By Luigi Fraschini
While a stall in the summer might leave you irritated and sweltering in the heat, it's much less likely to be life-threatening than a stall in midwinter. With temperatures dipping below freezing, the threat of hypothermia increases markedly, so keeping your car running is vitally important. And it's not as difficult as it might sound: It simply requires a maintenance check. Here's what to check before you set out in winter weather:
1) Battery and Electrical System
Nothing will stall you quicker than a dead battery. Cold weather is a severe test for any battery, so get your battery and charging system checked by a professional. Today's best batteries require little or no maintenance, but they don't last forever, so a preventive checkup is your best insurance.
2) Belts and Hoses
The failure of a $10 hose can easily drain all the coolant from your engine, which means you're dead in the water … or more precisely, the slush. Five minutes of belt and hose inspection can help you avoid this. Look at belts for splits and frayed edges, which are signs of potential failure. If hoses feel spongy, they might well be nearing the end of their useful lives.
3) Fuel, Oil and Fluids
Winter is a bad time to run on "E." Having fuel in your tank not only means you're more likely to get where you're going, but it also means you will have heat if you get stuck in a snowbank. Oil is the lifeblood of an engine, so using a premium-quality oil of the correct grade is critical to starting your car and keeping it running. While a coolant might seem like the last thing your car needs in the winter, coolant is critical to avoiding catastrophic engine meltdown. If your coolant has been in your car's cooling system for more than 24 months, you're due for a flush and fill.
4) Windshield and Wipers
Very often your visibility is impaired during the winter, and that can lead to accidents. Before you leave, take the time to thoroughly scrape the ice from your windshield, check that your windshield defroster is doing its job, and be sure your windshield washer fluid reservoir is topped off with fluid and your wipers are in good shape. Being seen is important too, so make certain your headlights and taillights are wiped clean. Don't hesitate to turn on your headlights in the daytime if you think it might help other motorists see you.
Finally, when on the road, avoid distractions. There is a lot going on during the holiday season, and people are rushing to get it all done. Don't be so intent on what you have to do that you forget your first obligation when you are behind the wheel: driving safely.