Is your car ready for the cold? Make sure it is before the next snap arrives. Here are some tips to remember:
Antifreeze. Is your antifreeze up to it? In warmer climes, a central use for antifreeze is its anticorrosive properties, and it is easy for us to forget that it also keeps the fluid in the engine block from freezing, which could cause the block to crack. A proper mixture is half water, half antifreeze; if you have had to top off your radiator frequently, and you have been doing it with just water, you have been diluting the mixture. Any good auto parts store should have a gauge that will tell you, in seconds, how much protection your radiator fluid still has.
Batteries. Cold weather is tough on batteries. The top of the battery and the terminals should be clean and corrosion-free. I use WD-40 to clean the terminals and the battery.
Tires. Modern car tires, when your car is parked for a while, settle a bit on the bottom. In the cold weather, it's more pronounced. Start up and drive, and the tires may feel "lumpy" for a mile or so, as they warm up and return to their round shape. As long as the tires have the proper air pressure, it's nothing to worry about.
Quick flat fix. No one wants to change a tire on the side of the road in freezing temperatures. I carry a can of aerosol Fix-A-Flat — on a simple puncture, it works. At the very least, it could get you to a warmer, safer place to change the tire.
Other essentials. If you are traveling at night, don't forget an extra jacket, a flashlight and a pair of gloves in case something goes wrong. And make sure your cell phone battery is charged.
Windshield washer. Similarly, if you've been using water instead of window-washing fluid with antifreeze (never use radiator antifreeze in the windshield washer!), expect it to freeze up overnight.
Easily overlooked. That half-empty bottle of soda pop you left on the backseat could make quite a mess if it freezes and ruptures. Good time for a quick car-cleaning inside.
Oil. Finally, make sure your oil has been topped up. When you start the car in the cold, let it warm up for about 60 seconds — no longer is there a need for a lengthy, five-minute warmup — before you take off, and before you crank up the heat. That will allow for both the oil and the coolant to heat up a little.