COLUMBIA, Mo. – Winter can wear on cars and trucks, but a little preparation will keep vehicles running well throughout its coldest days.

A simple checklist starts with the battery.  A cold car battery can’t deliver as much current. If your car has an aging battery, you might want to see if it will be up to the job by having it load tested.

“A load tester, available at auto parts stores, may be a worthwhile purchase for checking sealed, maintenance-free batteries,” said Bob Schultheis, University of Missouri Extension natural resource engineering specialist. “Many auto parts stores will test batteries for free or for a nominal charge.”

Corrosion can build up on the battery terminals and will make the vehicle hard to start. Remove the battery cables and clean any white or green corrosion from the terminals, cable ends and battery top using a paste of baking soda and water. Rinse with water and dry the battery surface. Scrape away oxide buildup on the electrical connections using a wire brush or knife. Reattach the cables and spread a thin film of grease on the connections to slow future corrosion.

Motorists often overlook antifreeze maintenance until the radiator freezes up or the car overheats. Experts recommend flushing engine coolant every two years and replacing any radiator hoses and engine drive belts that are more than 4 years old to avoid sudden failures. Check the owner’s manual for the proper antifreeze and refill the radiator with a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water to restore engine protection to minus 34 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tires can also cause problems as temperatures drop. For every 10-degree drop in temperature, tires lose about a pound per square inch of air pressure. If you last refilled tires when temperatures were above 90 degrees, at near-freezing temperatures your tires will be running at least 5 psi low, causing tire wear and reduced gas mileage.

“For the best ride, inflate to the pressures recommended in the vehicle owner's manual or on the driver’s door frame,” advised Schultheis. “Better gas mileage is possible at higher pressures, but do not inflate beyond the maximum pressure printed on the tire sidewall.”

During periods of cold weather, change the engine oil and filter according to the “severe service” maintenance schedule in the vehicle owner’s manual. “Use a multigrade oil such as SAE 10W-30 or 5W-20 to give easier winter starting. The owner's manual will give the recommended SAE grade and API service classification number,” Schultheis said.

Don’t forget windshield wipers. Check the washer nozzles for plugging and aim. Replace weatherworn blades more than a year old. Scrub your windshield clean of grit and grime before running new blades to avoid damaging them. Replenish washer fluid with a solution that gives freeze protection.

If a car or truck continues to be a challenge to start, it’s probably time for a tuneup. Check or replace air, fuel and smog filters. Clean and re-gap spark plugs. Vacuum-check the engine and fine-tune any electronic carburetion or fuel injection controls.