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Don't wait for winter to winterize vehicle

| Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

So the oppressive heat has subsided. As the sun sets, temperatures fall and no doubt you'll throw on a jacket to stay warm. It's the first sign of cooler temperatures — and foul weather to come. You never know when you might need to drive somewhere that is experiencing an early dose of Old Man Winter. Remember, the Northeast got clobbered with a blizzard last October.

I know it's early. You're just getting used to wiping the dew off your car in the morning, not frost. But now is the time to make sure it's ready for the onslaught that may come.

Let's start with something few of us regularly check: tires.

If you haven't checked the air pressure in your tires since August, you should; they're probably under-inflated. A tire loses one pound of pressure for every 10-degree drop in ambient temperature.

Be sure to measure each tire, and the spare, when it's cold. Check at least three hours after they've been driven anywhere. The correct tire pressure for the car's tires is listed on the driver's side door jamb or on the glove box door. The tire pressure listed on the tire is its maximum pressure when hot. Do not use that number.

If you've recently purchased a new car or truck, it has tire pressure monitors to alert you to low tire pressure. That isn't true with older vehicles. So, while you're checking the tires, make sure they have adequate tread. Just place a penny into the tread's groove. Lincoln's head should face downward. If you can see the top of his head, it's time to replace your tires.

Battery efficiency also declines with the temperature. Cold weather slows a battery's chemical reaction, generating fewer electrons, reducing the electricity available to get it started.

The best guideline is this: If your vehicle's battery is three or four years old, it's most likely nearing the end of its useful life. Its abilities are sure to be tested as the mercury plummets. So, you might want to have it tested at your next oil change. Or, better yet, replace it.

Under the hood, have a mechanic examine your vehicle's belts and hoses for signs of wear. Also, have the engine's coolant checked. Consider having it replaced if your vehicle is several years old and the coolant never has been changed.

Replace your wiper blades if they're more than a year or two old.

Inspect headlights, tail lights, fog lights and turn signals to make sure they're functioning.

If you have an older car or truck, have the exhaust system checked for carbon monoxide leaks. This is the time of year when you'll drive with the windows shut.

In case of foul weather, flip the car mats so that snow and gravel soil the rubberized backing, not the carpet. Also, because you'll be spending a lot of time in your ride, clean the interior.

And you do have an emergency road kit in your trunk, right? If not, pre-assembled emergency and first-aid kits are available at auto parts stores.

If you have any questions about your vehicle's maintenance requirements, crack open the owner's manual.

These simple, low-cost routine tips can ensure trouble-free driving in the coming months.

Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va.; larry.printz@pilotonline.com.

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