Already one month of Fall has come and gone, which means it will be winter time before we know it. Winter is a particularly troublesome time for drivers and their vehicles. Cold temperatures put extra strain on your car’s moving parts, and snow and ice create dangerous conditions on the road. It is also the worst time of the year to deal with breakdowns, collisions, and unexpected maintenance.
The best way to avoid these emergency situations is to be proactive. If you make the effort to perform some preparatory maintenance before the weather turns nasty, and if you follow some simple guidelines throughout the season to keep your car safe on the road, then you can significantly reduce the chances of running into problems. Just abide by these six tips, and you’ll be ready to face the worst winter can throw at you.
Winter is very hard on your car’s battery. In cold weather, the battery’s ability to generate power is reduced, and a very old battery may not able to produce any electricity at all. If this happens, you won’t be able to start your car.
Most batteries have a lifespan of around 5-7 years. The battery can last longer if the car is driven frequently, or shorter if the car sits unused for long periods. If your vehicle is difficult to start or if you know the battery is several years old, you should consider replacing it before winter arrives. An automotive shop can test your battery to determine for sure if it needs to be replaced; visit our battery page to learn more and to set up a service appointment.
As its name implies, engine coolant keeps your engine cool and prevents overheating. It is possible (though not advisable!) to use water alone for the coolant in the warmer months. However, it is more or less standard to use a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze year-round. It is imperative that you have enough antifreeze in your coolant during winter, or else it could freeze in your engine block!
Coolant can go for several years or longer without being changed, and your vehicle’s owner manual should indicate its specific schedule. If you’ve been driving on the same coolant for a very long time, consider changing it this Fall. Otherwise, just be sure to keep your recovery tank full. You can also purchase an inexpensive antifreeze tester that will let you know the freeze protection of your coolant.
An important characteristic of motor oil is viscosity, which is a liquid’s resistance to flow. The lower the viscosity, the more easily a liquid flows. For example, water has low viscosity and molasses has high viscosity.
Cold temperatures increase your oil’s viscosity, which makes it more difficult for the engine to circulate the oil and can cause serious damage. Most modern oils are multi-grade and are suitable for use in both warm and cold weather, but you should consult your manual to be sure you are using the recommended grade.
Additionally, winter is the worst time to skip oil changes or run on low oil; using dirty oil or not enough oil when the engine is already combating the cold increases the chances that it will become damaged. Don’t neglect your regular service appointments and check your oil level periodically. If it is low, top it off.
When outside temperatures drop, so does the temperature of the air in your tires, and this will decrease their pressure. As a general rule, pressure decreases by 1 pound per square inch (PSI) with every 10°F. If you see the sidewalls of your tires bulging out, then the tires probably need air, and you should fill them up at your local gas station. The correct PSI will be listed in your owner’s manual or on a plate on the inside edge of the driver’s door.
It’s also important to make sure you have enough tread on your tires. The depth of the tread will decrease over time as the tire wears, and less tread translates to worse traction. Traction affects acceleration, braking, and handling, which are all the more important on wet or icy roads. Your tread should be 5/32” or deeper on all parts of the tire; if it is shallower than that, you should replace the tire.
You may be able to get by without using any washer fluid during the rest of the year, but winter is usually a different story. Salty, dirty slush has a way of getting flung onto your windshield, and in the absence of regular rainfall, washer fluid is your best friend. Make sure you use a “winter mix” or “all season” fluid that contains antifreeze. Fill up the reservoir before the first snowfall and refill it as needed throughout the season so you don’t run out on the road. Though, you may want to keep an extra jug in your car just in case.
Also, examine your wiper blades to ensure they are working as intended. If they are old and dried out, cracked, or chipped, then they may not work as well as you need them to. Another way to tell if you need to replace the blades is if they leave streaks on your windshield. A typical lifespan for a wiper blade is one year.
Unless you park in a garage overnight, you will inevitably have to clear your car of frost (and sometimes snow) each morning. It’s very dangerous to drive without completely clearing off your car because reduced visibility increases your chances of having a collision. You should allow an extra ten minutes in the morning to warm up your car, defrost and scrape all of the windows (side windows, too!), and remove any snow. Be sure to clear any snow covering the headlights, taillights, and all other exterior lights, as it will impair your visibility and other drivers’ ability to see your car on the road. Police reserve the right to fine you if your license plates are not visible, so make sure they are not covered with snow. Finally, consider using a de-icing spray on your windows when needed to help loosen thick ice or very hard frost.
Follow these easy tips and you will be in good shape when Old Man Winter comes knocking. Of course it never hurts to be prepared for the worst, so take a look at our list of emergency items to keep in your car and consider putting together a kit. As always, head over to our website to schedule a service appointment, order parts, or contact us with a question.