Just like spring, fall provides a welcome transition between the significant temperature variations during summer and winter. Temperature extremes are tough on any vehicle, affecting the way it starts and operates. Fall is the perfect time to prepare your car for colder weather before harsh weather sets in later in the year. Get a head start on winter by completing the following transitional car care tasks.
1. Start with the lights.
Late model cars have more lights included than ever. There is a chance one or more bulbs has burned out since you last checked your car. Check interior lights on your own in addition to certain exterior lights, including the headlamps and turn signals. However, to verify your brake lights are working you may need a spotter. If a spotter isn’t available you can always set your phone to record video and prop it up pointed at the rear of the vehicle while you test the lights. Some cars have warning lights to let you know if a bulb has burned out, so you just need to pay attention. Many bulbs in around your car are fairly easy to replace. You may also choose to update your bulbs with LED version if they are available. Check with your local NAPA Auto Parts store to see what LED bulb options are available for your vehicle.
2. Inspect the tires.
Tires should be rotated on a schedule as outlined in the vehicle owner’s manual. Inspect each tire for wear — if the tread wear indicators are showing, replace them in pairs or in sets to ensure even wear. If replacing only two tires, the new set always mounts to the rear axle. Don’t forget to check the condition of your spare tire and also ensure equipment for changing a tire is in place. If your vehicle doesn’t have a spare tire but instead relies on canned tire sealant, check the expiration date on the sealant and replace it as necessary. Check tire air pressure to make sure it is the same all the way around and within the specifications found on the driver’s side door jamb sticker. Don’t forget to check the spare tire too as they have a habit of ending up low on air pressure from neglect.
3. Replace worn wiper blades.
Wiper blades are prone to streaking or hazing when it rains or snows. If you’re having difficulty seeing the road, it’s time for new ones. If you can’t remember the last time you changed wiper blades, it is a good idea to change them anyway. It is always better to change wiper blades before they get so bad that they are useless at moving water effectively. Don’t forget your rear window wiper if you have a van or SUV.
4. Examine your brakes.
Excessive brake dust on your wheels is one sign your brake pads are worn and need replacement. Another sign is squealing brakes. You may also have a brake pad warning light to let you know it is time for a brake job. Examine your brakes every time you rotate your tires and you’ll tackle both tasks concurrently. If you drive an electric vehicle with regenerative brakes, you still need to inspect the brake system on a routine basis as outlined in your owner’s manual. While the brake pads on an electric vehicle may last a long time, the brake caliper and other components still need to be cleaned a lubricated to work properly when called.
Check all fluids to verify sufficient levels and cleanliness. Change the motor oil and oil filter as needed — likewise with the transmission and brake fluids. If you can’t remember the last time you changed the engine air filter go ahead and do so now:
Also inspect the cooling system. If the hoses are cracked, swollen or dry, replace as needed. Flush the coolant system and refill it with the correct coolant type per your owner’s manual recommendations.
6. Test the battery.
While you’re under the hood, check the battery. Your car’s battery supplies electric energy to your vehicle. When it’s working, your car will start, enabling you to drive. However, during a cold snap, your battery may not turn the engine over, especially if it’s on the older side. A poorly functioning battery can harm your car’s charging system or starter, further exacerbating a problem. Use a multimeter to check your battery; if it registers 12.6 or above when the engine isn’t running, then it’s operable. Check the date code on your battery to make sure you aren’t nearing the end of its useful life. You can also get your battery tested at your local NAPA AutoCare. Lastly, verify that the connections and cables are clean and tight; replace as needed.
7. Finish with the heater and defroster.
Crank up the heater to ensure a blast of warm air is flowing through the vents. Set the system on defrost to confirm whether the windows are receiving enough air to be cleared. If the front defroster isn’t working there could be any number of problems present, including a stuck button, a blocked fresh air intake or vent, insufficient anti-freeze, a faulty thermostat or a defective heater core. Check the cabin air filter as well to make sure it is not clogged. Separately, check the rear defroster — if it isn’t working, then the grid or tabs may have broken or a fuse may need replacement.
Get Ready for Winter
Once you complete these seven transitional car care tasks, you have one final matter to handle: the condition of your car’s emergency kit. Verify that everything is present, including jumper cables, flares, tools and replenish individual items as needed. Check the expiration dates on every item and replace as necessary. Now is also a great time to add to your emergency kit if you found yourself in need of anything over the last year.
Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPAOnline or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on transitional car care, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.