This is many people’s first thought when it comes to winter car care. "Flush and fill" promotional signs abound at service stations as the weather cools.
But chances are good your engine coolant (a better name for it) is just fine for the winter ahead. If you’ve followed your car’s service schedule regularly, give this pitch a pass. Most newer cars have been fitted with coolants that can last as long as five years or 150,000 miles. Read your owner's manual.
If you’ve missed a service interval or have another reason to doubt your coolant, go ahead and have it "flushed and filled." Just make sure your mechanic uses a compatible coolant to refill your car. Some coolants, such as Prestone's Extended Life, work for any car.
If your car has moved to a much colder climate and you’re concerned that your coolant might not be up to the deep freeze, you can check its effectiveness with a simple, under-$10 tester from the car-parts store.
Check Your Tire Pressure
Here are two good reasons to get down there with the gauge and unscrew the valve caps as the weather cools:
1) Tires lose a pound of pressure for every drop of 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
2) An underinflated tire won't "bite" through snow down to the pavement as well as one at pressure. It's similar to hydroplaning on water — and just as dangerous.
Don’t forget to put the valve caps back on when you're done. Letting in moisture, which then freezes, could let the valve core leak out air.
Survival Kit (of Some Sort)
Everyone should have a space blanket in the car, tucked in the glove compartment or some other storage space in reach of the driver.
The most complete survival kit in the world won’t do a bit of good if you're upside down in a car you can’t get out of and the kit’s in the trunk.
The shiny space blanket's ability to keep you warm could be a lifesaver — and it takes up virtually no space and costs less than $10.
Next things we’d add:
• Plastic bag for gathering snow for water
• Plumber's candle & lighter
• Single-edged razor blade (cut up your upholstery for insulation)
• Empty metal soup can (for melting snow with the candle)
You can — and perhaps should — keep going (some people suggest packing a wordy novel). The more rural and remote your roads, the more you’ll want.
Wax the Lights
Okay, we admit it's a little detail, but in winter’s gloom and short days, every last lumen you can squeeze out of your headlamps is going to improve your safety.
Here's an easy two-minute drill: Make sure the headlamps are clean of dirt, rub car wax (any type will do) on the lamps, let it dry and buff it off. And then apply a second coat. For bonus points, do the taillights.
The slippery surface you leave behind will be less likely to build up an "icicle" coat when road slush refreezes on your car — and will make it easier to remove it if it does.