washer fluid.


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