In addition to keeping cash in your pockets, performing routine maintenance
and using quality products can help drivers stay safe through even the
nastiest of conditions. Maintenance plays a big role in staying safe –
according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about one in
eight crashes can be attributed to mechanical defects due to neglected vehicle
To avoid costly repairs and ensure your safety, prepare for harsh conditions
in advance by following a few simple guidelines:
Tune-ups - Get a full engine tune-up, as outlined in your owner’s manual.
Fix the brakes - Don’t postpone needed brake work. Avoiding brake repair can
be extremely dangerous, and if you procrastinate, you may end up damaging your
rotors and incurring considerably more repair cost.
Get an oil change - Motor oil is the lifeblood of every vehicle. Replacing
your current oil with a synthetic product that is specifically designed for
longer oil change intervals, such as Mobil 1 Extended Performance, helps to
extend the life of your car. It is guaranteed to protect critical engine parts
for up to 15,000 miles. Bear in mind, if you plan to go longer between oil
changes, it is vital to follow the maintenance schedule for service to your
brakes, tires, battery and other systems.
Mid to Late Fall
Check the battery - If a battery is older than four years, it may not work
well in cold weather. When in doubt, replace it.
Check filters, coolants and hoses - Make sure all filters (oil, gas and air)
are in good condition. Check the coolant and thermostat to ensure proper
engine warm-up, and make sure your heater and defroster work. Coolant should
be changed every two years, though the extended-life coolants used in many
newer vehicles last about five years. Check for leaking or soft hoses and
replace as needed.
Emergencies - Put together an emergency kit containing gloves, boots,
blankets, flares, a small shovel, sand or kitty litter (handy for providing
traction on slippery surfaces), tire chains, a flashlight and a cell phone.
You may also want to put a few “high-energy” snacks in your glove box.
There’s no reason to put off what you can accomplish today – and why wait
until it’s bitter out? Your car will be more reliable throughout the winter if
properly cared for in the fall months.
Tire pressure - Check tires for excessive wear and proper inflation. Be
careful not to under-inflate or over-inflate tires. Low pressure increases
wear and fuel consumption, while too much pressure can reduce traction,
especially in icy conditions. As the weather gets cooler, your air pressure
Icy windows and locks - Make sure to have window ice scrapers and de-icers
available. Also make sure your windshield wipers and front and rear defrosters
are working properly. A de-icer for door locks is also useful.
Slow down - Do not exceed speed limits and keep safe driving distances.
Unnecessary speedups, slowdowns and stops can decrease fuel economy by up to
two miles per gallon. Avoid gas-wasting jackrabbit starts and pace your
driving to help avoid the need for sudden stops, which is especially critical
during wet and icy road conditions.
Vehicle warm-up - To ensure proper engine oil flow and lubrication, allow your
engine to idle for a few seconds before driving in cold weather, and drive
slowly for the first few miles until the oil is fully warmed up. In addition
to being good for your engine, this practice reduces emissions and saves fuel.
Pat Goss is a longtime master technician and owner of Goss’ Garage in
Seabrook, Md., as well as co-host of the PBS television show MotorWeek.