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A vital autumn job -- getting your auto in tiptop shape, inside and out

Just as in fall house cleaning, preparing a car for winter means putting everything in order, both inside and outside the vehicle. The same rules apply whether the car is driven in Northern snowstorms or Sunbelt wind.

Often, car-maintenance experts point out, the steps taken for winter driving also will improve gasoline mileage, because the systems perform better when they're clean. In fact, it's a good idea to keep a car in tiptoe shape all the time, winter andm summer.

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These are areas that the Car Care Council recommends be checked before winter weather begins. They include:

* Cooling and electrical systems.

* Engine.

* Exhaust and control systems.

* Lights and windshield wipers.

And don't forget the tires! Most drivers do, you know.

Experts points out that a thorough check of the cooling system is essential before the temperature drops and the winter winds blow. Engines now must work harder than they used to, and so the coolant, or antifreeze, must be fresh and ready to work.

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There is no such product as a "permanent" coolant, car-care specialists say. They go on to suggest that radiator antifreeze should be changed about once a year after a car is two years old. Fall is a good time to make the change.

Caution: Be sure that the coolant not only prevents freezing but also stops steam, foam, surge, boil, and corrosion.

The Automotive Cooling System Institute, a trade group, also recommends that owners make a visual inspection of the cooling system. They should check hoses to be sure they're not soft, brittle, bulging, or cracked and that they have not collapsed. Connections also should be checked so that hose clamps are secure, drain valves dry, and freeze plugs attached tightly.

The Car Care Council recommends that a motorist shouldn't head into winter with a weak battery or faulty charging system. These should be checked as part of the preparations for winter. A terminal-cleaning tool should be used and the terminals polished.

It's best to remove the battery from the car, making sure the terminals are in the proper place when it is replaced. When the cables are attached again, the positive kline should be put in position first, followed by the negative line.

A coating of petroleum jelly on the terminals will help to prevent future corrusion.

Most car experts recommend a good tuneup before winter comes. Then the engine is up to par and shouldn't have problems starting in extreme cold. This is a good time to change the oil filter and engine oil as well.

Fall cleaning time is ideal for replacing worn parts of the exhaust system so as to ensure that odorless and invisible gases aren't leaking.

The interconnected mechanisms that give the driver control of his car -- steering, suspension, brakes, and tires -- should be thoroughly checked, too. Because handling capabilities are more critical on slippery surfaces associated with winter, it is important to have them in order.

Most automotive service shops will check these components for a nominal charge, the Car Care Council says.

Make sure the lights and windshield wipers are in good working order before the long nights of winter begin.

As for the tires, look for abnormal wear patterns, which could signal other mechanical problems inthe automobile. "Keep the tires properly inflated," Firestone engineers urge.

When it comes to caring for the outside of the car, Tom Benson and Tim Sullivan of Johnson Wax recommend the use of a liquied car wax that both waxes and cleans.

"Then you can get rid of the off-the-road film, bugs, and tar," they say. Wax-cleaners should have a mild abrasive to do the cleaning. If you use just a wax, then you're covering the film which should be removed," Mr. Sullivan explains.

"Hose down the wheel wells and wash out the mud which has accumulated in them in the fall," adds Mr. Sullivan, who explains that mud tends to trap the salt, which, in turn, can cause corrosion of the wheel wells.

On older cars it's a good idea to check the weatherstripping around the doors and windows so as to keep out the wind.

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