Fall Car Care
By Bernard Freeman
Winterizing your car
When temperatures start to fall, it’s time to get your vehicle ready for the winter.
Winterizing your car protects your investment and keeps you and your family safe, particularly in the event of snow or ice.
Your tires are key to keeping you safe on slick roads. The more tread you have left, the better performance you’re going to get, especially on wintry roads. Check the tread on your tires by putting a penny into the grooves between the treads. Have President Abraham Lincoln’s head facing you and upside down. Check all around the tire, making sure you can’t see all of his head. If you can, your tread is dangerously low and you need to get new tires.
While you’re checking your tread, also check your air pressure. There should be a sticker on the driver’s side door or trunk lid that tells you the appropriate pressure for your vehicle. The best time to check your tire pressure is when the car has been sitting for at least 30 minutes.
Batteries don’t like cold weather. Chemical reactions make the battery slow down as the temperature drops, so make sure you have a fresh battery before the weather gets wintry. You can have your battery checked for free at many auto parts stores.
Check your AWD or 4WD systems
If your vehicle has all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, this could be a great tool for navigating winter roads.
That system needs maintenance, too, and if you haven’t used it all summer, check your owner’s manual to see what needs to be done and how to use the system.
Change your wiper blades and fluids
Make sure you can see clearly, even in ice or snow. Change out your wiper blades if you see streaks on the windshield or if the rubber on the wipers is dry and brittle. Check your windshield wiper fluid and other fluids to make sure they won’t freeze in colder temperatures.
Adjusting tire pressure
Most modern cars have a warning light that your tire pressure might be low, but you may see other signs that you need to check your tire pressure.
This includes poor handling, lower gas mileage and uneven wear on the treads.
How to Check your Tire Pressure
You can get a digital tire gauge at your local auto parts store for around $10. Find your car’s required pressure levels. This is usually on a sticker in the driver’s side door and should also be in your car’s owner’s manual. You may need to inflate the front and rear tires to different pressures, so pay attention.
Make sure to check the pressure when the tires are cold, meaning your car has been sitting for a while, at least half an hour after your last trip. First thing in the morning is a great time to check your tire pressure. Take off the valve cap and keep it somewhere safe. Press the tire gauge onto the valve stem and read the tire pressure. Compare your reading to the numbers on the sticker and fill the tires with air. It is estimated that for every three psi below the specifications, you burn 1% more fuel and add 10% more tire wear. That adds up.
Filling your tires
Find an air compressor, either by buying one at your local auto parts store or stopping by the local gas station, which may have a coin-operated compressor you can use. Pull up as close as you can to the compressor so that the hose will reach all four tires. Remove the stem caps and keep them safe, then turn on the compressor. Press the hose fitting down on the valve stem and press the lever on the compressor hose. You should hear and feel air going into the tire.
Use your tire gauge or the gauge on the hose to tell when you have the right pressure. If the tires are warm from your drive to the gas station, inflate three psi over the sticker amount. Replace the valve caps and you’re good to go.
Oil changes 101
The old rule of thumb was to change your oil every 3,000 miles, but with advances ?in automotive technology, that’s changing to 5,000, 7,000 or even 10,000 miles.
Don’t go by what you learned way back when. Check your owner’s manual and follow its instructions for how often to change your oil.
Checking your oil level
Between oil changes, it’s a good idea to regularly check your oil level as your car may need to be topped off, even if it’s newer. Check the owner’s manual and follow its instructions for checking your oil. Traditionally, you check it with a dipstick, but some newer cars have a sensor that monitors the oil level for you.
To check your oil using a dipstick, park on level ground and, with the engine off, open the hood. Find the dipstick and pull it out. Wipe any oil from the end, then insert the dipstick back into its tube. Push it all the way in, then pull it out and look at the dipstick to see where the oil is. There should be some indication of how much oil your car needs, like a low and high line or an area of crosshatching. If the top of the oil is between those marks, you’re OK. If it’s below the minimum, you need to add oil.
The oil you see should appear brown or black. A lighter color could mean you have a coolant leak and any metal particles could indicate engine damage.
Choosing the right oil
Again, turn to your owner’s manual for guidance. Don’t pay more for synthetic blends if you don’t need it. The weight of oil that you need may be printed on the cap where you add oil, and it’s definitely in your owner’s manual. If you have an older car that’s running well, don’t go out and buy a specialty oil just because it’s old. Keep doing what you’re doing, with regular maintenance, until your car or your mechanic signals you should stop.
Synthetic oil may be required for some cars, but for some it’s not, so you should always check before you get your oil changed. It’s designed to be more effective at resisting breakdown and higher temperatures, meaning it lasts longer. If you live somewhere that experiences temperature extremes or if you make a lot of short trips, you may want to consider a synthetic oil.