FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Nov. 4, 2016) - Which season is more important for vehicle maintenance: Summer or winter?

There isn't a right or wrong answer because both are important.

"The change of seasons is a good time to check your vehicle to ensure it's ready for what's coming," said Walt Beckman, Driving Directorate, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center. "If you get into the habit of checking your vehicle each spring and fall, it will decrease the chances of encountering a maintenance-related problem on the road."

For do-it-yourself motorists, checking your vehicle requires just a few minutes to complete.

When you approach your vehicle, walk around and check the tires for proper inflation and overall condition. Pop the hood and check the hoses and belt, battery, cooling system and windshield washer reservoir. Then check the oil, brake fluid, power steering, coolant and transmission levels, and don't forget the wipers. If your vehicle is parked outside on a freezing night, consider raising the wipers so they won't freeze to the windshield.

Inside your vehicle, check the heater and defroster and have someone stand outside while you go through the menu of lights and turn signals.

"If you don't have time to check your vehicle, many auto service facilities offer free safety checks. It's a good idea to have them do one each time you have your oil changed," said Beckman.

The USACRC website, https://safety.army.mil, contains vehicle maintenance information as well as links to a variety of resources that explain how to prepare a vehicle for the season. Your vehicle owner's manual also provides manufacturer-recommended maintenance requirements.

Before any trip when weather and road conditions could be a problem, check the weather forecast and don't be afraid to cancel a trip or change a route based on predicted weather conditions and events.

While a maintenance overview and checking the weather and road conditions are smart, it's also a wise idea to carry additional items you'll need if you find yourself stranded outside in cold weather.

"Winter brings an additional requirement to be prepared in case of hazardous weather," explained Robert Myrick Jr., Driving Directorate, USACRC. "Even if you don't have a maintenance issue, you could be delayed by traffic congestion or accidents, weather conditions or events beyond your control."

If that happens, it's smart (and could be a lifesaver) to have emergency supplies in your vehicle. These include items such as blankets, food, water, a charged cellphone, jumper cables, flashlight and warning devices, sand or kitty litter for traction, plus a snow shovel, broom and ice scraper.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that if you become stranded outside in winter weather while on the road, you should stay with your car, don't overexert yourself, put bright markers on the antenna or windows and keep the interior dome light turned on.

To avoid asphyxiation from carbon monoxide poisoning, don't operate your car for long periods with the windows up or in an enclosed space. If you must run your vehicle, clear the exhaust pipe of any snow and crank it sporadically -- just long enough to stay warm.

Summer or winter, vehicle maintenance is an important part of taking care of yourself and your passengers. Plan and be prepared for changes in the weather.