Winter arrived with a full-fledged bang this past weekend, leaving numerous drivers with their cars unprepared. If you live in an area affected by cold temperatures, snow and ice, then taking a few steps to prepare your car for winter now will help ensure you are not caught off guard when winter weather hits and you need to drive.
Inflate your tires. The air pressure in your car's tires drops when the temperatures take a nose dive -- about 1 pound of air pressure for every 10 degrees, in fact. Underinflated tires equal reduced fuel economy, but more importantly, they won't grip wet or snowy roads as well as properly inflated tires. This can lead to accidents, which can in turn raise your car insurance rates. The correct pressure for your tire is found in your owner's manual or on a sticker on the driver's side door jamb, not the tire sidewall. Don't forget to check your tire pressure once a month, since tires will lose air over time.
Check your battery. Cold temperatures put a strain on your battery and the charging system. If your car battery is on its last legs, it's likely you could find yourself unable to start your car sometime this winter. Schedule a quick visit to your local auto parts store or auto department of a big-box retailer and ask them to load-test your battery to see how well it's holding up. The test is quick and inexpensive (often free) and, if necessary, you can replace your battery at your convenience versus having to get a jump-start or a tow at an inopportune time.
Assess your antifreeze. Antifreeze, the neon-colored liquid you use in your radiator, is necessary to keep your engine cool, but you probably don't need a radiator flush and fill as winter prep for your car. If you've been following the recommendations in your owner's manual, then you probably don't need a flush, as the simple process of draining and refilling your radiator is enough. Do, however, check your coolant fluid level and, if it's low, add the correct mixture of antifreeze and water, per your manufacturer's recommendations.
Consider winter tires. If you think you don't need winter tires because you don't regularly drive in snow, think again. The rubber compounds in summer tires and so-called all-season tires harden when the temperatures drop. This results in less grip, which in turn can lead to car accidents. If you live in an area where temperatures are regularly below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, then you'll want to at least consider a set of winter tires. For more details, read Are you a candidate for winter tires?
Tara Baukus Mello writes the cars blog as well as the weekly Driving for Dollars column, providing both practical financial advice for consumers as well as insight into the latest developments in the automotive world. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.