Celebrate National Car Care Month

What's your favorite season? I ask people this all of the time and more often than not, they say fall with reasons like cooler days, the changing leaves, thoughts of pumpkin or apple filled desserts, slowing down from the busyness of summer and so on. Though I immensely enjoy the beauty fall brings, this season is not my favorite because in my mind, it is a precursor of the dreaded cold, long winter to come. I think about the preparations that need to take place so I am ready for it-wardrobe change, addition of blankets or my beloved heated mattress pad to my bed, buying new winter outerwear for my kids, packing my car with warm blankets for fall sports, etc. Most of us prepare in these ways for what's to come with the cooler weather but often times we miss vehicle preparations.

We are a people who live in the moment. Though we know what winter will bring, we procrastinate in preparing our vehicles. Then when it hits in full force, we become a bit frantic and try to have our vehicles serviced at the same time as everyone else after problems arise related to the snow or cold temps. Perhaps this year we should turn over a new leaf (pun intended!). Let's not be like most and wait until winter arrives to winterize our vehicles. Let's embrace National Car Care Month and prepare early for what we know is yet to come in southeast Minnesota. Here are some things to consider and have serviced as you beat the rush to your favorite car-care facility.

Get the right kind of oil change

Which brand, viscosity (thickness) and grade do you use? Do you alter any of these for the winter months? Oil tends to thicken as it gets colder and if it's too thick, it can't do a proper job keeping your engine lubricated and performing at its optimum. If you've never explored the benefits of full-synthetic oil, this may be the time to do so and consider switching for best engine protection and cold weather starts. Of course you can always consult your owner's manual or your trusted car-care facility for guidance in choosing the right oil for your driving habits and the frigid winter months to come.

Assess your antifreeze

Ensuring the quality and quantity of antifreeze in your vehicle is a must as we approach the coldest time of year. The proper ratio of coolant to water must be considered to prevent freezing and the amount of antifreeze should be checked on a regular basis. If you are not a DIYer, your local car-care facility can assist you in this pre-winter check. Do you know when your last coolant flush was? This is a service that should be performed at regular intervals. It helps to remove contaminants, rust and scale deposit while the additives lubricate your water pump and prevent future rust build up.

A word to those who are new to our frigid climate: Never fill your antifreeze reservoir with water. It will freeze and may be the cause of breakdown and very expensive repairs.

Baby your battery

Cold temps mean your engine needs more current from the battery in order to start. Battery failure is the most common cause of winter breakdowns, so make sure you give yours some extra TLC. Take a look at your battery. Are the posts and connections free from corrosion? If you don't want to clean them yourself, most car-care facilities offer this service for a reasonable price. They also offer a free battery test to assess its condition. Take advantage of this before we hit winter.

And of course, whether you are a planner or a procrastinator, it's always a wise move to keep a set of jumper cables in your vehicle-this may aid you or give you the opportunity to help someone else who didn't give their battery pre-winter TLC.

See clearly

Does your vehicle have any burnt out bulbs? Replace them. No matter what time of year, never delay in replacing one bulb that is out because another may quickly follow and be a safety hazard for you or other motorists. Do you even know if any bulbs need replacement? Likely, your car-care facility will check these as part of the courtesy inspection.

When did you last replace your windshield wiper blades? They generally work effectively for about a year. Assess their condition and invest in new ones if it's time. Also check your washer fluid. Snowy roads equals plow trucks and sand. This can be a streaky mess when you are trying to see clearly. Make sure your washer fluid is full and sprays correctly.

Another caution to those who are not cold-weather natives: Washer fluid used in vehicles in warmer climates can freeze. So you'll want to make sure you're using the right kind of fluid for our weather and never add or replace with water.

For warmth and clear-vision, now is also the time to make sure your heater and defroster are working properly.

Hose happiness

Do you have your hoses and belts evaluated on a regular bases? Do you have them replaced as part of your maintenance program? The cold temps can cause these components (especially if they are worn and old) to become even more brittle. Be sure yours are up to snuff before winter ensues.

Terrific tires

When is the last time you bought tires? What does your tire tread look like? Is there uneven wear? Have you ever considered having two sets of tires-one for winter and one for the rest of the year? This is a great option as snow tires can make a world of difference on the snowy roads-especially if you don't have AWD (all-wheel drive). No matter the tires you choose, if it's time to replace them, you'll want to make this decision before the snow flies as your selection may be better and it may take less time to get the tires of your choosing.

If your tires are in good shape, make sure they are inflated according to recommended specs. And for longer wear and best fuel economy, make sure you are rotating your tires at regular intervals (every 5,000-10,000 miles) and ensure they are properly aligned-there are some car-care facilities that will check your alignment at no charge.

As you enjoy all the beauty fall has to offer, take a "leaf" from my book and prepare for what's ahead now. This will save time by beating the crowds and give you peace of mind knowing your vehicle will be healthy for the brutal cold to come.

Jeana Babcock

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