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How to El Ñino-prep your car

Photo Illustration by Patty Hayton/The Telescoe
Photo Illustration by Patty Hayton/The Telescoe

The National Weather Service and local officials are warning residents that the coming changes in climate brought about by El Nino may increase in scale as winter approaches. Stormier weather, a possibility of more rain and slicker, dangerous road conditions could be ahead in the coming months.

Residents should prepare their vehicles for this potential weather before it hits. Even if you’re not going to be traveling over the winter, or plan to drive as little as possible, it’s best to prep your car when it’s still warm.

Battery and Charging System – Cold weather generally kills weak batteries. Your battery will have a CCA or Cold Cranking Amps rating on the sticker or imprinted on the cover. If your battery is already having trouble starting your car in the summer, a sudden drop in temperature might leave you stranded in the morning. Most major parts stores have a battery testing unit that they can bring out to your car to check your battery’s health.

Check Your Cooling System – Just like in a previous summer issue, it’s important to check your antifreeze/coolant and cooling system performance. If your car had a check engine light the previous winter that seemingly ‘fixed’ itself when the weather warmed up, you may have a failing thermostat. A failing or weak cooling system will keep your car from warming up quickly, might affect your gasoline performance, and would likely cause your failing thermostat to throw another check engine light once the weather cools down enough.

Oil Filter and Fuel Delivery – If you’re the kind of person that changes your own oil, it’s definitely not a fun job during a cold day. Change your oil while the days are still warm to ensure that your car cruises through our colder winters. Some cars suggest oil change intervals at upwards of 15,000 miles, so it’s important to make sure that you follow manufacturer’s guidelines for oil change schedules so you’re not forced to make a last second change before the fall.

Lights – Headlights dim over time. If you’re having trouble seeing the road, the longer nights might be a problem. the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that headlight bulbs be changed at regular yearly intervals, right around the fall when the nights get longer. Check and make sure your tail lights, turn signals, fog lights, and side markers are all in operating condition.

Related: Read how to prep your car for Summer

Tires – Colder weather, and general lack of maintenance, usually causes tires to deflate slowly over time. If you have a tire pressure monitoring system and it goes off in the early morning, that might mean that the cold weather is causing your tire to lose a little bit of pressure. Many gas stations offer free air and obtaining a pressure tester only costs a few dollars at a parts store. Tire tread should also be inspected for wear. Worn tires should be replaced going into this potentially wetter season.

Windshield Wipers – Modern vehicles can have three or more wipers, depending on the vehicle brand. Even the wipers for your headlights need to be replaced. Our very hot summers and sometimes wet winters can erode and dry the rubber strip on your wiper blade. If your wipers are streaking, get them replaced. Replacements can range from low quality wipers, to high end, long-life wipers. These can be purchased at your local parts store.

Brakes – Obviously, stopping is very important. If weather conditions suddenly change, you don’t want to be sliding across the road, not being able to control your vehicle or make sudden stops for cars trying to avoid water on the road. There are many mechanics that will examine your brakes or several guides on the Internet and Youtube that can show you how to do it yourself. Examine both your brakes and your rotor (the stopping surface) for excess wear and change your brakes as necessary.

The car you drive is your fortress on wheels, it’s easy to forget that it needs care and maintenance at times. It protects you from the weather, and protects you on your commute, so it’s important to make sure that your car will prepared to do so.

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