No matter what part of the country you live in, whether Snow Belt or Sun Belt, now is the time to make sure it's ready for the onslaught. Here's what you should check:
Cold weather causes tires to lose air pressure, so it's a good idea to check. The proper amount is not listed on the tire; it's posted on the driver's side front door jamb on most newer cars and trucks.
While you're at it, check the tread. Take a penny and place it upside down into several places across the tire. If the top of Abe Lincoln's head is showing, it's time to replace the tire.
Also, check the state of the tread itself. If a tire is worn on both edges, it is under-inflated. If it's worn in the center of the tread, it's overinflated. If you spot cups or dips in the tread, it is usually a sign of worn parts. Have the suspension or steering systems checked.
Finally, if your car has summer performance tires, consider replacing them with winter tires.
BATTERY: As the temperature drops, more juice is required to get your car or truck started each morning. Replacing your battery ahead of time is beneficial in two ways: You can buy a new one on sale, and you won't be left stranded.
Deciding when to replace it is simple. For example, if you have a 36-month battery, you can expect three years of trouble-free charging. But as the 36-month mark approaches, think about replacing the battery a bit shy of that point instead of waiting until the last minute.
Also, have your car's alternator, voltage regulator, belts and connecting cables checked.
WINDSHIELD WIPERS, WASHER FLUID: If the wipers are streaking, replace them. Also, if you dilute windshield washer fluid with water, use it up. Replace it with pure washer fluid that won't freeze below 32 degrees.
COOLING SYSTEM: If you can't remember the last time your vehicle's cooling system was flushed, check your records. Then, look at the owner's manual. Flushing the system removes sediment and rust particles to prevent clogging. Be sure to use a 50/50 mix of antifreeze to water. Also, be sure to use the proper antifreeze. Many newer vehicles specify a new, longer-life engine coolant, not the traditional green type. Finally, replace any dried-out, cracked hoses.
LIGHTS: Seeing and being seen is important in nasty weather. Have a family member or friend stand outside the car, to make sure all the vehicle lights work: headlights, fog lamps, tail lamps and turn signals.
BRAKES: When roads are coated with rain, sleet and snow, stopping distances increase. If your last vehicle check showed your brakes to be marginal, or the brakes squeal when coming to a stop, now is the time to get them checked and/or replaced.
DEFROSTER: Do all of your defrosters work? This might seem like an insignificant item — until you need it.
CLEAN YOUR CAR: Getting your car cleaned and detailed does more than remove the accumulated salt, sand and grime of summer. A great wax job seals the paint and preserves the finish.
Inside, a clean car is a pleasant car. Wipe down all surfaces. For leather surfaces, use a leather cleaner and moisturizer to prevent cracking. Clear out the glovebox, center console and rear cargo area. Vacuum the seats, carpet and headliner.
You'll have the peace of mind that a new life form isn't spawning under the seat.
BE PREPARED: A breakdown, flat tire or other inconvenience can occur at any time.
Pre-assembled emergency and first aid kits are available at auto parts stores, but you might want to build your own. Be sure to include screwdrivers — Phillips and flat-head, pliers, socket wrenches, duct tape, electrical wire tape, electrical wire spray, WD-40, flashlight with extra batteries, coolant hose repair kit, a small fire extinguisher, tire gauge, road flares, spare fuses, foam tire sealant or a portable air compressor, jumper cables, rain gear, work gloves, roadside assistance phone number, a disposable camera (to record accident damage), spare fluids and nonperishable food.
Also, consider adding kitty litter (for added traction under a slipping tire), a flashlight, work gloves, a small shovel, a windshield scraper, jumper cables, a first aid kit, cloth or paper towels, drinking water, nonperishable snacks and a blanket.