When winter comes, your car has to work harder. Parts that are only marginally adequate during warm weather may not operate at all when the temperature plummets.

Your battery, for instance. When the temperature gets really cold, a brand-name battery, fully charged, may have less than 50 percent of the strength it would have on a warm summer day. The battery provides the power to crank the engine over to start the car. One that would barely do the job in hot weather won't provide enough muscle when it's cold.

You can decrease the likelihood of becoming a victim of a no-start this winter by checking your buggy over now, before the weather gets bad. Even if you live in a warm climate, making these checks is worthwhile. Here is what to check:

Battery. Cable connections should be tight and clean (no corrosion). On batteries where you remove the caps to add water to each cell, a hydrometer check for each cell should show that the battery is charged. Each cell should read in the neighborhood of 1.260. If you get more than a 30-point variation in readings from one cell to the other (if one cell, for example, reads 1.260 and another 1.210), have the battery checked at a local garage. Battery hydrometers are available at auto-parts supply stores.

Choke. Proper operations of the choke is essential for good starting on cold days. A quick way to check it is this: with the engine cold and not running, remove the top of the air cleaner. Now have someone press the accelerator pedal to the floor and release it while you look at the choke plate in the top of the carburetor. The choke plate should close. Now have that person start the car.

As the car warms up, the choke plate should gradually open to the vertical position. If it doesn't work this way, have a mechanic check it. (Don't look directly down at the carb when the engine is being started or running. If it were to backfire, you face or eyes could be burned.)

Spark plugs. Remove them: make sure they're gapped properly and are in good shape. Check the gap between the spark plug electrodes with a spark plug gauge (available at auto part supply stores). Your owner's manual or shop manual will tell you what the gap should be.

Spark plug electrodes should not be badly eroded, and the procelain insulator around the center electrode should be a grayish-tan or tan color. If in doubt about your plugs, have a mechanic look at them.

Ignition wires. Check all wires, from the spark plugs back to the ignition coil. The insulation shouldn't be cracked, and none should be loose at their connections. Cracked insulation on spark plug wires can prevent spark plugs from firing, especially in damp or wet weather.

Distributor cap. It should be clean, with no cracks or burns visible.

Belts. Belts should be tight. If you grasp a belt midway between its two pulleys, you shouldn't be able to move it up and down more than half an inch. Look on the underside of the belts. They shouldn't be cracked, glazed, or frayed. If a belt is bad, replace it. Belts should be replaced every two years, anyway, even if they don't look bad. b

Keep car tuned and serviced at factory-recommended intervals. If you do this, you're not likely to walk out to your car one cold evening this winter to go home, only to find it won't start.