Wintering Your car
Winter comes every year and with it, extended frigid temperatures. By scheduling an appointment now to have your spark plugs, radiator, brakes, belts, oil and other vital parts and fluids examined, you significantly lessen the likelihood of having a winter-related problem. Listed below are the top five things every owner should have serviced on every car every fall – regardless if it’s a daily driver, track car or a show queen.
One of the first things we check is the antifreeze. Antifreeze has chemicals that lubricate the water pump and inhibit corrosion in the engine and these chemicals do wear out over time and need to be replaced. The majority of cars use an ethylene glycol-based fluid that is most often a bright green colour. Unless your vehicle is a late model General Motor’s product that came with extended life Dex-Cool antifreeze, it should be replaced every two years or 30,000 miles.
Next is the motor oil. Most manufacturers have summer and winter grade oil recommendations. Winter grade oil is light weight to help make cold weather starts easier. Check your vehicle owners' manual for the recommended winter grade oil and change the oil to that grade. Naturally, you need to change the oil filter as well.
The brake system on most cars uses a glycol-based hydraulic fluid which is hygroscopic. This means it absorbs moisture over time and it’s this process that gradually reduces the boiling point and corrodes critical internal brake components. Therefore, it’s best to flush the brake system during the winter when humidity levels are much lower than they are in the summer.
Also make sure that the windshield washer reservoir remains full all winter with solvent – not water – so it doesn’t crack. Most solvents are good to about 10 below zero which is more than adequate for cars in the Mid-Atlantic region. Although we top off every car that comes in for service, a reservoir can quickly become depleted after only a couple days of inclement weather.
Belts and Hoses
Rubber parts under your hood, especially the belts, need to be thoroughly inspected too. Belts are vital since they transfer energy to important components like the alternator, water pump, air conditioner and power steering pump. However, they become brittle with age and are more susceptible to failure in frigid temperatures. This is why it is so important to check them in the fall. Symptoms of your belts going bad include a vibration or squeaking sound – so it’s best to replace any worn or cracked belts at the first sign of wear before they break and leave you stranded. Also, radiator, heater and vacuum hoses, among others, should be checked for cracks, bulges, splits or other signs of wear or damage.
Although tires naturally lose air through permeation, this process increases during the winter months when they are subjected to wider temperature extremes – which is why it’s important to check the air pressure in your tires at least once a week. And, as we all know, lower tire pressures will adversely affect the handling of your car. Also, worn, bald or badly aligned or balanced tires will increase the chances of an accident on ice and snow, or in the rain. Therefore, it is necessary to examine the condition of your tires on a monthly basis for cuts, nicks and uneven wearing. Your daily driver should be shod with, at the very least, a set of all-season tires in good condition. They will have enough road-gripping tread to be effective for the type of winter weather we encounter in the Washington, DC area. And while you're checking the tires, when was the last time you checked the spare? Make sure it is properly inflated and that all the parts for your car jack are there and that they too are in good working order.
Battery and Ignition System
The average life of a battery is about four years. So if yours is older than that, it might be time to think about replacing it since cold weather always places extra demands on car batteries. Pre-winter battery maintenance should include having a professional: make sure the posts and cable connections are clean of corrosion; test the battery and charging system; ensure that the battery is holding its charge; verify that the water/electrolyte levels (if applicable) are correct; and that the battery posts, terminals and main earth terminals and leads are firmly attached.
A full tune up will also make your car easier to start in the winter and will make it run smoother in colder temperatures. In this regard, the ignition system should be thoroughly inspected, the spark plugs checked, cleaned and re-gapped or replaced if necessary and the spark plug wires should also be examined for arcing or worn wires and replace if needed. Lastly, the timing and other ignition settings should be set to specifications.
The other important components of your vehicle that need to be inspected prior to the onset of winter include the air filter, headlights, turn signals, brake lamps, and especially windshield wiper blades. They need to be examined for cracks, tears, and to make certain that they’re still flexible and pliable. If concerned, there are special blades that can be purchased for winter weather which are covered with a rubber boot to keep ice, water and snow from freezing on the pivot points. This insures that the blade can flex and continue to make contact with the windshield even in the coldest climes.
Lastly, the fuel system shouldn’t be overlooked. Think about using a gas line antifreeze with isopropyl alcohol during the coldest months. It can be introduced during fill ups and mixes with gasoline to prevent fuel blockage caused by ice crystals. And there’s no need to worry about how it will affect your engine as these solutions are compatible with today's computer controls and fuel injection systems.