By Luigi Fraschini

Cold, wet rain beats down on your head as you stand on the shoulder of the road. Your car is stalled, with no help in sight. It’s not a pretty picture, but it is something thousands will experience firsthand this fall because they didn’t properly prepare their vehicles for the season. Your car may have handled the heat like a pro, but how will it do in the cold?

Consider your car like a collection of several complex systems, all of which need to be maintained properly to ensure that you never end up on that shoulder in the rain. It’s a good idea to identify which systems can leave you stranded and make certain you’ve addressed their needs. Here are the four systems you need to check to get your car ready for fall:

Battery and electrical system

If your car doesn’t have juice, it won’t start … and it won’t run. It’s as simple as that. Batteries now live longer and require little to no maintenance, so it’s easy to forget them. But if your battery is more than two years old, you should have it checked by a competent technician. If it needs replacement, now is the time to do it, rather than when the tow truck comes to visit you in the grocery store parking lot as your frozen foods melt.

While you’re at it, make sure your alternator and the other parts of the charging system are working right and that your serpentine belt is not worn to a frazzle.

Tires and wheels

Proper tire inflation pressure and ample tread are two key factors in avoiding a tire failure that can propel you off-road. Regularly checking your treads is the key to preventing excessively worn-out tires. Make sure to rotate your tires every 5,000 miles to avoid having one tire wear more than the others.

The right tire pressure isn’t just good for the tire’s life; it also improves your car’s gas mileage. Checking the pressure in each tire is even more important when the temperature drops, because tires lose pressure each month. Monthly tire checks ensure that your tires are filled to their recommended PSI rating (which can be found on the driver's side door panel and in the owner's manual).

Cooling system

Frequently check your car’s cooling system (radiator and associated hoses and clamps) for leaks and low coolant level. Overheating your engine will require you to pull over -- or worse, sustain very expensive engine damage. The cooling system should be flushed and refilled as recommended in the owner’s manual. Just remember to never remove the radiator cap until the engine has thoroughly cooled.

Engine oil

An engine without oil is like a body without blood. Making certain you have a high-quality oil in your engine is critical to ensuring that expensive, highly stressed engine parts get the lubrication they need.

These days, many drivers are making the switch to synthetic oils like Mobil 1 because they offer better performance at a wide range of temperatures. This is especially true for those few split seconds of engine cranking on cold fall mornings. Help prevent engine wear by changing your oil and oil filter as specified in your owner’s manual.



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