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Getting Ready For Winter Weather

Climate changes don't affect just you, they also affect your car. In regions that don't enjoy mild winters, you wouldn't dream of heading outside without a heavy coat if the wind chill brought the temperature below freezing. Don't expect your car to function properly without some attention to its winter needs, too. Here in northern California we usually have to drive to get to all that weather.

Engine Coolant

Your car's coolant system is not intended only to keep your engine from overheating. It is also responsible for protecting your valuable engine against corrosion. Before the weather gets too cold, make sure you are using coolant that is right for your car. Almost every manufacturer has their own idea of the formula they like.

Every vehicle requires a certain ratio of coolant to water, and your owner's manual or repair technician can explain what your engine needs. Adjusting this ratio is an important step in winterizing your car, so if you need help, ask someone who is experienced and knowledgeable.

Cold Weather and Battery Capacity

It isn't only your engine that doesn't like to start in the winter. Your battery capacity is reduced by the cold weather, too. A thorough inspection of your battery, cables, terminals, and fluid will help you make sure your car is ready for the winter.

Check over the battery cables for cracks and breaks. The terminals should fit snugly with no loose connections. You can check your battery fluid by uncovering the refill hole (or sometimes holes). If the level is below the bottom of the cap, refill with distilled water. Many of the new batteries are sealed and you are not able to see the fluid levels.

While you're inspecting your battery, look around for the manufacture date. Knowing how old your battery is can clue you in to when it will begin to lose charge. Shopping for a new battery? Never buy one with a six-month-old manufacture date.

If you have a feeling your battery or charging system is not functioning as it should, call for an appointment to test the system.

Windshield Treatment

An easily overlooked part of your winterizing program is your windshield. If you have ever driven behind another vehicle kicking up wet, dirty road snow, then you already have a true appreciation for windshield washer fluid.

For best results in clearing off cold, heavy grime, select a washer fluid with an antifreeze solution. But beware―some washer fluids can be harsh and damage your car's paint.

Frozen Out

Door locks can freeze in cold weather and break your key if you try to force them open. The old fashion cure was warm water, but what if you're not at home and don't have any warm water nearby? Discount stores, auto parts stores, and even hardware stores sell glycerine you can use for de-icing. Think about where you keep it, however, because if the de-icer is in the glove box of your frozen-shut car, then it won't help you any.

Stock a tube at home in the garage and also in your desk at work. That way whenever your locks freeze up, you'll be able to solve the problem.

Emergency Kit

If you don't already have an emergency kit in your car, consider putting together a few basics and stowing them in the trunk. Naturally, you'll want to be sure your spare tire is in good shape with all the tools to change it out. But you might also want a few other emergency items in case you slide off the road and get stuck in a snow bank:

  • Flares
  • Blankets
  • Boots
  • Radio
  • Engine oil
  • Washer fluid
  • Coolant
  • Flashlight

When you take the time to winterize your car, you become more comfortable driving in cold, snowy climates. A short commute quickly becomes difficult when your vehicle isn't equipped to handle snow and ice. By planning ahead, you can make winterizing your vehicle an annual ritual in the name of safety and vehicle reliability.