Check your car out now: Don’t get belted, hosed this winter

Although Dec. 22 is the official start of winter, that doesn’t mean you should wait until then to prepare your car for those unpredictable, cold days ahead.

Since October is Car Care Month, AAA Southern New England reminds motorists that cars, like humans, need seasonal checkups, to maintain safety, maximize operational efficiency, and prevent unexpected future repair costs.

To generate greater awareness for car care, AAA is offering members free battery checks at several New Haven and Fairfield County branches this month. Battery checks will be offered from 9 to noon:

• Saturday, Oct. 19 at AAA Danbury, 47 Lake Avenue, Danbury; and

• Saturday, Oct. 26, AAA Hamden, 2276 Whitney Avenue, Hamden.

At the checks, AAA technicians will test batteries and if necessary provide a boost. Members may buy a new AAA battery with technicians ready to perform on-site installations.

To ensure passenger safety and decrease your chances of a vehicle breakdown, it’s essential that you properly prepare your vehicle for winter driving. Learning how to handle common maintenance issues benefits anyone, who gets behind the wheel since proper maintenance can also extend the life of your vehicle and prevent costly repairs.

As a result, AAA recommends four simple car care practices that every motorist can perform regularly:

Ensure your car battery is properly charged

Extreme temperatures break down car batteries internally and can accelerate the rate of corrosion on battery terminals. This causes insufficient electrical power and the risk of being stranded without warning. At every oil change, check the battery cables; ensure they’re securely attached to the terminals. If there are signs of corrosion, clean them with a baking soda paste. The best way to remove external corrosion is to disconnect the cables to clean the hidden areas where they contact the battery terminals. Most car batteries have a three-to-five-year service life, depending on local climate and vehicle use. If your battery is getting old, have it tested at a AAA Approved Auto Repair shop or by using AAA Mobile Battery Service to determine if it needs to be replaced.

Check the air and tire wear

Did you know 83% of Americans don’t know how to properly inflate their tires, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association. The pressure in all tires — including the spare — should be checked monthly with a quality gauge when the tires are cold. Proper pressure levels can be found in the owner’s manual or on a sticker most often located on the driver-side door pillar. Don’t use the pressure stamped on the tire’s sidewall and be aware pressure levels on some cars differ for front and rear tires.

You can also check a tire’s tread depth by placing a quarter upside down in the tread grooves. If the top of Washington’s head is exposed at any point, it’s time to start shopping for new tires. Look for uneven tire wear when checking the tread. This can be an indication of suspension, wheel balance or alignment problems that need to be addressed.

Keep those wipers working

Inspect wiper blades monthly. Check if they’re worn, cracked or rigid. The life of a rubber insert is typically six to 12 months, depending on exposure to heat, dirt, sunlight, acid rain, and ozone. Streaking and chattering are common clue the rubber needs to be replaced.

Check your windshield washer fluid reservoir monthly. Top it off with a solution formulated to remove insects or other debris. In winter, use a solution that won’t freeze at low temperatures. Also, test the washer spray nozzles for proper operation and aim before leaving on a trip.

Work with a local repair shop you trust

Every car requires routine maintenance and repair. The best time to find a mechanic or auto repair shop is before you need one. Start by asking friends and family for recommendations of repair shops and mechanics. Visit to find nearby AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, take your vehicle to your top candidate shop for routine maintenance. While there, consider the following questions:

• Does the facility have up-to-date equipment?

• Were you offered a written estimate?

• Does the shop offer a nationwide warranty on parts and labor?

• Are customer areas clean, comfortable and well organized?

When having your car serviced, follow the factory recommended maintenance schedule to avoid under or over maintaining your vehicle. Oil changes, tire rotations, changing transmission fluid, and replacing an air filter are the types of routine maintenance recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer. The maintenance schedule for these services and more can be found in the vehicle owner’s manual.

AAA Southern New England is a not-for-profit auto club with 49 offices in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey providing more than 3.5 million local AAA members with travel, insurance, finance, and auto-related services.