Winter may offer some pleasures, but not even cold-weather enthusiasts would include driving among them. Motorists can minimize winter driving problems by taking a few simple precautions, some of which are tailor-made for do-it-yourselfers.
A good starting point is the car's battery. Be sure it is fully charged so it can provide extra power to start the car when the temperature is low. Also be certain that terminals are clean and tight and that the fluid level is adequate. Owners of "maintenance-free" batteries should read the fine print in the manufacturer's literature. Many of these units require periodic, though infrequent, checking. Checkup and Tuneup
A tuneup should include a check of the car's fuel, ignition, electrical and emission-control systems. If there are any problems, it's best to find and correct them in the cool months, not the cold ones. A fall tuneup is a good idea anyway: An untuned engine can reduce gasoline mileage by as much as 15 percent.
The cooling system also should be checked when the car is tuned. Are there leaks in the radiator, water pump or hoses? Does the radiator cap seal tightly? Is the thermostat working?
Another essential fall checkup is the exhaust system. The danger of carbon-monoxide poisoning is greatest during winter because motorists keep car windows closed. Make sure there are no leaks. Changing Antifreeze
This is recommended once a year. The process is simple: Drain the present fluid from the system; flush the system with water or a chemical cleaner and neutralizer; check hoses and drive belts for weakness or wear and replace them if needed; add antifreeze and water in a 50-50 mix.
Many motorists use a "permanent" antifreeze. Keep in mind that it won't last forever; it gets its name from the protection it offers in hot weather as well as cold. Its main ingredient is ethylene glycol, which raises the solution's boiling point in addition to lowering its freezing point. A methyl alcohol anitfreeze will reduce the freezing point even more than the ethylene glycol solution, but methyl alcohol will also lower the boiling point and is likely to boil away if used in most newer cars. Powdered mixes are not recommended because they contain salts and may damage the engine.
The label of the antifreeze container should tell how much of the product is needed to prevent freezing at different temperatures, and the extent to which greater protection can be provided by varying the antifreeze-water mix. Snow Tires
Snow tires can increase traction by 50 percent on loosely packed snow. The car-owner's manual should be consulted for the correct tire pressure; it should not be reduced in winter. Last year's snow tires should be inspected for tread depth and signs of wear. Some states prohibit or regulate studded tires, so the buyer should be aware of laws that apply.
Other reminders on winterizing from the Better Business Bureau:
A winter-grade oil should be used, as recommended in the car owner's manual. Oil thickens in cold weather.
Antifreeze solutions should be purchased for the windshield-washer fluid.
A complete cold-weather kit, to be caried in the car during winter months, would include jumper cables; an ice scraper and snow brush, de-icer, spare wiper blades, a flashlight and safety flares, rags (for headlights and the inside of windshields), and a small shovel.