As the sun sets earlier and temperatures fall, it's time to think about preparing your car for winter driving. Make sure your vehicle is ready for the onslaught that may come.
Let's start with something few people regularly check until a problem pops up: tires. If you haven't checked the air pressure in your tires since August, you should; they're probably under-inflated. A tire loses one pound of pressure for every 10-degree drop in ambient temperature.
Be sure to measure each tire, and the spare, when it's cold. Check at least three hours after they've been driven anywhere. The correct tire pressure for the car's tires is listed on the driver's side door jamb or on the glove-box door. The pressure listed on the tire is its maximum pressure when hot, so don't use that number. If you've recently purchased a new car or truck, it has tire-pressure monitors to alert you to low tire pressure. That isn't true with older vehicles.
Studded tires are legal again on Washington state highways. Drivers will have to take them off by March 31 because of damage they cause to pavement and bridges. The Transportation Department also reminds drivers of big trucks to carry chains in case they need to chain up to cross mountain passes. More information can be found at wsdot.wa.gov/winter.
While you're checking the tires, make sure they have adequate tread. Place a penny into the tread's groove. Lincoln's head should face downward. If you can see the top of his head, it's time to replace your tires.
Battery efficiency also declines with the temperature. Cold weather slows a battery's chemical reaction, generating fewer electrons, reducing the electricity available to get it started.
The best guideline is this: If your vehicle's battery is three or four years old, it's most likely nearing the end of its useful life. Its abilities are sure to be tested as the mercury plummets. So you might want to have it tested at your next oil change. Or, better yet, replace it.
Under the hood, have a mechanic examine your vehicle's belts and hoses for signs of wear. Also, have the engine's coolant checked. Consider having it replaced if your vehicle is several years old and the coolant has never been changed.
Replace your wiper blades if they're more than a year or two old.
Inspect headlights, taillights, fog lights and turn signals to make sure they're functioning.
If you have an older car or truck, have the exhaust system checked for carbon monoxide leaks. This is the time of year when you'll be driving with the windows shut.
In foul weather, flip the car mats so that snow and gravel soil the rubberized backing, not the carpet. Also, because you'll be spending a lot of time in your ride, clean the interior.
And you do have an emergency road kit in your trunk, right? If not, pre-assembled emergency and first-aid kits are available at auto-parts stores.
If you have any questions about your vehicle's maintenance requirements, open the glove box and crack open the owner's manual.
These simple, low-cost maintenance measures can ensure trouble-free driving in the coming months.