Prepping your car for the chilly weather
It’s that time of year again when the leaves begin to fall, and the spooks come out to play, but trick-or-treaters aren’t the only things tricky about this season. Driving conditions start getting worse as the sun sets faster and the air gets cooler. You’ll want to make sure to prepare your vehicle for the harsher weather to come. That’s why we’ve put together this vehicle maintenance checklist for you to make sure you’re ready for safe fall travel.
Since it’s getting colder outside, you'll want to make sure the A/C and heating systems are working correctly. Check for a coolant leak on the floor and debris or leaves in the ducts—both can lead to ventilation issues that you won’t want to deal with as it gets colder outside.
You’ll also want to check and possibly replace your cabin filter at this time to make sure your car’s HVAC system is functioning properly. If your cabin filter is dirty, it is time to replace it. Failing to do so can result in smelly odors and stuffy, dusty air in your car.
2. Wipers, wiper fluid, and windshields
Fall and winter are the peak seasons for wiper blade use, which means you’ll want to make sure they are in good condition for fall showers and the first big winter storm to come your way. The sun often causes windshield wipers to crack; if your wipers are leaving streaks or don’t wipe across or windshield smoothly, it’s time to replace them.
This time of year is also good for checking your windshield for any chips and repairing it before the cool weather turns them into large cracks.
Finally, you’ll want to top off your wiper fluid, so you are prepared for any bugs or mud sprayed your way.
If you’ve noticed your brakes not working correctly, you should see an auto technician or mechanic right away. Even if you haven’t noticed a problem, it doesn’t hurt to have them checked in the fall to ensure you are in good shape for icy winter roads.
You’ll also want to check your brake fluid level and top it off if necessary. If you have trouble locating the brake master cylinder reservoir, check your vehicle’s owner’s manual or have your local service center take care of this. If you choose to do this yourself, make sure only to use the kind of brake fluid recommended for your car; using incorrect fluid can potentially damage your brake system and lead to brake failure. You will also want to get your brakes checked if your brake fluid continuously needs to be refilled.
4. Tire Check
Winter driving can be tricky, so it’s essential to check your tire’s tread and air pressure before the snow starts falling. Most newer vehicles have air pressure sensors, but it doesn’t hurt to manually check with an air pressure gauge if the sensors aren’t working properly.
Also, make time to do a good overall inspection of the wear on your tires. Ever hear of the Penny Test? This test is now considered outdated and has since been replaced by the Quarter Test for increased safety purposes. It just takes a moment to perform and can save you from an accident.
You will also want to check the tire pressure and overall health of your spare tire to make sure you can use it in the case of a flat tire.
With shorter days approaching, you may be driving in the dark more often. Properly working headlights, brake lights, and high beams will become more crucial for these shorter days. To check your lights, wait until dark, park your car facing a wall, turn your lights on, and inspect the light they give off. If one side is brighter or yellower than the other, your bulb may need replacing.
You should replace both simultaneously; if one is dying, the other will most likely follow suit shortly after. If you notice your turn signal is blinking faster than usual, it could mean one of your lightbulbs is out. Make sure to get that replaced straight away.
6. Oil Change
One of the most important things to check is your oil. Most of the time, you are safe to follow the guidance given by your mechanic and get an oil change about every six months or 5,000 to 7,000 miles. This varies from vehicle to vehicle and depends on your driving habits, so be sure to check your vehicle’s owner’s manual or speak to you’re a certified local auto technician about what is best for you.
You can also manually check your oil by taking the dipstick and inserting it into its oil tube. Take it back out and inspect where the oil reaches on the dipstick. Most will have some kind of indication where the level should be. If it’s below the minimum mark, you’ll need to add oil. Also, check to ensure the oil does not have a light, milky appearance, which may mean the coolant is leaking into it. Check out our handy 4-step guide for manually checking your oil.
Some newer cars don’t have the option to check oil manually, so consult your owner’s manual if you have trouble.
Dead batteries are more common in the winter than any other season. The culprit is usually assumed to be cold weather, but car batteries are damaged most in hot weather. However, this damage is not usually seen until winter, which is why checking your battery in the fall can help prevent inconveniences in the colder months ahead. If you notice your lights getting dimmer or your car gives off a strange sound when you start it, your battery is likely dying.
Ready to Drive
Now that you’ve completed the checklist and repaired or replaced what you needed to, you and your car will be ready to take on whatever Mother Nature throws at you. Be sure to understand what fall driving hazards can affect you and always prepare an emergency travel kit for any situation. With that, you are ready to take to the road!