Preparing Vehicles for Winter—it’s more than checking the antifreeze

As part of AAA Car Care Month, the motor club reminds motorists to attend to frequently overlooked maintenance items when preparing their vehicles for winter weather

(Orlando, Fla. – 10/20/2009) When there is a chill in the air, it’s time for motorists to prepare their vehicles for the upcoming cold-weather season, AAA says. There are key components that frequently come to mind when thinking of winter car care such as antifreeze and the vehicle’s battery. But there are other components that are susceptible to wear or failure when the temperature drops that are too frequently overlooked.

“Properly preparing your vehicle for upcoming winter weather is essential for safe driving and will greatly decrease the chances of your vehicle leaving you stranded in the cold,” said John Nielsen, director of AAA Approved Auto Repair and Auto Buying Services.

As motorists prepare their vehicles for winter weather, AAA offers the following list of frequently forgotten maintenance items that should be addressed:

Antifreeze Protection

Antifreeze protection is the first item that comes to mind when most people think of winter vehicle maintenance. A 50/50 solution of engine coolant and water will provide the necessary antifreeze capability.

Don’t Forget—Check hoses: The coolant solution will only work if it stays in the system, which means the hoses and clamps that carry the mixture have to be in good working order. Visually inspect the cooling system hoses for leaks, cracks or loose clamps. Also, feel the hoses to check for any that are brittle or excessively soft and spongy feeling. If you find any problems, have them addressed immediately.

Don’t Forget—Flush cooling system: While engine coolant never loses its antifreeze capability, the additives that lubricate the water pump and protect internal engine components from rust and corrosion become depleted over time. Motorists should have the cooling system flushed and new coolant installed when recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Depending on the type of coolant used, this is typically necessary every two to five years.

Electrical System

Most drivers know the efficiency of a vehicle battery decreases in colder temperatures. If the battery is already weak, it will likely become ineffective when the mercury drops, leaving them stranded. Heading into cold weather, have the vehicle battery’s condition tested—especially if the battery is older than three years. AAA Mobile Battery Service will test members’ auto batteries at no charge. If the battery has removable caps, make sure the cells are filled to the proper level with distilled water. Also, check that all cable connections are tight and make sure there is no corrosion on the terminals or clamps.

Don’t Forget—Alternator belt: While the battery provides a reserve source of electrical energy, the alternator provides electrical power once the engine is running and charges the battery. Make sure the alternator belt is properly adjusted. A loose belt is a common cause of a dead battery. While older vehicles require manual belt tightening, late models typically have automatic tensioners—but those can wear out or fail. When checking the belt tension, also inspect it for signs of wear such as cracks or missing segments on ribbed belts on the underside that signal the need for replacement.


Anyone who has made the mistake of using their windshield cleaner on a cold morning and found it was filled with water—that is frozen in the reservoir or freezes when contacting the windshield—knows the importance of checking the windshield fluid reservoir before the first freeze of the year and using a windshield cleaning solution with antifreeze components. When filling the washer reservoir, also check the operation of the pump and aim of the sprayers.

Don’t Forget—Winter wiper blades: Wiper blades should completely clear the glass with each swipe. If there are streaks or missed spots, it’s time to replace them. During the snow season, consider installing winter wiper blades. These special units wrap the blade in a rubber boot that prevents ice and snow buildup that can inhibit good contact between the rubber blade and glass.


Traction is key to safe winter driving and having the right type of tires on a vehicle is essential. In areas with heavy winter weather, using snow tires on all four wheels will provide the best winter traction. All-season tires will work well in light to moderate snow conditions, providing they have adequate tread depth. If any tire has less than 3/32-inches of tread, it should be replaced.

Don’t Forget—Tire pressure: While motorists should check the pressure in their tires at least once a month, they should increase the frequency during winter months. As the temperature starts to drop, so will the pressures in the tires—typically 1 PSI for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The proper tire pressure levels can be found on a sticker located on the driver’s side door jamb. And, do not forget to check the spare.


Any brake system problems that were noticeable in the summer will become worse in the winter when traction is reduced. Brakes that tend to grab or pull on a dry road are likely to lock on ice or snow-covered pavement, resulting in a loss of stopping power and/or steering control. Make sure brakes are in properly working order before winter weather arrives.

Don’t Forget—Brake fluid flush: Brake fluid absorbs water that collects at low points in the hydraulic system and causes rust, fluid leaks and, if not prevented, brake failure. On vehicles with antilock brakes, moisture in the brake fluid also can damage expensive electro-hydraulic control units. For this reason, most manufacturers recommend that the brake system be flushed and new fluid installed every two to three years. Check the owner’s manual for the recommended service interval.

While some do-it-yourselfers might check these items themselves, others can find guaranteed professional maintenance and repair service at a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility. AAA inspects and certifies more than 8,000 auto repair shops across North America as a free public service to all motorists. Shops can be identified by the AAA Approved Auto Repair sign or by searching online at

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 51 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at


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