Motorists take note: Recent balmy days and crisp nights aside, cold weather isn't far off. It's time to winterize your car.
Whether you do it yourself or take it to a mechanic, be sure to check the following: Outside
* Snow tires or all-weather radials (including the spare). Look for worn spots, cuts and breaks and proper pressure.
* Wheels (and front end). Align and balance.
* Exhaust system (including exhaust pipe, catalytic converter, muffler, tailpipe and pipe clamps). Repair leaks and tighten or replace loose or faulty clamps.
* Windshield wipers. Replace if worn or torn or if they smear the windshield when used.
* Lights (including head- and taillights, directional signals and emergency flashers). Replace as necessary.
* Brakes. Stop-and-go driving wears brakes faster than steady, highway-type driving.
* Under the Hood
* Fan belt. There should be about 1/2-inch give in the belt when pushed halfway between the pulleys. Frayed, worn or cracked belts should be replaced.
* Hoses. Soft (bulging) spots, cracks or signs of rot call for replacement, as do loose or faulty hose clamps.
* Wires. Particular attention should be given to wires in the starter and ignition system. Check for worn, cracked or broken insulation. Running the engine at night, with the hood up, can be helpful in spotting faulty wires: Look for electrical sparks jumping from sparkplug wires to a metal part.
* Water pump. With the engine off -- and cold -- grasp a fan blade and try to jiggle it. If it moves more than a little, you may have a worn bearing. A malfunctioning water pump could mean harmful overheating, even in the dead of winter.
* Antifreeze. Replace every two years or 24,000 miles and flush the radiator. If it doesn't need to be changed, check for the proper level of protection. (Inexpensive bulb-tester devices are handy.)
* Battery. Casing, cells and fluid should be inspected. Clean the cable and terminals; a light coating of grease will inhibit corrosion on the terminals.
* Oil and oil filter. Be sure to use the proper grade and weight oil recommended for winter driving.
* Fluid levels. Fluids for transmission, brakes, power steering and windshield washer should be topped off as necessary.
* Heater and defroster. Now's the time to be sure they are working properly. Emergency Equipment
* A little advance preparation can save time and money, in the event of a winter driving emergency. Among the items you shouldn't be without:
* Jumper cables.
* Windshield de-icer, scraper and snowbrush.
* Small bag or box of sand or rock salt.
* Small or two-piece snow shovel.
* Emergency road flares, reflector triangle or flashing light.
* Strong tow rope or chain.
* Extra coat and old blanket(s) in case you are stranded and have to stay in your car.
* Tire chains or traction mats for rear tires (in the event you become stuck in the snow).