Kids getting back to school signals the end of summer and the time to winterize your car. Breakdowns in bad weather are dangerous and can be avoided with the following preventative maintenance tips:
CHECK THE OWNER’S MANUAL
The manufacturer publishes its recommended service schedule in the owner’s manual. Some list two schedules of preventative maintenance: normal; and, severe. The severe schedule is no longer based on the road warrior of yesteryear, but on the driver placing the greatest amount of stress on a car in urban and suburban stop-n-go traffic.
Any form of drivability issues (hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc.) should be corrected before the eminent cold weather makes all existing problems worse. The most common are the replacement of filters, removing moisture from fuel, etc.
In addition, anytime dashboard or warning lights go on it’s important to have it checked out immediately. While some lights alert you of a growing problem, others light for imminent catastrophe that will lead to thousands of dollars in repair work unless the car is pulled over and stopped. Reviewing your lights with a mechanic can save you money.
Moisture in the fuel can freeze during super cold days and can be prevented. Years ago the recommendation was to add a deicer to the tank once a month, but with today’s ethanol gas mixtures and discount gasoline, this pattern creates multiple problems and costly repairs. Instead, using BP or Shell gasoline, which has a winter blend already in the gasoline, will protect the fuel from freezing.
OIL AND FILTER
Every vehicle has a recommended amount of mileage between oil and filter changes. Many repair shops encourage car owners to follow the guidelines to extend the life of the vehicle. However, a few repair shops try to advance the process, which is never needed unless the vehicle experiences a lot of stop-n-go driving or dirty roads.
The frequency of flushing and refilling the cooling system is recommended in the owner’s manual. The level, condition and concentration of coolant (typically a 50/50 mixture of anti-freeze and distilled water) should be checked periodically. Also, inspecting the coolant reservoir will give insights to the condition and flow of the system.
The tightness and condition of drive belts, tensioner, clamps and hoses play an important role in the system’s performance and should only be checked by a certified mechanic. Don’t ever find yourself removing the radiator cap without first allowing the radiator to cool down completely.
There is nothing like having a heater/defroster that doesn’t work during the winter. Passenger comfort and drivability is critical to the ongoing operations of a car. It is prudent to check this system before winter is upon us.
Rubber-clad blades and windshield washer solvent are the two best tools to protect the drivability of a car in the winter. The blades are designed to fight ice buildup and the solvent makes sure the windshield is clear of debris during the winter. Stocking up on the fluid in advance and purchasing new blades will start the season off well, but don’t forget to make sure an ice-scraper can be found in your car.
All too often people buy batteries that are the wrong size for their car’s activities in the winter. Most people size their battery based on summer use, forgetting that 2-3 times more charge is required to start the same vehicle in the winter. Certified mechanics have access to professional equipment that can help right size the battery based on the vehicle and location it’s operated within.
Interstate batteries are sized based on all start conditions and are good for about five years. Discounted batteries, which save the car owner $20-$30, are good for one and a half to two years.
Also, mechanics can scrape away corrosion from the posts and cable connections to increase the flow of energy. Maintaining the proper levels of acid and fluid levels are paramount to making sure the battery will get you through the winter. However, some batteries do not allow access or maintenance to the battery.
Inspecting all lights and bulbs is a must. Road grime and natural weathering of the lenses can diminish the reach of the light beam. The replacement of weaker bulbs is done best prior to the winter weather. Consideration should also be given to replacing the headlight pods, as the yellowing of the pods tend to diminish the effectiveness of the bulbs. The added brightness is worth the approximate $100 price carried by most cars. SilverStar lights by Sylvania also increase the beam’s reach.
Not only is the system performance important to the state’s licensing process, but it’s also important to make sure no leaks exist. Small holes can fill the cab with exhaust fumes that can be deadly. A mechanic with a lift can easily accomplish the inspection of the system and floorboards for small leaks.
Worn tires can turn into nightmares during first snowfalls. Making sure the tires are examined for tread life, uneven wearing, cupping, and cracks will protect the vehicle’s precious cargo. Tire pressure should be checked monthly when the car has cooled down. To get an extended life out of the tires, a mechanic can rotate the tires regularly and check the spare that is forgotten more times than not. A jack of some form should also be present in the car at all times.
Carrying a winter kit in the car is prudent regardless of the severe weather that can come up quickly. The kit should include blankets, a small shovel, sand or kitty liter, flashlight and high-energy bars. It can also include gloves, boots, flares, tire chains, and a cell phone. Strobe flashers are a great tool for alerting oncoming drivers of your roadside issues and are well worth the added ten-dollar expense.
The winterization process allows every driver to prepare for the winter and check everything that is most likely to go wrong had it not been addressed. This provides much greater safety and peace of mind for those on the way to grandmother’s house for hot cider and chocolate cookies.