5 car maintenance tips for cold weather

Topping off windshield wiper fluid before cold weather strikes can help ensure visibility in snow and ice. (Photo by Fred Patton)

Topping off windshield wiper fluid before cold weather strikes can help ensure visibility in snow and ice. (Photo by Fred Patton)

Proper vehicle maintenance keeps cars running right in every season, but it's especially important in cold weather. Winter weather brings unique challenges for car owners. Whether you enjoy backyard mechanic projects or want to hire a trusted mechanic to keep up your car, most of the time you can avoid ending up stranded in cold weather by following these five car maintenance tips. If you decide to hire a mechanic, make sure she takes care of these five things. If you decide to do it yourself, these tips should keep you on track.

1. Check the antifreeze: Use an antifreeze tester or refractometer to draw a few drops of antifreeze from the radiator or overflow. This will give information on the current freezing point of your car's antifreeze. Check the normal lowest temperature for your area, and add more antifreeze as needed to make sure your engine block does not freeze.

2. Check the tires: Grab a ruler and check the depth of the tread on your car's tires. If driving in snow, make sure the tires have a minimum of 6/32 of an inch of tread. If driving on wet roads, look for a minimum of 4/32 of an inch of tread. Make sure to check all four tires, because tires do not always wear evenly, and replace tires that do not meet the minimum tread depth for you area's weather. Also, check tire pressure and make sure tire inflation reflects the manufacturer's recommendations for your vehicle.

3. Maintain visibility: Check the wiper blades for signs of cracking and wear. Replace damaged blades with either winter blades or all-season wiper blades. Fill the windshield wiper fluid compartment with non-freezing windshield wiper fluid. Never use plain water in the windshield wiper fluid compartment for winter driving, because plain water can freeze on the windshield, reducing visibility.

4. Check the oil: Check the oil for signs of particulate matter in the oil. If the engine oil looks thick or unusually dark, start the season right with a fresh oil change, making sure to use the oil viscosity recommended by the manufacturer for cold weather vehicle operation. Information about recommended oil viscosity for cold weather operation is available in the owner's manual or through an online search.

5. Replace or keep up the battery: Check the date stamp on your car's battery, and consider replacing it if the battery is more than three years old. While looking at the battery, clean the metal connectors to make sure the cables make good contact with the battery terminals. Finally, if the battery has any low cells, meaning the fluid in the compartments inside the battery appears lower in some cells than others, have the low cells refilled by a reputable mechanic.

Keep your car running right year-round to avoid getting stuck on the side of the road. While not a substitution for basic vehicle maintenance and regular repairs, taking care of these five car maintenance tips helps to keep cars running in the worst types of cold weather.

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