It never fails. When real winter weather comes, there is an increase in the numbers of cars that break down and won't start. A lot of those car owners coud save themselves grief by simply performing a little preventive maintenance before the bad weather hits.

Here are some things you can do to help decrease the chances of your car breaking down this winter. Don't procrastinate!

CHECK THE BATTERY. One of the biggest single causes of a no-start during the winter is a bad battery. Often, it's not eventhebattery's fault. The owner simply has neglected it.

Make sure the battery has enough water. The fluid level in each cell should just barely be touching the plit ring at the bottom of the fill-hole in the cell.

Also make sure cable connections are tight, clean and corrosion-free. Battery posts and cables can be cleaned with a battey post-and-terminal cleaner brush (available at auto parts supply stores for a buck or two). If you don't have one, you can use a knife to scrape away corrosion and dirt until the connections are clean.

USE GASOLINE ANTIFREEZE. Even around here, the temperature often falls well below freezing, it's good move to add some gasoline antifreeze with each tank of fuel. This keeps ice from forming in the fuel line, which will prevent the car from tarting.Gasoline antifreeze is available at filling stations and auto parts supply stores.

CHECK THE COOLING SYSTEM. If it's been two years or more since you drained and flushed, and added fresh antifreeze, do it. If it's been less than two years, make sure you have enough antifreeze in the coolant to give you protection when the mercury plummets down below the freezing mark on the thermometer.

You can tell if you have enough antifreeze by checking the coolant with a hydrometer. Your local service station will do it for you, or you can easily do it yourself if you have a hydrometer.

Make sure the hoses aren't cracked, dry, brittle or leaking. Replace them if they are. If the hoses are more than two years old, replace them anyway, just to be on the safe side. Same for the belts. Replace them if they're over two years old. Also make sure they're tight, and not frayed, cracked, or glazed on their undersides.

DON'T POSTPONE THAT TUNEUP. Cold weather puts extra strain on the engine, especially at start-up. If the engine isn't up to snuff on a cold morning -- particularly the ignition system -- you may have difficulty starting.

Cars with breaker-points ignition systems should have a tuneup every 10,000 miles. Tuneup intervals for cars with electronic ignition are longer, but you should not exceed those intervals.

CHECK THE SPARE TIRE. Make sure it has air in it. It's embarrassing to be stranded on a cold snowy night with two flats, one on the car, and the other in the trunk.

CHECK SPARK PLUG WIRES, AND THE WIRES THAT RUN TO THE IGNITION COIL. Their insulation should not have any cracks in it. If it does, it may allow electrical current to escape, especially on wet slushy days, reducing the engine's performance level, and possibly resulting in a no-start. Any cracked or broken wires should be replaced.

If you're unsure whether the insulation on the spark plug wires is doing the job, let the engine run at night, and raise the hood and look inside. Any current escaping from the wires will reveal itself as bright sparks.

CARRY CHAINS IN THE TRUNK. If you live in an area where ice is a problem, carry along a set of chains and know how to mount them. Or if you don't want to bother with full-size chains, at least carry along a set of "helper" chains -- these are the ones that you strap on the wheels by running a strap through openings in the rim. I've used them more than once to get over an icy section of road.