11/12/2010 11:41 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Getting Cars and Trucks Ready for Winter

As cars and trucks have gotten to the advanced stage they are in today, the idea of "winterizing" your bad ride has taken on new meaning. These days, for instance, getting ready for the new and potentially harsh season involves the driver and his or her driving skills as much as it does readying the car and its systems.

Here are some ways to help guarantee your driving safety this winter. As I write this, sitting in Southern California on November 11, with the temperature arund 75 degrees earlier today, let it be known we have the utmost sympathy for those of you around the country and world who really need these tips!


First, and perhaps the changes in cars and trucks that best illustrates how different winterizing is from the days of your father's Oldsmobile (your father's what?), is the concept of a "tune-up."

In cruising the Web while doing a bit of research for this post, several reputable sites featured "Get a tune-up" when offering their opinion on winterizing your car or truck, but there's really no such thing as a traditional tune-up anymore. Other than checking the spark plugs and spark plug wires, there's not a lot for the owner (or technician) to do when readying for a new season of driving in the form of a tune-up.

In fact, most cars and trucks built since the mid-1990s perform their own tune-ups hundreds or even thousands of times a minute. But those spark plugs and plug wires do deserve an inspection and replacement if warranted. So do it.

Second, check all the vehicle belts, hoses and fluids. Remember that belts and hoses in particular are hard to check, mostly because rubber rots from the inside out and if a belt or hose is getting ready to blow, it's hard to tell from the part's appearance. But you definitely don't want a fan belt tearing off on the coldest day of the year, so just figure it's a great idea to replace belts and hoses about every 60,000 miles, regardless of how they appear.

Problems with fluids (from washer fluid, which should be mixed with 1/3 anti-freeze for the winter months, to checking the power steering and brake fluid and other sundry liquids) can put you on the side of the road as sure as a busted belt or hose. Note which fluids need topping-off or replacing and make CERTAIN you replace or add to them with the vehicle-maker's recommended liquids. This is not an area in which to get creative.

Go through the HVAC system (heating, vent and air conditioning), turning all the system components on and off and checking that the properly heated air is coming out of the right vents at the right levels. You will probably want some help from a technician in making repairs to the system, and this is one of those cases where it's worth it to shell out the dough to get everything working right before the first blizzard of the season hits.

Also make sure the electric heaters embedded in the windshield or rear glass (aka "backlite") are working properly.

Five obvious items on the winterizing checklist which you may forget about are: four tires and a spare. Whether you use snow tires or not during the cold months of the year, having a good, discernible and useful tread on the tires you do use is crucial this time of the year.

Same goes for your windshield wipers. They're generally inexpensive enough that merely checking them is worth your time and trouble, but replacing them is safer and more cost-effective. Not a place to skimp.

Air and water leaking into your ride? Keep the inside high and dry. Now's a good time to replace any old and rotted rubber molding allowing that bad stuff into the car. An upholstery shop can help you get the right molding and slip it into position for minimum cost, time and trouble. And what a pleasant difference your efforts can make!

Run through the electrical system as much as you're able, but critical to a safe winter of motoring is a battery that's in tip-top shape. Again, here's an area when skimping makes no sense at all.

And learn how to drive what for you may be some of the new-fangled items on cars and trucks, especially Anti-Lock Brake Systems and All-Wheel Drive. Now is the time to learn how these systems feel in the real world, not after the first three inches of snow are on the ground!

Have a good winter and most of all, a safe one!