Fall presents ideal time for car service and maintenance

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As the holidays approach, motorists should make certain their vehicle is up to the rigors of winter travel. Autumn has traditionally been a busy time for carcare activities. Whether you do your own maintenance or depend on the pros, fall service let's you undo the wear and tear of summer's tough conditions while getting ready for colder weather ahead.

The following tips from the experts at the nonprofit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) should give you a road map to fall car care. According to officials at ASE, "Cold weather will only make existing problems worse. A breakdown, while never pleasant, can be deadly in the winter."

First things first

Read your owner's manual and follow the manufacturer's recommended service schedules.

Engine Performance

Get engine driveability problems (hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc.) corrected at a good repair shop. Cold weather makes existing problems worse. Replace dirty filters air, fuel, PCV, etc.

Fuel

Put a bottle of fuel deicer in your tank once a month to help keep moisture from freezing in the fuel line. Note, too, that a gas tank that's kept filled helps prevent moisture from forming.

Oil

Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your manual more often (every 3,000 miles or so) if your driving is mostly stop-and-go or consists of frequent short trips.

Cooling System

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.) DIYers, never remove the radiator cap until the engine has thoroughly cooled! The tightness and condition of drive belts, clamps, and hoses should be checked by a pro.

Heater/Defroster

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

Windshield Wipers

Replace old blades. If your climate is harsh, purchase rubberclad (winter) blades to fight ice buildup. Stock up on windshield washer solvent you'll be surprised how much you use. Carry an ice-scraper.

Battery

The only accurate way to detect a weak battery is with professional equipment. Routine care:  Scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections; clean all surfaces; retighten all connections. If battery caps are removable, check fluid level monthly.

A word of caution:

Removal of cables can cause damage or loss of data/codes on some newer vehicles. Check your manual. Be sure to avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid. Wear eye protection and rubber gloves.

Lights

Inspect all lights and bulbs; replace burned out bulbs; periodically clean road grime from all lenses. To prevent scratching, never use a dry rag.

Exhaust System

Your vehicle should be placed on a lift and the exhaust system examined for leaks. The trunk and floorboards should be inspected for small holes. Exhaust fumes can be deadly.

Tires

Worn tires will be of little use in winter weather. Examine tires for remaining tread life, uneven wearing, and cupping; check the sidewalls for cuts and nicks. Check tire pressure once a month. Let the tires "cool down" before checking the pressure. Rotate as recommended. Don't forget your spare, and be sure the jack is in good condition.

Emergencies

Carry gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel, sand or kitty litter, tire chains, a flashlight, and a cell phone. Put a few "high-energy" snacks in your glove box.

For ASE’s Glove Box Tips, click here.

The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) was founded in 1972 as a nonprofit, independent organization dedicated to improving the quality of automotive service and repair through the voluntary testing and certification of automotive technicians. ASE-certified technicians wear blue and white ASE shoulder insignia and carry credentials listing their exact area(s) of certification. Their employers often display the blue and white ASE sign.