Mechanical failure, an inconvenience any time it occurs, can
be deadly in the winter. Preventive maintenance is a must. Besides, a well maintained
vehicle is more enjoyable to drive, will last longer, and could command a higher
Some of the following tips can be performed by any do-it-yourselfer;
others require the skilled hands of an auto technician.
First things first. Read your owner's manual and follow the
manufacturer's recommended service schedules.
- Engine Performance--Get engine driveability problems (hard starts, rough
idling, stalling, diminished power, etc.) corrected at a good repairshop.
Cold weather makes existing problems worse. Replace dirty filters--air, fuel,
- Fuel--Put a bottle of fuel de-icer in your tank once a month to help keep
moisture from freezing in the fuel line. Note that a gas tank which is kept
filled helps keep moisture from forming.
- Oil--Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your manual--more often
(every 3,000 miles) if your driving is mostly stop-and-go or consists of frequent
- Cooling Systems--The cooling system should be completely flushed and refilled
about every 24 months. The level, condition, and concentration of the coolant
should be checked periodically. (A 50/50 mix of anti- freeze and water is
usually recommended.) Do It Your Selfers, never remove the radiator cap until
the engine has thoroughly cooled!
- Windshield Wipers--Replace old blades. If your climate is harsh, purchase
rubber-clad (winter) blades to fight ice build-up. Stock up on windshield
washer solvent--you'll be surprised how much you use. Carry an ice-scraper.
- Heater/Defroster The heater and defroster must be in good working condition
for passenger comfort and driver visibility.
- Battery--The only accurate way to detect a weak battery is with professional
equipment. Routine care: Scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections;
clean all surfaces; re-tighten all connections. If battery caps are removable,
check fluid level monthly.
- Avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid. Wear eye protection
and rubber gloves.
- Lights--Inspect all lights and bulbs; replace burned out bulbs; periodically
clean road grime from all lenses.
- To prevent scratching, never use a dry rag.
- Exhaust System--Your vehicle should be placed on a lift and the exhaust
system examined for leaks. The trunk and floor boards should be inspected
for small holes. Exhaust fumes can be deadly.
- Cold weather will only make existing problems worse. A breakdown--never
pleasant--can be deadly in the winter.
- Tires Worn tires will be of little use in winter weather. Examine tires
for remaining tread life, uneven wearing, and cupping; check the sidewalls
for cuts and nicks. Check tire pressures once a month. Let the tires "cool
down" before checking the pressure. Rotate as recommended.
- Don't forget your spare, and be sure the jack is in good condition.
- Carry emergency gear: gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel,
sand or kitty litter, tire chains, and a flash light. Put a few "high-energy"
snacks in your glove box.