In most cases, the proper antifreeze-to-water ration is 50:50. You can check the antifreeze mix in your radiator using and antifreeze tester. These are simple to use and are available at auto centers. When adding or replacing antifreeze, read and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Some types are not compatible with one another.
Engine oil comes in various grades, and the numbers associated with the grades (10W-40, 10W-30, etc.) indicate how thick or thin the oil is. Since colder temperatures will cause motor oil to "thicken," it may become more difficult for the oil to circulate properly through your engine. A thinner oil may be in order when temperatures begin to dip. Check your car's owner's manual. It should list the recommended grades of motor-oil for various climates and temperature ranges.
Winter is a time when vision safety is especially likely to be compromised. Wipers tend to be less effective in cold weather, and snow, ice and road-salt are all things that can impede your visibility through the windshield. Be sure that you're not caught on the road without wiper fluid. If you live in an area with a lot of snow and ice, you might consider special winter wiper-blades that are less prone to becoming clogged with snow and ice.
Cold temperatures have an impact on the elasticity of the rubber or other compounds used in belts and hoses. Check the condition of yours before winter sets in. Check the overall condition of belts and hoses, look for cracks and splits and be sure that all hose clamps are secure. A long winter's night is no time to be stranded on a roadside with a broken belt or burst heater hose.
Because cold weather can have a significant impact on your auto-battery's power and how quickly it can be drained, "dead batteries" tend to be more of a winter phenomenon. Have your battery checked by a professional to be sure that it has adequate charge, and inspect your battery terminals to be certain they are free of corrosion. While you're at it, you might have your spark plugs, ignition wires and distributor cap checked -- other precautions to avoid the frustration of a car that won't start.
Reduced traction is one of the biggest factors in winter driving. Making certain that you have good tread and that your tires are properly inflated is always important, but becomes even more so in the winter when slippery road conditions are likely. Remember that, as temperature drops, the pressure inside your tires may drop as well. Check your tire pressure frequently, and especially before you begin a long trip during cold weather. For serious winter driving in snow and ice, consider using snow tires or tire-chains.
It's a good idea any time you take a trip, but it's especially important in winter. Suggested items include a flashlight, extra batteries, a change of warm clothes, ice scraper, bag of sand or cat litter, flares or flashing hazard-lights, first-aid kit and jumper cables or a portable battery charger. Other items you should have in your vehicle any time you take a trip: cell phone and road atlas.
Need we elaborate? Don't wait until it's below freezing to find out that your heater isn't working properly. Check it out in advance. And remember that the heater is for more than just comfort. It's also critical for defogging and de-icing functions. If your car has a rear-window defogger, make certain that it is functioning as well.
Locking yourself out of your car is never fun, and is usually embarrassing, but is especially problematic if the temperatures are dropping and freezing rain is beginning to fall. Carrying an extra key in your wallet or billfold may spare you some serious inconvenience.
To get an accurate reading, check pressure when tires are cold, meaning they haven't been driven on for at least three hours. It's a good idea to keep a tire pressure gauge on hand in your vehicle for this purpose. You can find the correct pressure for your tires listed on a label inside the driver's doorframe or in the vehicle's owner's manual the correct pressure is not the number listed on the tire itself. Also, take five minutes to inspect your tires for signs of excessive or irregular wear. If the tread is worn down to 1/16 of an inch, it's time to replace your tires. If you find irregular tread wear patterns, it means your tires need rotation and/or your wheels need to be realigned before you leave.
Look under the hood and check all belts and hoses to make sure they are in good shape with no signs of blisters, cracks or cuts in the rubber. High summer temperatures accelerate the rate at which rubber belts and hoses degrade, so it's best to replace them now if they show signs of obvious wear. While you're at it, check all hose connections to make sure they're secure.
After winter storms and spring rains, it's likely that your windshield wipers are ragged from use and ready to be replaced. Moreover, like rubber belts and hoses, wiper blades are susceptible to the summer heat. Examine your blades for signs of wear and tear. If they aren't in tip-top condition, invest in new ones before you go.
Carefully check your coolant level to make sure it's adequate. In addition, if it's time to have your cooling system flushed and refilled (or even nearly time), have it done now. On a long road trip, you'll want your cooling system functioning at peak performance to avoid the possibility of your engine overheating.
Obviously, you'll want to check your vehicle's oil level. And as with coolant, if it's time or even nearly time to have the oil changed, now would be a good time to do it. In addition, check the following fluid levels: brake, automatic transmission, power steering, windshield washer and coolant. Make sure each reservoir is full and if you see any sign of fluid leakage, take your vehicle in to be serviced.
See and be seen! Ensure all the lights on your vehicle are in working order. Check your headlights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers and interior lights. Towing a trailer? Be sure to check your trailer lights, too. Failure of trailer light connections is a common problem and a serious safety hazard.
Before hitting the road, make sure that your air conditioning system is functioning properly. Lack of air conditioning on a hot day can adversely affect people who are in poor health or are sensitive to heat. If the air is not blowing cold, it's a good idea to have the system repaired before you go, especially since emergency, on-the-road repairs can be more costly than those you plan in advance.