As the weather is getting colder, it’s important to make sure your car is running properly. Here are a few simple maintenance checks recommended by Consumer Reports to help keep your vehicle in top condition.
Car Battery: Fall is a good time to inspect your car battery, making sure the cables and terminals are snug, and retighten as necessary for good contact. If your connections are dirty or showing a lot of corrosion, disconnect and clean them with a wire brush or cleaning tool. Be aware that when you disconnect the battery, you may have to re-enter a security code in your radio or navigation system. If you have a sealed, maintenance-free battery with no removable caps, there’s little else you need to do. If your battery has removable caps, check the water level periodically, and refill with distilled water as needed.
Headlights: As cars age, the headlights can become cloudy or hazy, especially on cars that are routinely parked outside. More than a cosmetic problem, clouded lenses can pose a serious threat to safety, compromising night vision and reducing the effectiveness of your headlights by up to 80 percent, based on our measurements. Fortunately, our tests show that for a modest cost, even junkyard-ready lens covers can be made clear again using a headlight restoration kit costing less than $22. By following the directions closely and using a bit of elbow grease, good results are possible. But as we found, the restoration lasts longer with some products.
Tires: Proper maintenance and responsible driving can maximize the mileage in a set of tires. Monthly tread inspections can inform when the tires warrant replacement. If you notice that your tires have less than 1/8-inch of tread left, then it’s time to go shopping. (The distance from a quarter’s rim to George Washington’s hairline is about 1/8 inch.) Most people buy all-season tires because it’s easier and cheaper than buying one set for the winter and another for summer. All-season car tires deliver good, well-rounded performance but are never outstanding in any way. By contrast, winter tires have outstanding snow traction but just fair braking ability on cleared roads.
Wash and Wax: Fall is a good time to clean up your car so that winter’s mess doesn’t land on top of the summer’s dead bugs, bird droppings, and tree sap. If you want to go further than soap and water, you can try car wax to keep your car’s finish looking new. Most waxes we tested showed a significant loss of protection within about five weeks. For that reason, we recommend waxing even new cars every two or three months. Think of it as a seasonal chore to protect and beautify your car.
Wipers: If your wipers are leaving streaks of water on your windshield, then it’s time to replace them—or clean them. Wipers degrade quickly and typically need to be changed every 6 to 12 months. Should performance deteriorate in less time, try cleaning the blade with a paper towel and glass cleaner. Often, that can renew the blades for a few more weeks or months of streak-free operation.