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Winter Car Care Checklist

Did you know that inspecting your car or truck before and during the cold weather season and prior to taking long road trips can improve the life of your vehicle?

American Auto Shield recommends motorists use this simple checklist to determine their vehicle’s fall and winter maintenance needs. Many of the items on the list can be inspected by a car owner in less than an hour, while others should be performed by a certified technician.

Fall and Winter Car Maintenance To-Dos

Clean your car and undercarriage

Road salt can damage your vehicle by eating away at its undercarriage. Wash your car and clean off road salt and grime regularly. Be sure to wax your car at the beginning and end of the warm season. These steps can keep your ride looking sweet.

Clean out the junk in your trunk

Carrying too much extra baggage in your trunk increases the weight of your vehicle and lowers your gas mileage. Taking some time to clean out your trunk now could save you gas money later.

Battery and Charging System

Have the battery and charging system tested by a trained technician. A fully charged battery in good condition is required to start an engine in cold weather. Ask your technician to make sure the battery cover is in place and the battery is properly anchored. Also ask them to clean it of any corrosion, especially the electrical posts. This maintenance will keep your battery operating longer.

Battery Cables and Terminals

Make sure the cable ends and battery terminals are free from corrosion and the connections are tight.

Drive Belts and Engine Hoses

A belt or hose failure can cause an overheated engine, loss of power steering, and loss of the electrical charging system. Inspect the underside of accessory drive belts for cracks or fraying. Many newer multi-rib “serpentine” belts are made of materials that do not show obvious signs of wear; replace these belts at 60,000-mile intervals. Inspect cooling system hoses for leaks, cracks or loose clamps. Also, squeeze the hoses and replace any that are brittle or have an excessively spongy feeling.

Tire Type and Tread

In areas with heavy winter weather, installing snow tires on all four wheels will provide the best winter traction. All-season tires work well in light-to-moderate snow conditions provided they have adequate tread depth. Replace any tire that has less than 3/32-inches of tread. Uneven tire wear can indicate alignment, wheel balance, or suspension problems that should also be addressed to prevent further tire damage.

Tire Pressure

Check the pressure on each of your tires on a regular basis, especially when it’s cold out. Under inflated tires can decrease your gas mileage and will wear faster. When tires are worn they decrease road traction and the car’s ability to handle on the road, making it unsafe. Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual for specific recommendations for tire pressure.

Air Filter

Often overlooked, filters play a huge role in your car’s overall performance. The air filter ensures that dust and dirt from the air doesn’t contaminate your engine. If the filter is clogged or dirty it can cause loss of power to the engine and can lower your gas mileage by as much as 10%. You should check your air filter regularly to ensure it’s not clogged or dirty and change it approximately every six months (more often if you live in a dusty region). Check the engine air filter by holding it up to a 60-watt light bulb. If light can be seen through much of the filter, it is still clean enough to work effectively. However, if light is blocked by most of the filter, replace it.

Coolant Levels

Check the coolant level in the overflow tank when the engine is cold. If the level is low, add a 50/50 solution of coolant and water to maintain the necessary antifreeze capability. Test the antifreeze protection level annually.


Check the operation of all headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers and back-up lights. Replace any burnt out bulbs.

Wiper Blades

Replace your windshield wipers. Windshield wipers are the most overlooked and underestimated items on an automobile. Have you ever been caught in a rain or snowstorm with bad wipers…maybe on the highway or a winding road? If you have, you probably know why it’s important to replace your wiper blades on a regular basis. You can’t drive if you can’t see, and anything that impedes vision impedes safety. In regions where snow is common, consider installing winter wiper blades that wrap the blade frame in a rubber boot to reduce ice and snow buildup that can prevent good contact between the blade and the glass.

Washer Fluid

Speaking of not being able to see, fill the windshield washer fluid reservoir with a winter cleaning solution that has antifreeze components to prevent it from freezing.


If there is any indication of a brake problem, have the system inspected by a certified technician to ensure all components are in good working order.

Transmission, Brake, and Power Steering Fluids

Check all fluids to ensure they are at or above the minimum safe levels.

Emergency Road Kit

Carry an emergency kit equipped for winter weather. The kit should include:

  • Mobile phone pre-programmed with rescue apps and important phone numbers
  • Mobile phone car charger
  • Drinking water
  • First-aid kit
  • Non-perishable snacks
  • Bag of abrasive material (sand, salt, cat litter) or traction mats
  • Ice scraper with brush
  • Window washer solvent
  • Snow shovel
  • Blankets
  • Warm clothing (gloves, hats, scarves)
  • Cloth or roll of paper towels
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries (for flashlights, etc.)
  • Jumper cables
  • Basic toolkit (screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench)
  • Warning devices (flares or triangles)

Remember, each auto manufacturer recommends unique service intervals for their vehicles. See your vehicle’s owner’s manual for specific maintenance and service recommendations.