You’ve turned back your clock, changed out the batteries in your smoke alarms, what should you be doing with your car?
How about checking the tires? Taking a look at the tire pressures and making sure that they are what they should be is probably the first thing you should do. You know what your tire pressures should be, right? Well, if you forgot, go check the door jam sticker. Stick with the factory settings or if you like to experiment add a pound or two, just keep records of what you choose. The temperature has changed and you should be checking them at least once a month, but the changing of the clocks is a good reminder that its time to check them now.
Use a high quality gauge. Forget the pencil gauge. A dial gauge with a bronze Bordon tube is very accurate. There are electronic ones that are supposed to be within half a percent. A dial one will be just as accurate and you will never have to change the battery.
Speaking of batteries, this is a good time of year to take a look at the battery under your hood. As colder weather comes the battery will have to work harder. Now is the time the check the connections and make sure that they are free of corrosion. I would remove them (wearing safety glasses) and clean them up with a wire brush or a tool made for the job. Clean the battery with one of the many spray on products that will foam up and neutralize any acid. If you want to save some money get some baking soda and mix it with a little water and brush it on. That will also neutralize any acid. Wipe the battery with paper towels and toss them in the trash barrel. Battery acid is nothing to fool around with. If your battery is not of the sealed variety then carefully remove the caps (wearing safety glasses) and check the level of the “water”. The plates should be completely covered with liquid. There is an indicator in each hole which shows what the level of fluid should be. ONLY use DISTILLED water to fill a low cell. IF the “water” has gotten low enough for plates to uncovered you need to take your battery to a parts store and have it tested. If the battery is close to four years or older it would be good to have it checked anyway. By the way, it isn’t just water in the battery, there is acid mixed in. You must be respectful of it. When working around a car battery be sure not to have an open flame. If you can’t see well, use a flashlight, NEVER a match. The battery creates two gasses, oxygen and hydrogen. Batteries can explode, in a very dramatic way.
While you are in that engine compartment you should look around and see and feel for things. Things like the drive belts. They may be V-belts or serpentine. V-belts can be checked for tension. If they are cracked or slipping and at least three years old you should consider changing them out for new ones.
Check the hoses going to the radiator. When the car is warm or cold, give them a squeeze. They rot from the inside out and will sometimes feel squishy when you squeeze them. If they are five years old then you might as well change them in any case. Why would you want to wait for the hoses to burst on their own? In my Turbo Eclipse I had 14 hoses to replace that carried antifreeze. It was a pain, but I was never stranded with a blown hose. I’ve been on a race track when the car in front of me had a small hose go and dump a lot of antifreeze on the track. That stuff is very slippery and caused more than one car to spin out.
You change out your anti-freeze at least every two years, right? Some of the new formulations, notably used by GM, put extended-use anti freeze fluid in their cars now so be sure to check. I think it is important to change out the fluid because it not only refreshes the coolant, but there are important lubricants that will extend your water pumps life if you change to new fluid. You can do it yourself if you dispose of the old antifreeze carefully, or you can go to a service stations and they can back flush the system getting out sludge that like to stay in the engine. While you are in there you might want to replace the thermostat. If it is three to four years old it is a good time to put a new one in. The thermostat makes sure that the coolant is up to proper temperture before it allows it to flow through the radiator. If it is ever stuck closed you will have cooling problems. If it is stuck open it will affect your fuel economy.
It is probably a good time to clean you car by washing and waxing it. Start by using a good quality automotive shampoo made for washing cars. Don’t use dish washing detergent! Wash it in the shade and rinse thoroughly. Start at the top of the car and work down. Use a bucket that can hold three gallons or dump it out about half way and put in a fresh mix of car wash. Use one of the “wooly mits” to wash with and keep it rinsed in the wash bucket often, this keeps the dirt in suspension instead of scratching the finish of your car. Then use a chamois or cotton towels to dry it. If its been a while take the time to clay bar the paint. It would take off contaminants that the soap will not and leave you with a silky smooth car finish. Then protect it all with a nice quality carnuba wax. Make sure that it doen’t have any cleaners mixed in. Just use pure wax. Buff it off with nice clean cotton towels. If you ever wonder if a towel is all cotton you can test it with a match. Hold a burning match to the loops and they should char, not melt.
Those are the basics and this is the right time of year to do them.