It's getting to be that time of year, time to break out the Halloween costumes and get ready for the cooler weather. Now is the time to start thinking about your car and what it needs to survive the bitter cold of winter.
The most critical and often overlooked part of your vehicle is the cooling system. Without the proper protection, your coolant can freeze in the winter temperatures and destroy your engine. The coolant in your engine is a mixture of water and anti-freeze, which is supposed to lower the freezing point of the coolant. If the ratio of water to anti-freeze is wrong, the coolant mixture will freeze. Since water is one of those goofy liquids that actually expands as is freezes, it can exert extreme forces on your engine and actually crack the engine block. You can check your coolant’s freeze point with a simple tool called a Ball-Type Tester. You suck up a little bit of coolant into the instrument and count the number of balls that float. Then using the legend on the tool, you can determine the freezing point. There are also testing strips available, which you dip into the coolant similar to a pregnancy test to check the freezing point. If your coolant is more than 2 years old or you have over 30,000 miles it should be changed regardless of the freezing point.
The last thing to check on your engine is the fuel system. A bottle of gas line anti-freeze should be run through the system before the first flake of snow falls. The gas line anti-freeze will absorb any residual moisture in the system and keep it from freezing your fuel lines. Water can get into your fuel tank from a bad batch of gasoline at your favorite gas station or a faulty gas cap.
Once your engine is protected, you should turn your attention to your tires. Check the tread depth and pressures before wintertime hits. The pressure in your tires can drop as the temperatures plummet. If your tires are getting worn, I would suggest replacing them to get the best traction in the winter months. You may even want to consider getting an inexpensive set of steel wheels with dedicated snow tires for the winter months. All-Season tires do every season well, but none of them excellent. By running a set of winter tires, you will get the best winter traction possible and keep your car on the road where it belongs.
Your paint will also need some protection from all the salt and chemicals on the road. Make sure wash your car well, and then apply a liberal coat of wax over the entire car. You can also wax your wheels if you have aluminum wheels, which will help to stop pitting and keep the wheels clean. The biggest mistake I see people make when washing a car is to not rinse their wash mitt or sponge, or rinsing it in the wash bucket. Make sure you rinse off the sponge or mitt outside the bucket with your hose. This will keep the dirt that you just wiped off the car from becoming sandpaper and you clean the rest of your car.
A good first aid kit is valuable any time of year, but what else should you have in your trunk? A good ice scraper, bag of salt or sand for traction and a blanket incase you are stranded and need to keep warm are all vital. If you have a rear wheel drive vehicle, extra weight in the trunk will help with traction. A bag of cement or sand can give you the needed traction in the winter months.
Good luck and safe driving,