Cold Weather Maintenance

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

August 15, 2008 5 min read


How to get your vehicles to optimum levels before freezing temperatures

Vicky Katz Whitaker

Creators News Service

A heavy coat, gloves and boots may get you through chilly autumn days and snowy mornings. The same can't be said of your car if you fail to prepare it for cold weather driving.

"Today, vehicle warranties are based on driven miles rather than season," said James Even, a National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Certified Master Technician and service manager for C&M Auto Repairs in Vernon Hills, Ill. To maintain your new car's warranty, you may have to have the vehicle serviced every three to six months, depending on your driving pattern. Check with your dealer to see if "winterizing" is part of the routine service schedule.

Do you live in a mild climate but expect to drive in frigid temperatures or own an older car not serviced regularly? You may need to take steps now to make sure your vehicle is up to the challenge. Automotive industry experts recommend you winterize your vehicle sometime between the beginning of October and the end of November, before that first snowflake falls.

Some of the simple tasks you can handle yourself -- such as checking wiper blades or battery fluid levels -- but many of the steps involved in getting your car ready for the driving season ahead demand the skills of an auto mechanic and high-tech diagnostic tools.

ASE, in its free (and downloadable) booklet, "Don't Get Stuck Out in the Cold: Getting Your Vehicle Ready for Winter," recommends checking:

* Engine performance to correct hard starts, rough idling, stalling or diminished power. Replace any dirty filters.

* Cooling system belts, hoses, and clamps that may have loosened or deteriorated. Check the coolant level for both concentration and condition.

* Battery fluid level and condition. Corrosion from posts and cable connects should be scraped away and all surfaces cleaned. Retighten the connections.

* Wiper blades. They should be replaced if they're old. In harsh climates, rubber-clad winter blades can help you fight ice build-up. Carry extra windshield washer solvent and an ice-scrapper.

* Lights. Any burned out bulbs should be replaced.

* Exhaust system problems. They can be found by putting the vehicle on a lift and searching for leaks. Holes in floorboards or the trunk can fill the passenger cabin with deadly exhaust fumes.

* Tires for worn treads and uneven wear, as well as sidewall cuts and nicks.

* Oil that needs to be changed or topped off or filters that may need to be replaced.

Savvy motorists will also stash blankets, extra winter clothing and a flashlight with fresh batteries in the trunk as well as sand, traction mats, a shovel, jumper cables, first aid supplies, water, snacks and dry gas. Don't forget that cell phone!

"Winter only magnifies existing problems," the Car Care Council, the consumer awareness arm of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, notes in its on-line guide, "Get Ready for Winter" ( The Council recommends that drivers who live and work in areas where sub-zero weather is the norm switch to 5W30 oil from 10W30.

Even adds these tips:

* Make sure the "cabin" vents are clean, including the cabin air filter -- a feature once found in European cars but now common in most new domestic models.

* Do a complete heating and air conditioning check. The defroster needs the air conditioner to remove moisture from the air.

* Get your vehicle "detailed." A thorough cleaning, polish and wax will make it easier to keep your car free from grime and road salts used to melt ice and snow.

* Put nitrogen in the tires and don't forget to include the spare. Nitrogen makes tires less prone to losing air, is moisture free, and reduces wheel and valve corrosion.

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