"So, it's that much more important for the rest of us that we keep our vehicles in peak condition as winter's cold weather approaches. But by taking a few basic precautions, you'll be far less likely to find yourself on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck to arrive."
Here are Mark's suggestions to get you and your car ready for winter weather:
Keep an eye on your battery. A battery's cranking power is reduced significantly in freezing weather. Older batteries are notorious for fooling drivers by working just fine in warmer weather, then failing as soon as the weather turns cold. If yours is at least four years old, have it tested by your mechanic. When it doubt, replace it. And just to be safe, carry a set of quality jumper cables at all times in the vehicle. You may also want to consider buying a portable power pack, which can be used in emergency starts.
Give some thought to the kind of motor oil you have in your engine. During winter, you need an oil that can handle low temperatures and quickly flow to critical engine parts on those cold mornings.
"I'd recommend a fully synthetic oil such as Mobil 1 for the winter months," says Salem. "It's designed to flow well even in lower temperatures and is an excellent oil overall." (For more information about Mobil 1(R), go to www.mobiloil.com.)
Filters, Coolant and Hoses
Make sure your three main filters - oil, gas and air - are in good condition. Check your coolant level and the thermostat, as these elements make sure that your engine warms up properly. Coolant should be changed every two years; extended-life coolants last about five years. Also, be sure to test your heater and defroster, since you can't drive if you can't see through your windshield. Finally, check for leaking or soft hoses and have them replaced if need be.
Remember, air contracts in cold weather, and the air in your tires is no exception. Your tire pressure will go down as the weather cools, so make sure your tires are inflated properly. Too little pressure will increase wear and increase your fuel consumption; too much pressure can reduce traction, especially in icy conditions. The proper air pressure listings are often found on the side of the driver's door, or in the glove box. (Don't just look at the psi rating listed on the tire itself; that is the maximum psi, not necessarily the recommended pressure.) Make sure you also inspect your treads and replace any tires that are looking worn.
When starting a vehicle in cold weather, be sure to allow the engine to idle for a few seconds before driving off. Why? Because doing so will ensure proper oil flow and lubrication. That said, don't allow the engine to idle for a prolonged period after start-up in cold weather. All this does is waste fuel. It doesn't do anything to warm drive-train components. After starting your car and allowing it to idle for a short time, just drive easily for several miles to ensure proper vehicle warm-up.
Icy Windows and Locks
Make sure you keep an ice scraper in your car, and check your windshield wipers and defrosters (front and rear) to verify that they're working properly. De-icers for door locks are also useful, but heated keys are a bit better when locks are frozen.
Stock the Trunk
It's always smart to be prepared, so make sure you keep a few useful items in your trunk - a small shovel to help dig out of snow is a good start. I also recommend keeping a bag of sand in the trunk. It not only gives added traction with its weight, but you also can sprinkle it on snow or ice to improve your traction. Finally, throw an extra blanket, hat and gloves in the trunk, just in case.
"Winter's coming," warns Salem. "So be your own pit crew chief and make sure your car is ready. By following a few simple precautions, you'll have a much better season out on the road."
Mark Salem is NASCAR's "Performance Pit Crew Chief" and hosts a regular "Be Car Care Aware" segment on Speed Channel's "NASCAR Performance" television show. An ASE Certified Master Technician, he is the owner of Salem Boys Auto, an auto-repair facility in Phoenix, Arizona.
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Mobil 1 is a trademark of Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM) or one of its subsidiaries.