Winter is just a few weeks away, and temperatures are dropping lower and lower every day. It is important for drivers to prepare their vehicles for the cold weather before they're in the midst of it to protect them from damage and keep them running well all winter long.

One of the most important things to address is the antifreeze, or coolant, which prevents the engine from overheating and also keeps the radiator from freezing over when temperatures plummet. There are a number of concerns that drivers should address when it comes to coolant, from fluid levels to consistency.

The first thing to do is check the level and state of the antifreeze. To do this, it is important to wait until the engine is cool - typically at least 30 minutes after it has been shut off - because the radiator cap can get very hot when the vehicle is running. Check the level of the fluid in relation to the level indicator line on the reservoir tank. There are often two different lines - the higher one indicates the appropriate level when the engine is running at full temperature, and the lower marker represents the approximate level the fluid should be when cool.

You should also make note of the color of the fluid. Coolant comes in a variety of colors, but if it is cloudy or dark in color, it may be time to change the fluid. If the color is fine, but the levels are low, you should add more. Bear in mind that pure antifreeze needs to be combined with water for a mixture that is equal parts coolant and water. It is also important to avoid using hard tap water that contains high amounts of calcium and magnesium. These minerals can cause scaling and interfere with heat transfer. Instead, choose de-ionized or soft water that has not been treated with salts or chlorides. Pre-mixed coolant is available as well, so car owners have one less thing to worry about when they get their vehicles ready for winter.

If it is time to replace the coolant, there are two different ways to go about doing so. Flushing the system will remove any buildup and debris from the cooling system, while a drain and refill process is optimal for vehicles with relatively clean, but low coolant. Whenever you replace or add coolant to a vehicle, it is important to ensure that the mixture has the proper ratio of coolant and water, and an antifreeze tester can be used to determine the proper pH levels of the fluid. This may vary for individual vehicles, and the correct reading can be found in the owner's manual.

When you notice low levels, it is a good idea to check back after adding more coolant. If the level has dropped significantly in a short period of time, this could indicate that there is a leak somewhere in the cooling system. It may be a cracked or damaged hose, in which case the hoses should be replaced. The leak may also be in the radiator or the reservoir. A cracked radiator will likely need to be replaced.

When there is not enough antifreeze or other problems with the cooling system, it can lead to a breakdown. Winter is perhaps one of the worst times to be stuck on the side of the road, which is why it is important to monitor the antifreeze levels and keep an eye on the cooling system to catch problems when they are small. This will not only lower the risk of a roadside breakdown, but it will help prevent more costly damage.