Perhaps the first frosts have already coated your windshield,
forcing you to dig out the scraper. As you adjust to the coming
chill, give a thought to your ride, and check out these nine tips
that will keep your car rolling smoothly through winter's
Our Slide Show of 9 Winter Car Maintenance
Don't make compost in your car
As you tackle fall's bounty on your lawn, leave some energy for
removing the leaves that find their way into your vehicle.
Leaves, twigs and other organic matter can cause havoc with
gutters on your house -- and the equivalent on your car. When
debris builds up in areas of your car where water is supposed to
flow out, you can get leaks or corrosion.
The air plenum near the windshield is a classic spot where this
If you have a sunroof, open it up and poke around in there, too.
Sunroofs have drains that flow water that sneaks past the seals
down to the ground. Leaf gunk in there can make for wet headliners
Less common, but more problematic: Animals may make nests under
the hood You may need a mechanic
an animal trapper to fully solve this problem
Consider winter tires
So-called "all-season" tires have been on the market for
decades. Coupled with front-wheel-drive and anti-skid systems, they
have allowed many folks to avoid mounting a true snow tire for the
winter months. But there are two trends in tires you should be
1) Styling priorities have led to manufacturers fitting wider,
low-profile tires on a variety of cars. Wide and low profile, on
balance, makes a tire worse in the snow. Pressures to improve tire
fuel economy have also worked against the snow utility of
2) Winter tires have improved their behavior from the era of
knobby, loud "snows" that looked like they belonged on an army
truck. New tread patterns and rubber compounds make them quieter on
dry roads, yet even more effective on frozen stuff.
If you choose to go with winter tires, note that vendors such as
The Tire Rack and Discount Tire Direct offer packages with the
tires already mounted on a new set of wheels. Switching the entire
wheel/tire combo for the winter is more cost-effective than having
two sets of tires mounted on your existing wheels twice a year.
this coin-based test from The Tire Rack
Wipers for winter
Fog, snow and rain will cut down your visibility in winter.
Check your wiper blades, which have a lifespan of about a year.
If your car doesn't have the newer "beam blade" style wipers,
consider a pair, especially for the winter months. The beam style
blades don't have an external spring to freeze up.
When snow or other freezing precipitation threaten, make sure
you turn off the wipers when you park so that the next time you
turn on your car, the wiper motor's not fighting to get frozen
wipers moving. This can burn out the motor.
Some folks pop their wipers up so they're not touching the
windshield. This little trick will make it easier to scrape your
windshield. Some folks believe this wears out the spring that keeps
the blade on the glass. And some folks think it's an affectation.
We'll leave it to you.
Is your battery juiced?
Winter puts more stress on your battery, particularly if you
park your car outdoors.
Avoid the sinking feeling of hearing nothing when you hit the
ignition with a proactive check of your battery and charging system
now. Repair shops don't usually charge very much to load-test your
battery, and some car-parts stores will do it for free.
This is many people's first thought when it comes to winter car
care. "Flush and fill" promotional signs abound at service stations
as the weather cools.
But chances are good your engine coolant (a better name for it)
is just fine for the winter ahead. If you've followed your car's
service schedule regularly, give this pitch a pass. Most newer cars
have been fitted with coolants that can last as long as five years
or 150,000 miles. Read your owner's manual.
If you've missed a service interval or have another reason to
doubt your coolant, go ahead and have it "flushed and filled." Just
make sure your mechanic uses a compatible coolant to refill your
car. Some coolants, such as Prestone's Extended Life, work for any
If your car has moved to a much colder climate and you're
concerned that your coolant might not be up to the deep freeze, you
can check its effectiveness with a simple, under-$10 tester from
the car-parts store.
Check your tire pressure
Here are two good reasons to get down there with the gauge and
unscrew the valve caps as the weather cools:
1) Tires lose a pound of pressure for every drop of 10 degrees
2) An underinflated tire won't "bite" through snow down to the
pavement as well as one at pressure. It's similar to hydroplaning
on water -- and just as dangerous. You may have heard the guidance
to let air out of your tires for sand or snow to get more contact
surface area. That only applies only if the surface is bottomlessly
soft, like a beach or foot-deep, unplowed snow -- not the mix of
cleared road, ice and packed snow most of us encounter in daily
Don't forget to put the valve caps back on (or, buy new ones)
when you're done. Letting in moisture, which then freezes, could
let the valve core leak out air.
Survival kit (of some sort)
Everyone should have a space blanket in the car, tucked in the
glove compartment or some other storage space in reach of the
The most complete survival kit in the world won't do a bit of
good if you're upside down in a car you can't get out of and the
kit's in the trunk.
The shiny space blanket's ability to keep you warm could be a
lifesaver -- and it takes up virtually no space and costs less than
Next things we'd add:
�Plastic bag for gathering snow for water
�Plumber's candle & lighter
�Single-edged razor blade (cut up your upholstery for
�Empty metal soup can (for melting snow with the candle)
You can -- and perhaps should -- keep going (some people suggest
packing a wordy novel). The more rural and remote your roads, the
more you'll want. Check out a thorough approach from the folks at
North Dakota Department of Transportation
-- they know snow and ditches.
Wax your lights
Okay, we admit it's a little detail, but in winter's gloom and
short days, every last lumen you can squeeze out of your headlamps
is going to improve your safety.
Here's an easy two-minute drill: Make sure the headlamps are
clean of dirt, rub car wax (any type will do) on the lamps, let it
dry and buff it off. Repeat. For bonus points, do the
The slippery surface you leave behind will be less likely to
build up an "icicle" coat when road slush refreezes on your car --
and will make it easier to remove it if it does.