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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.

Sure Starts 101 : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : :

Among the concerns of parents of fledgling teenage drivers is whether they’re vulnerable to car trouble away from home. Parents can’t always take the responsibility of the cars their kids are driving, especially considering that young peoples’ priorities may divert maintenance and repair funds to other things. Considering that the output of a healthy battery at 80 degrees will have dropped to 65% at freezing and, when the temperature dips to zero, it has only 40% of its power.

Compounding the situation, oil flows less freely in extreme cold, increasing starting resistance. Consequently, a strong battery becomes more critical.

Being stranded in the cold with a car that won’t start, which can be a nightmare, need not happen, says the Car Care Council.

No-starts, the most common reason for motorists to call for emergency road service, usually can be attributed to a weak or dead battery, faulty electrical connections or a problem in the fuel system.

When a battery is on its last legs, it usually gives warning signals. You can stay in control of the situation by making the decision to have the electrical system checked and, if necessary, a new battery installed while the old one still has some life in it. But what to buy?

Car Care Council recommends replacing your battery with one that’s at least as good as the one that came with the vehicle. In this case the term good means one that has the cranking power (that’s starting ooomph) and reserve capacity so that it isn’t just riding on the edge of failure if you happen to leave a light on. Check the ratings.

If you’re driving an older vehicle, remember that it deserves just as good a battery as a late model. Also, if you’ve added electrical accessories, they may put greater demands on the battery.

Consider the warranty, too. How long does it cover full replacement and what is the total warranty coverage? Finally, when in doubt about your selection, ask the advice of your service shop or your auto supply store.

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Or is your problem nothing more than corrosion?
The Council further suggests that if the engine fails to start because of what seems to be a dead battery, the culprit might be no more than a corroded terminal. Corrosion, which appears like a greenish white deposit, serves as an insulator between the terminal and the cable. Sometimes this condition can be corrected, at least temporarily, with a sharp tap with a soft, non-metallic object such as block of wood. Even the heel of a shoe, removed, of course, will jar loose the corrosive build-up enough to re-establish the connection.

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Three Good Reasons Not To Run Low On Gas : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : :

Are you one of those optimistic drivers who doesn’t worry about stopping for gas until the gas gauge needle is approaching “E”? In cold weather that’s inviting trouble, says the Car Care Council. Condensation of moisture in the air in the gas tank causes an accumulation of water. Because water is heavier than gasoline, it settles to the bottom of the tank, entering the gas line and eventually working its way to the lowest point in the fuel system.

Once the moisture freezes, the fuel flow is blocked and the engine may not start on a cold morning.

Most brands of gasoline are formulated to prevent freezing, says the Council. Additional protection in the form of gas line antifreeze, however, can prevent starting trouble in severe cold. This methanol (methyl-alcohol) based product, found among automotive chemicals on most auto supply shelves, mixes with water to prevent freezing. The solution of gasoline, alcohol and water is burned in the engine’s combustion process.

Some premium brands of fuel antifreeze products contain isopropanol, capable of absorbing five times its weight in water.

Consider other reasons for not allowing the gas tank to drop too far below half full. First, and most obvious, is the possibility of running out of gas in an area where no service stations available.

The other reason, less obvious, applies to fuel injected vehicles on which the fuel pump is located inside the gas tank. Cooled by the gasoline that surrounds it, the pump can be damaged from overheating when fuel level is too low.

It costs no more to keep a tank at least half full and the addition of fuel line antifreeze is a small price to pay for the added protection it affords.

Beyond this, because a battery loses some of its output in cold weather, be certain it’s OK for another winter’s use. Finally, concludes the Council, make sure your engine has adequate antifreeze/coolant protection and that the spark plugs and ignition system components are up to the cold weather challenge, it’ll save you down the road.

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Rushing a Diagnosis Is a Bad Idea : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : :

Does it burn you up when your automotive technician takes too long to find what’s wrong with your car? Wait a minute. Before you lose your cool, stop and think about what you’re asking him or her to do.

In a word, you want a diagnosis. You want him/her to listen to your description of the problem, run some tests, make some checks, perhaps do a test drive, announce a prognosis and follow it with a cure – make that an inexpensive cure.

“While it’s true that today’s vehicles are equipped with computers, digital dashboards, oxygen sensors and more, there’s still a lot of old fashioned patience that goes into repairing a car,” says Donna Wagner, President of the Car Care Council. “And to a large extent, a timely diagnosis starts with the motorist.”

For example, if you take your car to have the brakes repaired, can you tell the technician or service writer when the brakes were serviced last? Just as it’s helpful for your doctor to know your full medical history, a technician can often glean information from former service and/or repairs. Note to self, “Keep a log of all maintenance and repairs.”

Knowing this information, does it make sense to find a shop you like and trust and stick with them? “You betcha,” insists Wagner, “Provided they keep the history of all of their customers’ cars on file, this is the best idea.”

What about withholding information from your technician? While not punishable by law, it can certainly delay a diagnosis. Here’s the scenario. It’s early and you’re late for work. You drop the car off, and the service writer begins asking a few pertinent questions. You bark, “I’m telling you it just dies in the middle of the road,” and you race out the door for the office.

“Hmmmm,” the service writer wonders. “Does it die in the morning or later in the day? Does it die at stoplights or in between them? Is there a smell or a noise when it dies? Is the car going up hill, downhill or on level
ground? How fast, and how long has this been going on?”

Sometimes just a few extra minutes to communicate the full extent of the problem can save a lot of time on the part of the tech. This in turn saves you money and gets your car repaired more quickly.

Another tough call is a condition that comes and goes. These intermittent problems are a technician’s nightmare because often the circumstances must be repeated for the symptom to reoccur. If you’re not sure of the circumstances, you’re asking the tech to diagnose a non-existent problem.

Finally, it’s important to remember that cars are a lot like people. The flu, left untreated, can lead to something more serious. One needed repair, gone unchecked, can lead to another, often larger and perhaps more expensive problem. So don’t be impatient if your tech makes a diagnosis, then digs a little deeper. If he or she uncovers a second problem, and recommends a separate repair, be grateful. “Remember,” says Wagner, “any responsible shop has one goal: to fix it right the first time.”

Shops in Our Network

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