Now is the time to prepare your vehicle for winter

Published: Oct. 23, 2012 at 1:41 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA (WIS) – While gas prices have dropped, the national average is still nearly thirty cents higher for a regular gallon of gasoline than this time last year. However, a little check-up and a few car care tips may save you at the pump and from an unexpected trip to the mechanic.

October is National Car Care Month, and auto experts say it's best to do a check of your vehicle now before the winter months arrive.

Some of the biggest tips are good reminders. David Buck with AAA in Columbia says for starters the right mixture and amount of coolant is key. Coolant regulates your engine temperature, and Buck says the mix should be 60 percent anti-freeze and 40 percent water.

Having the right oil for the colder months is also important. Buck says if you see a bottle of oil that says 5W20, the W stands for winter. The lower the number is on the bottle (5W) the more it is designed for lower temperatures. The higher the number (10W), the more the oil is designed for more mild temperatures. "Cold weather thickens oil, so you want to have the proper weight of oil in there because you want your oil thin for cold weather," said Buck. "Your owner's manual should tell you which weight of oil to have."

Buck says you should also check your windshield wipers well before the icy winter weather arrives. If your wipers are dried out and have cracks, it means they are ready to be replaced.

Auto experts say some checks should be happening on a more regular basis. If it's been more than a week since you've checked the air pressure in your tires, AAA officials say it's been two long. "Your tires actually carry the car, and of course, if the tire pressure is low, your tires are not making the correct contact with the road surface, so that will cause you to use more gas," said Buck. He adds low tire pressure can also leave you more susceptible to a flat tire or tire blowout.

Buck says even newer tires need a weekly check, especially with colder temperatures on the way. "Your tire air pressure will decrease," said Buck. "You want to have proper tire pressure because that helps your gas mileage." Buck says with every 10 degree drop in temperature, you can lose 2 pounds of pressure in a tire.

AAA officials say you can achieve a 10 percent boost in gas savings simply by operating at the proper air pressure, you can also save by simply emptying your trunk. "You do want to have an emergency kit in your trunk, flashlight, jumper cables, but as far as heavy weight in your trunk, you don't need to have all that back there because that extra weight will use more gas mileage," said Buck.

Experts say now's also the time to check your battery and its charge, and that includes looking for corrosion and cracks. "Because cold weather will affect how your battery operates," said Buck.

In some instances, if you use car chargers or connectors, you may be using more of your battery than you realize. "A lot of times you're still draining your battery with these connectors in your chargers, [sometimes] even when the vehicles turned off and the keys are out of the ignition," said Buck.

Buck says a brake check-up is also important before we experience wintry like road conditions. In the meantime, the WIS First Alert Weather Team is keeping an eye on when the first freeze will hit the Midlands. "I've just checked the latest info and it's easily going to be November it looks like," said Meteorologist Ben Tanner. "The time is now to go ahead and get ready for the winter months."

Tanner says the weather outlook through the next two weeks does not appear to have temperatures hitting the freezing mark, but some lows will be in the 40s.

In honor of National Car Care Month, Suddeth Automotive on North Millwood Avenue in Columbia is performing free car care inspections. They will last through the end of October, and they say drop-ins are welcome. For more information, call (803) 256-2110.