Vehicle maintenance: prepare for winter

The cold is coming and in some northern states it is already here. That means it’s time to winterize your car.

Vehicle maintenance is something we don’t think about unless there is a problem, but regular maintenance and routine inspection can prevent breakdowns and unnecessary expense. While there are some maintenance items that should be done by a professional, there are some simple things you can check at home or schedule to be done on a routine basis.


Windshield washer fluid is kept in a reservoir under the hood that is usually very easy to access. If you live in a temperate climate, you can fill the reservoir with water and a little mild dishwashing detergent. However, if you live in a cold climate, the water can freeze and burst the container, so be sure to use a windshield cleaning solvent. The same goes for your radiator, use a quality antifreeze mixed with water and use an antifreeze tester to make sure the mixture is kept at the lowest possible temperature for your area.

Keeping your oil and oil filter changed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles can add years of life to your car. Dirty oil reduces gas mileage and causes unnecessary friction on engine parts. Be sure to change the oil filter every time you change the oil. Check the oil level between changes, especially on cars with high mileage. If you let the oil go down, you could blow your engine and have to pay a lot of money for a rebuild. Some people prefer to change the oil at home, but since some people don’t have a proper place (safe flat surface) or tools to do an oil change, it’s easier to take it to one of those places that do it while you wait. . It only takes about 15 minutes and costs about $20-$25, so grab a sandwich and a good book and then change your oil during your lunch hour.

Brake fluid weakens with exposure to air and moisture and must be replaced periodically. Unless you know what you’re doing, I recommend taking it to a mechanic and changing the brake fluid when you install new brake pads about every 40,000 miles. It’s a good idea to check your transmission fluid when you change your brake pads.


Tire pressure should be checked once a month. Be sure to check the tires when the car has not been driven for at least three hours. Look in your owner’s manual or on the inside of the door frame for the manufacturer’s recommended air pressure. You will need an air pressure gauge which is available for a few dollars at any auto supply store. Remove the tire valve cap and place the end of the pressure gauge over the valve. Press the indicator straight and firmly until the scale in the center of the indicator pops out. If the scale shows a pressure lower than that recommended by your manufacturer, you should take your vehicle to a service station (gasoline) where there is an air machine. You’ll remove the valve cover again and use the air hose to fill the tire a few puffs at a time, rechecking between puffs to make sure you’ve reached your desired pressure without overfilling.

To check the tread of your tires you will need a penny. Place Abe Lincoln upside down between each row of your tire tread. If any of Abe’s head is hidden, you have enough of a print. You will need to check the entire tire contour, not just in one position. Do this test on all your tires, even the spare in your trunk. The most common cause of irregular wear patterns on a tire is due to one of three things:

1. Not having the correct amount of air in your tire

2. Not having the tires rotated and balanced.

3. The front of your car is misaligned.

Tires should be rotated every 5,000 miles or sooner if recommended by your car manufacturer. Alignment can be checked at the same time.

Vehicle maintenance really isn’t that hard once you understand the basics and it doesn’t take that long to do a few simple tests.

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