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Get Your Vehicle Ready for Winter

Published Dec 1st 2007, 7:00pm by Jody DeVere in Featured Articles

Wintercars Mechanical failure—an inconvenience any time it occurs—can be deadly in the winter. Preventive maintenance is a must. Besides, even if your winters are normally mild, a well maintained vehicle is more enjoyable to drive, will last longer, and should command a higher resale price.

Here’s advice from the non-profit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence ( Some of the following tips can be performed by any do-it-yourselfer; others require the skilled hands of an auto technician.

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 repair shop. Cold weather makes existing problems worse. Replace dirty filters—air, fuel, PCV, etc.

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 that 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 or so) if your driving is mostly stop-and-go or consists of frequent short trips.

Cooling System—The cooling system should be flushed and refilled as recommended. The level, condition, and concentration of the coolant should be checked periodically. (A 50/50 mix of anti-freeze and water is usually recommended.) Never remove the radiator cap until the engine has thoroughly cooled! The tightness and condition of drive belts, clamps, and hoses should be checked by a pro.

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. Avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid. Wear eye protection and rubber gloves. If battery caps are removable, check fluid level monthly. Note that removal of cables can cause damage or loss of data/codes on some newer vehicles. Check your manual.

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 floorboards should be inspected for small holes. Exhaust fumes can be deadly.

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 the tire pressure 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.

Emergencies—Carry gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel, sand or kitty litter, tire chains, a flashlight, and a cell phone. Put a few “high-energy” snacks in your glove box.

The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) was founded in 1972 as a non-profit, independent organization dedicated to improving the quality of automotive service and repair through the voluntary testing and certification of automotive technicians. ASE-certified technicians wear blue and white ASE shoulder insignia and carry credentials listing their exact area(s) of certification. Their employers often display the blue and white ASE sign. Visit for additional car care tips.


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National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence
101 Blue Seal Dr. S.E.,
Suite 101
Leesburg, VA 20175
Tel: 703-669-6600

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