(BPT) - Winter has a tendency to sneak up on all of us. But where you can simply dig the winter coat out of the closet when the first cold snap rolls through, preparing your car for winter takes a little more foresight.
Luckily, getting your car ready for the winter is not an intensive process and you'll save yourself a lot of stress by taking a little time to prepare. By checking off these seven items as you set up for cold-weather driving, you'll help ensure there aren't any surprises when the temperatures drop.
* Check fluids. Most importantly check your coolant to make sure you have enough, as you'll be left without heat if you don't. Consult your owner's manual to find the correct blend if you need to add more. It's never a bad idea to keep extra coolant in your trunk in case of emergency. While you're at it, check to make sure your brake fluid, oil and transmission fluid are also at the proper levels.
* Wash and wax your car at a professional car wash. It may seem counterintuitive to get your car nice and shiny for what's often the sloppiest season, but a thorough wash can remove harmful compounds that may cause damage when mixed with sand and road salt. Experts from the International Carwash Association also recommend a coat of wax for an extra layer of protection from the elements. Professional car washes can also save up to 20 percent of the amount of water you'd use by washing your car at home. They do this by treating and reusing their water, rather than releasing toxic chemicals and grime into the storm drains, which can often occur with pavement washing.
* Check your tires. Checking to make sure your tires aren't worn and are properly inflated is especially important before winter sets in. Cold air can cause your tires to lose pressure, so be sure to check again once the temperature drops - the recommended tire pressure for your vehicle can be found on the inside of your driver's side door. Cracking, presence of wear bars and shallow treads are all indicators that you may need to replace your tires.
* Check your wipers. When sloppy weather hits, you'll want to make sure you have a reservoir full of wiper fluid. Checking your wiper blades for wear and replacing them if needed can prevent huge visibility headaches once snow and sleet arrive.
* Test your battery. The next time you have the car in for an oil change, ask the mechanic to test your battery to make sure it can provide enough starting power once the temperature plummets.
* Brakes. While you have your car in, ask for a brake inspection as well, as you'll need them to be in good working order when driving on slick roads.
* Winter emergency kit. In addition to stocking your car with a scraper and brush, it's a good idea to include a few provisions in case you get stranded in snowy and cold conditions. Pack extra blankets, hats and gloves, high-energy snacks like granola bars, drinking water and a first-aid kit. Keeping a collapsible shovel in your trunk is also a good idea in case you get stuck.
Whether it's snow, ice, fog or freezing rain, winter driving certainly presents its challenges. But by making a few simple preparations before winter hits, you'll ensure that your car is ready to handle the challenges winter throws your way. And by making winter maintenance an annual ritual, you'll not only help keep you and your family safe, but also prolong the life of your car by preparing it to stand up to the elements.