Mechanical failure-an inconvenience anytime it occurs-can be deadly in the winter. Preventive maintenance is a must. Besides, a well-maintained car is more enjoyable to drive, will last longer, and could get a higher resale price.
To make sure you're prepared for winter travel, read your owner's manual and follow the manufacturer's recommended service schedule. Then follow these tips:
* Make sure your heater and defroster work.
* Replace old windshield wiper blades. In harsh climates, buy rubber-clad (winter) blades to fight ice buildup. Stock up on windshield washer solvent and carry an ice scraper.
* Inspect all lights and bulbs. Replace burned-out bulbs and periodically clean road grime from all lenses.
* Examine your tires. Evaluate them for remaining tread life, uneven wearing, and cupping; scan the sidewalls for cuts and nicks. Check your tire pressure once a month and have tires rotated as recommended. Don't forget your spare and make sure the jack is in good condition.
* Keep an eye on your battery. Routinely scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections, making sure you avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid (wear eye protection and rubber gloves). Clean all surfaces and retighten all connections. If battery caps are removable, check fluid levels monthly. Have your repair shop check the charge on your battery before a road trip.
* Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your manual. If your driving is mostly stop-and-go or you do a lot of short trips, change it more often (every 3,000 miles).
* Prevent fuel line freezes. Put a bottle of fuel deicer in your tank once a month or keep your gas tank filled to keep moisture from freezing in your fuel line.
* Get engine problems fixed. Before cold weather makes existing problems worse, get problems such as hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, and so on fixed. Ask your repairman to replace any dirty filters.
* Have your cooling system completely flushed and refilled as recommended. Check the level, condition, and concentration of the coolant periodically.
* Have your repair shop examine your exhaust system. Your vehicle should be placed on a lift and the exhaust system examined for leaks. The trunk and floorboards should be inspected for small holes.
* Be prepared for emergencies. Carry gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel, sand or cat box filler, tire chains, a flashlight, and a cell phone. Put a few "high-energy" snacks in your glove box.