Winter's Chilly Visit


Preparing for the arrival of winter is a lot like getting ready for houseguests. Without the occasional weekend visitor, that sticky counter top might never get cleaned. And without the advent of winter, many cars might never see the inside of a service facility. The Car Care Council reminds motorists to have the following items checked before freezing weather sets in:

Tune up – Although these days a tune up is often referred to as a "performance or engine analysis" the intent is the same, to make certain your engine is running properly. This process addresses problems such as rough idling, poor acceleration, hard starts, weak acceleration or poor fuel economy.

Cooling System - Every two years the cooling system should be flushed and refilled with fresh antifreeze, also referred to as coolant. To ensure maximum protection, the rule of thumb for this mixture is 50% water and 50% coolant. If your system has been flushed in the last 24 months, double-check the coolant’s freeze protection for the approaching winter season.

Note: Some vehicles are equipped with special components/coolant designed to last for 5-years or 150,000 miles. Although this is an extended interval, motorists should be aware that this coolant does require changing. In addition, this special coolant should not be mixed with standard antifreeze.

Heater and defroster – This system ensures both comfort and visibility. Have it checked (including proper operation of all ducts) prior to the onset of cold weather.

Exhaust system - A winter rarely passes that an unsuspecting motorist isn’t poisoned by carbon monoxide, the victim of a faulty exhaust system. Your technician can check for small holes that can allow the deadly gasses to escape into the car’s cabin.

Oil – Because winter weather exaggerates the effects of any harmful automotive situation, it’s important that your oil/oil filter are changed according to your owner’s manual. Many manuals refer to "severe service" driving. This is not necessarily a designation for semi trucks going on long hauls. In fact, this classification may include your car if it is subjected to stop and go driving or a number of short trips around town.

Battery – Your battery grows weaker in cold weather. A battery’s power is reduced by 35% when the thermometer drops to freezing and 60% when the temperature dips to zero. Ask your technician to check the battery. He/she should scrape any corrosion from the posts/cable connections and check the fluid level when appropriate.

Hoses and belts – Many new cars have several hoses but only one belt. This makes service an important issue. Ask your technician check these for any cracks or tears. Mushy feeling hoses need to be replaced. Check the owner’s manual for a belt/hose replacement schedule. If you have lots of miles on your vehicle, you might want to do a complete changeover before winter.

Wiper blades – Heat and the summer sun take their toll on windshield wipers. If your blades are cracking, chattering or smearing invest in new ones. Those designed to dislodge ice from the windshield can be especially helpful. Invest in an ice scraper, and keep your washer reservoir filled. This will ensure that you’ll never have to peer through a grimy windshield.

Tires – Driving on worn tires is scary in any weather, especially winter. Make sure your tires are wearing evenly and that all treads are at least 1/16th of an inch in depth. Many motorists in cold climates replace all season tires with winter tires. These are designed with special compounds that grip ice and dispel water.

Too much air pressure reduces traction and handling; too little air also makes for poor handling and increases rolling resistance, which increases fuel usage. Keep tires inflated to owner’s manual recommendations and check pressure monthly on "cool" tires. Don’t forget to check the spare.

Fuel – Keep your fuel tank at least half-full. This serves two purposes. First, you’ll never be caught with an empty tank. Second, condensation will be less likely to take place, keeping water out of your fuel tank.

Finally, don’t forget to prepare yourself for an emergency. Cell phones are great but not always 100% reliable. Consider the worst case scenario and pack your car accordingly. Don’t forget blankets, flares, a flashlight, snacks, water and vital medications.