Common Sense Car Care

By Rick Ostien

     The weather is getting colder so it’s that time again to get ready for the W word.  There are a few things that we should do to prepare for winter driving and the harshness of the elements.

     One of the first things that should be done is often one of the least thought of and that’s a survival kit for your car.  A well-equipped kit should include the following items: a snow shovel, a bag of kitty litter, a blanket, a flashlight and extra batteries, flares, a cell phone (be sure to have a car charger), a well-equipped first aid kit and mittens or gloves.  I personally like mittens better as the hands tend to stay warmer in them.  Drivers with a long commute may want to include a few nutritious snacks with a shelf life too.  There are other items that can be carried but these items are really the essentials.  The idea is to keep warm and as comfortable as you can just in case you become stranded.  Freezing is not very pleasant so the idea is to be proactive and prepare in advance.

     Another way you can prepare is to have the antifreeze in your cooling system checked.  This actually should be done year round.  The PH level of your coolant plays a large role in the deterioration of your engine parts.  A good example of this was a Ford Taurus that came into our shop with an overheating problem.  On examination, the coolant was rusty brown with a lot of sludge build up.  The coolant thermostat was checked and replaced.  The radiator flow was also checked. (This is the amount or volume of water passing through your radiator at a given time.)  The radiator flow was checked again and was OK.  The vehicle was then road tested.  The engine temperature was lower but it still was not right.  The technician then checked the water pump flow and found that it was not adequate.  He removed the water pump and found that the impellent had rotted away.  The water pump was replaced and a recheck found the coolant temperature to be normal.  This is a good example of why your coolant should be checked for a high PH level once a year.

     Your electrical system works harder in cold and hot weather and is another thing that should be checked in preparation for winter.  Your battery should be checked for its cold cranking reserve and your alternator checked for its maximum output.  Today’s computerized vehicles depend on these two components to function properly.  When they don’t work properly the computer systems in your car don’t function properly and systems begin to shut down.

     The tires you ride on are another item that should be checked before bad weather hits.  Tires need to be checked for wear and they need to be inflated properly.  Some tires are made for performance driving.  You should be sure that your tires are at least mud/snow rated.  This is easy to check and can be found by looking for the stamping of M+S on the sidewall of the tire.  

     Some people are lucky enough to have a garage and can keep the vehicle out of the elements and old man winter’s harshness.  For those of you who are not lucky enough to have a garage, there are still some precautions and preparations that you can take.  They are:

  1. Spray silicone around your door rubbers.  This helps to keep the doors from freezing.
  2. Make sure your windshield wipers are clear of snow and not frozen to you windshield.
  3. Always warm up your vehicle before driving.  This gives the mechanical parts and fluids a chance to warm up.  It also gives your windshield a chance to defrost so you aren’t looking out of two small holes with little or no visibility.
  4. Put a can of dry gas in your fuel tank every third fill-up.  This will help to stop fuel line freeze up due to condensation.

     The last thing that we’ll discuss is what you as a driver can do.  There are several things you can do to make winter driving easier to cope with.

  1. Be sure you give yourself plenty of distance between you and the vehicle in front of you.
  2. If you have to talk on a cell phone or text, please pull over to the side of the road.  Two hands on the steering wheel is a must when the weather is bad.
  3. Pay attention to road conditions.  If the pavement looks wet but you see no spray from the tires of the vehicle in front of you, there is a good chance that the highway is freezing.
  4. Drive defensively and stay alert.  It only takes a second for things to change.

     I hope this article can help to make your winter driving experience a bit more pleasant.  Keep safe and be alert and of course happy motoring.

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