1.If your car needs a tuneup or is due for its regularservice, get it done now. Bad hoses, belts, water pump, spark plug wires, distributor cap, etc. can leave you stranded in the winter. Better to fix them at your convenience than after you’ve been sitting in your stalled car for three hours waiting for CAA. (Just kidding No one has ever had to wait three hours for one of your tow trucks, have they? Naahh!)
2.Make sure your battery and charging system are up to snuff. Your mechanic should check the battery, charging system and belts. If you find that you need a new battery, get the biggest, meanest, ugliest battery that will fit in your car. Two things to remember about batteries:First, the battery that started your car easily in the summer may not have enough oomph to do it in winter, when the oil isn’t as “fluid” as it was last July. And secondly, batteries lose power as the temperature drops. So, not only do you need MORE power to start the car in winter, you also get LESS power from the same battery. Batteries are rated by a measure called “cold cranking amps” (CCA), the maximum number of amps that the battery can deliver at zero degrees (F) for 30 seconds. Good, powerful batteries are rated at or above 600 CCA. We’ve never really liked this CCA thing because some batteries rated at 600 CCA can just barely make the 30-second criterion, and some can pump it out much longer–clearly better batteries. Along come our pals at Consumer Reports. When they rate batteries, they do the CCA test *and* report how long the battery puts out the 600 amps. So, take a look at the October 1997 issue of Consumer
Reports to get the ratings of the really good batteries.
3.Check the cooling system, making certain the antifreeze will protect your car to the winter temperatures you’ll experience in your area. For most areas, you’ll need a 50-50 mix of coolant to water.
You can check this yourself with a little device that you can buy in auto parts stores for a couple
of bucks. You suck up a little of the anti-freeze from the radiator–or the overflow container and see how many of the little balls float. It’s cute. If this is beyond you, most real gas stations will do it for you in a couple of minutes.
By the way, this is very important. If the stuff freezes, it expands, and it’s bye-bye engine block.
If your coolant hasn’t been changed in several years, get the cooling system flushed. The rust inhibitors in antifreeze break down over time and need to be renewed. Plus, draining out the coolant and refilling the system removes dirt and rust particles that can clog up the cooling system and cause problems in winter and summer. For you real cheapskates out there, yes, it is true that you can remove and “strain” it to get out the junk that’s accumulated while saving the coolant. We’ve even heard that a loaf of Wonder Bread works great for this, although
I have never actually tried it.
4.If you have leaks in the cooling system, get them taken care of now. While many people think of overheating as a summer problem, cars can overheat in winter, too, if they run low on or out of coolant. And overheating can cause expensive engine damage whenever it happens. Plus, if you have no coolant–or low coolant–you have no heat!
5.Make sure your windshield wipers are in good shape. Winter wipers–with the rubber coverings that keep ice from collecting on the blade–have become very popular. They’re great in the winter, but make sure you take them off in the spring. Winter wipers are heavy, and if you use them all summer, you’ll eventually wear out the wiper motor.
6.Keep your gas tank close to full, for a couple of reasons. In the summer, you can take a chance and run down to fumes. In the winter, if you do get stuck or stranded, the engine will be your only source of heat. And you don’t have to worry about conserving