Just as you should check your smoke detectors' batteries every time autumn comes around, preventive car maintenance procedures can keep automotive disaster from striking. Depending on where you live, the weather can change overnight – for instance, Colorado often gets snow as early as Labor Day. So applying the Boy Scout motto to colder-weather motoring can make the difference between getting there and back – or not.
Fall car maintenance
Year-round routine car maintenance is the best way to make your vehicle perform stronger and last longer. The regimen should include car tune-ups and inspection/replacement of worn belts and hoses. As the weather cools, consider changing to synthetic lubricants, which work across a wider temperature range than conventional oils. These high-tech oils cost more, so an alternative is to use lighter-weight oils in colder weather.
Consult your owner's manual for proper coolant mix, which is often about a 60/40 antifreeze-to-water ratio. Another trick is to install a higher-temperature thermostat. This will improve heater performance and help the engine warm up faster. However, some computer-controlled vehicles might not be compatible with non-factory temperature thermostats.
Since the car heater and defroster work off the cooling system, check heater hoses while inspecting the radiator hoses. Coolant on the floorboard is one common sign of a leaky heater core. Also, vacuum/blow all leaves and debris out of the ducts.
If your battery has removable caps, make sure that all cells are filled with distilled water. Keep all battery terminals and cable ends clean. When jump-starting, never connect the jumper cables' ground clamp to the dead battery's negative post. Instead, use an engine-mounted bracket as the grounding location. In colder weather, this can keep a frozen battery from exploding.
Keep the gas tank as full as possible. Aside from the obvious, this limits condensation in the gas tank to minimize water – which can freeze – in the fuel line. "Antigel" additives are available, particularly for diesel-powered vehicles. On non-fuel-injected cars, keep the choke/carburetor butterfly lubricated so it won't stick.
Check the wiper blades for deterioration and consider upgrading to winter/snow blades. Park the blades before turning off the vehicle or lift them off the glass so they won't freeze overnight. Fill the washer fluid reservoir with winter fluid, and never put hot water on a cold windshield.
Waxing, particularly with a carnauba-based product, will help the paint withstand road salt and other foul-weather grime. Lubricate door hinges with silicone spray so they won't squeak when the weather changes. Spraying the locks and weatherstripping will help keep doors and trunks from freezing shut.
Air condenses in cooler weather, and we're all well-educated now on the hazards of underinflated tires. Keep tires inflated to the manufacturer's recommendation on the sticker found in the glove box or on the doorjamb. Check the condition/inflation of the spare. Store snow tires horizontally during the off-season to prevent flat-spotting. Practice fitting snow chains before the start of winter.
Auto care products
Lastly, the automotive aftermarket unveils an array of cold-weather solutions every autumn. These products are designed to heat almost every aspect of your vehicle: from its coolant to its oil, from its battery to it locks and even its occupants. Always plan ahead to minimize the stress of cold-weather driving.