When the Seasons Change
It doesn't matter if it's the heat of the summer or the frost of the winter, it's always best to have your vehicle checked as the seasons change.
A quality battery has a lifespan of five years. If your battery is three to four years old, time is against you, especially in very cold weather. Corroded and/or loose terminals can prevent power from connecting and may appear like the battery is dead. Sometimes a dead battery will start immediately with a "jump," but if you have to jump start your battery frequently, replace the battery. When you replace your battery, be sure to have the alternator tested, too.
Have your mechanic check the brake pads, brake shoes, brake rotors, brake drums, brake calipers, wheel cylinders (if equipped on your vehicle), and the parking brake for wear. The brake pedal should always feel firm when you stop. When stopping a 2,000-3,000lb vehicle, there is no room for insecurity or failure.
Engine Belts and Hoses
If you start your car and hear a squeaking noise, generally one of your drive belts may be worn-out or out of adjustment. If the belt breaks, your engine could overheat or you could lose control of your car without power steering. In some cases, drive belts are replaced when a new timing belt is installed. There are no intervals on when your belts and hoses should be replaced but most mechanics will recommend your drive belt replacement when your timing belt is replaced, because in order to access the timing belt the old drive belts must be removed.
All vehicle fluids should be checked regularly, not just in cold seasons. Brake fluid, power steering fluid, transmission fluid, washer fluid and antifreeze should be checked to make sure they are at the proper levels. If any of these fluids are very low, it generally means you may have a leak. All fluid leaks should be repaired, not ignored. Low fluid levels can cause you to be stranded. Note: One of the biggest scams in the hot or cold season is premature coolant flushes. Just because your coolant looks dirty doesn't mean the coolant needs to be flushed. Make sure your mechanic shows you with their tool, that your antifreeze needs to be changed.
Make sure all of your lights are working, including headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers and back-up lights.
Inspect the tread for uneven wear or any types of defects. Irregular tire wear is a sign that your suspension maybe worn, out-of-balance wheels, or an alignment issue. While you're down there, check the sidewalls for any cracks. These cracks represent the tire tread actually separating, which can be bad news if you're traveling. The sticker on your driver's door jamb or your owner’s manual will tell you exactly how much air to put in the front and rear of your tires. Too much or not enough air in your tires can prevent a blowout.
Make sure your spare tire has enough air in it. The worst thing in the world is to need your spare and it's flat. In heavy, winter weather states, consider installing snow tires on all your wheels to provide the best snow traction. All-season tires work well in mild snow conditions, as long as they have adequate tread depth. Replace any tire that has less than 3/32-inches of tread.
Normal use will eventually age wiper blades. If your wiper blades are smearing your windshield in the summer rain, they will be much worse in the snow. Worn wiper blades can hinder your ability to see the road and may attribute to an accident. Note: There are rain repellent products available that drastically increase driver visibility in foul weather. These products cause raindrops to bead and blow away instead of forming sheets and streams that can distort your vision.
Carry an emergency kit equipped for winter weather. The kit should include:
- Bag of sand or cat litter for emergency traction if you are stuck
- Basic toolkit (screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench)
- Cloth or roll of paper towels
- Drinking water
- Extra warm clothing (gloves,hats,scarves)
- First-aid kit
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Ice scraper with brush
- Jumper cables
- Mobile phone charger
- Non-perishable snacks
- Snow shovel
- Warning devices (flares or triangles)
- Window washer solvent
The best way to avoid getting stranded on winter roads is to just stay home, and sometimes that's the best decision to make. If you do venture out and conditions start to look scary, turn around while you can. Too many people keep driving, convinced that the road will get better soon or the snow will lighten up. One mile later, they end up in a ditch.
Remember that just because you have four-wheel or all-wheel drive does not make your vehicle invincible on the snow. If you go to any body shop a week after a heavy snow, you‘ll see the majority of the vehicles there will be SUVs who's drivers believed the salesman that this vehicle was excellent in snowy weather. We’re not saying to trade in your SUV before the winter comes, but there is nothing better than a good set of tires and very slow driving in inclement weather to help prevent an accident.