Don’t get stranded: Winterize your car now

VALLEY –– Don’t let the warm weather fool you: Fall is here, and winter is on its way. As any longtime Coloradan can tell you, rapid, dramatic weather changes are a hallmark of life here – and motorists who have yet to prepare their vehicle for winter are running out of time before the next big storm.

We get it: On days like these, it’s tempting to spend a few hours hanging out at the park or on a rooftop patio. And Coloradans should! But they should also take a few minutes to have their car inspected by a certified technician.

“There’s never a good time for your car to break down,” said AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley. “But, topping the list of all the bad times for your car to break down is when a winter storm is bearing down on us, the roads are jammed up, and we’re facing freezing temperatures. Luckily, a little automobile maintenance right now can keep you from being stranded on the side of the road later.”

Harsh winter conditions make your vehicle work harder, particularly the charging and starting system, headlights, tires, and windshield wipers. AAA Colorado recommends that motorists:

• Before you do anything else, read your owner’s manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommended service schedules.

• Clean any corrosion from battery posts and cable connections and wash all surfaces with battery terminal cleaner or a solution of baking soda and water. Have the battery checked by a professional to ensure it is strong enough to face cold weather. 

• Have any engine drivability problems corrected at a good repair shop. Symptoms such as hard starts, rough idling, stalling or diminished power could signal a problem that will be exacerbated by cold weather.

• Replace worn windshield-wiper blades. For Colorado winters, motorists will need one-piece beam-type or rubber-clad “winter” blades to fight snow and ice build-up. Use cold-weather windshield washer solvent and carry an ice-scraper.

• Inspect all lights and bulbs and replace burned out bulbs. Clean road grime or clouding from all lenses.

• Replace dirty filters, such as air, fuel, and PCV. A poorly running engine is less efficient and burns more gasoline.

• As the temperature drops below freezing, add a bottle of fuel deicer in your tank once a month to help keep moisture from freezing in the fuel line. Keeping the gas tank filled also helps prevent moisture from forming.

• Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your manual — more often if your driving is mostly stop-and-go or consists of frequent short trips. A poll of ASE Master Auto Technicians revealed that regular oil and filter changes is one of the most frequently neglected services, yet one that is essential to protect your engine.

• Have your mechanic check the exhaust system for leaks and look for any holes in the trunk and floorboards.

• The cooling system should be flushed and refilled as recommended. The level, condition, and concentration of the coolant should be checked periodically. A 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water is usually recommended. Do-It-Yourselfers: Never remove the radiator cap until the engine has thoroughly cooled! The tightness and condition of drive belts, clamps, and hoses also should be checked regularly by a professional technician.

• The heater and defroster must be in good working condition for passenger comfort and driver visibility.

• Examine tires for tread depth, uneven wearing and cupping. Check tire pressures once a month when tires are cold, before driving for any distance.

• Have your brakes checked periodically for safety and to prevent costly repairs that can be caused by neglect.

“Those new to Colorado may also be new to the effects that winter has on their car,” McKinley said. “Take a few minutes, while the warm weather holds up, to park somewhere nice and give your car a thorough inspection. When the snow rolls into town, you’ll be glad you did.”

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Caption: Make sure to check your battery.