"Getting all points checked by your mechanic is a good habit to get into each fall season," says Peter May of Lund International. "Basic car maintenance that vehicle owners can do themselves is also important for safety on the roads."
Have your mechanic tackle these winter-preparation tasks:
-Make sure oil, gas and air filters are in good condition.
-Replace or charge the battery. In the case of a sudden drop in temperature or lights being left on, a strong battery will still hold its charge. If your car isn't equipped with running lights, it's important to turn your headlights on whether it's dark or not. You want to see what's out there - and you want other drivers to see you.
-Check antifreeze levels and temperatures. Replace with fresh fluid if necessary. If you do this yourself, make sure to clean up spilled fluid to protect children or pets from poisoning.
-Check your tires' tread depth and air pressure. Consider all-season radials or even snow tires if the situation calls for them.
Once the mechanic's check is done, there are several steps you can take on your own to ensure you're set for winter:
-Check that all lights, heater and defrosters are working properly.
-Make sure your windshield fluid reservoir is filled with fluid that can handle freezing temperatures. Carry extra fluid with you in case of extra-slushy roads.
-Regularly wash and wax your car, making sure to get the undercarriage, where slush and salts can build up and cause rust.
-Vacuum and shampoo your interior carpet and upholstery regularly. Consider putting down extra floor mats to protect the car's original carpet from salt and grime.
-You never know when you'll need to pull over due to poor driving conditions. Prepare a safety kit to keep in the trunk during winter months. Include water (remove upon leaving your vehicle, so it doesn't freeze), healthy snacks, a warm blanket, heavy jacket, boots, hat, gloves, flares, jumper cables, a radio with fresh batteries - and a deck of cards. If you're stuck in your vehicle for a long time, run the engine only periodically. And crack the windows for fresh air to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.