With record-breaking cold weather this winter, there are few safety measures you can easily perform to keep your car in tip top shape for safer handling.
Keep your gas tank close to full
In the summer, you can take a chance and run down to fumes. But in the winter, if you do get stuck or stranded, the engine will be your only source of heat. And you don’t want to have to worry about conserving fuel and saving the planet right at that moment…you want to stay warm. You can run the engine indefinitely at idle to stay warm-or as long as you have gas. No harm will be done to the engine.
If you have an old jalopy, crack open the window a bit if you are going to be idling the engine. Old jalopies are more likely to suffer from exhaust leaks and rust holes. This may not be a problem while you’re driving because the wind is removing the exhaust as you move forward; but if you’re sitting for a long time while carbon monoxide is slowly leaking into the passenger compartment.
Finally, if you are pulled over and stopped in the midst of a humungous snowstorm, be sure to get out periodically and remove snow from behind the tailpipe to keep it unobstructed.
COMPLETELY clear snow off your car
Take the extra time to make sure your car is clean and your visibility is good.
Clear off the entire car, not just a little peephole in the windshield. You need just as much, if not more, visibility in poor conditions because you have to keep your eyes peeled for pedestrians, and every other knucklehead on the road. Make sure every glass surface is clear and transparent by using a snowbrush and/or ice scraper. Your side-view mirrors, and all lights should be brushed and cleared as well.
Clean the snow off the rest of the car. Why? Because the rest of the snow will either (A) slide off the roof and cover your windshield as you’re slowing down; or (B) fly off onto someone else’s windshield and causing him or her to smash into you.
Clean your headlights. Even if you think they don’t need it.
It goes without saying, that if your headlights are covered with six inches of sleet, you’re not going to be seeing much past your hood ornament, nor are oncoming drivers going to see you as well. Salt, sand and other wintry crud can dramatically impair the effectiveness of your car’s headlights, even long after the last snowstorm. Whether you’re planning on driving at night or not, take a moment before every winter trip to clean off your headlights. At home, have a squeegee or paper towels stored in your garage, so you don’t have an excuse not to wipe the film off your headlights, before you take off.
Keep your windshield washer reservoir full
On a snowy or messy day, you can easily go through half a gallon or more of windshield washer fluid trying to keep your windshield clear. For that reason, it’s also a good idea to keep some extra fluid in the trunk in case you run out. And make sure you get the good stuff – stay away from the already-half-frozen stuff outside your local gas station! Even though it may say “Good to Minus 30,” some of these cheap fluids freeze around zero degrees! Even if you buy the good stuff, if you live in a very cold area, you also may need to supplement your windshield washer fluid with some concentrate. The concentrate is available in one-pint bottles and works very well at extremely low temperatures.
Here’s one service item that’s often forgotten:
Tire pressure. Why? Because tire pressure drops by about one pound per ten degrees of temperature. So, if it’s -10 now, and the last time you checked your tire pressure was back during that sweltering heat wave in July, your tires will be dangerously low and will jeopardize your car’s handling.
Many newer vehicles have tire pressure monitors, which alert you to dangerous changes in tire pressure. In fact, as of 2008, tire pressure monitors are required on all new vehicles. But older cars don’t have them and the pressure needs to be checked manually.
Are your battery and charging system up to snuff?
Your mechanic should check the battery, charging system, and belts. Your battery can leave you stranded simply because it’s old and lousy. Or it could leave you stranded because your charging system isn’t working well, and the battery isn’t getting charged properly. So have your mechanic check the battery and charging system.
If you find that you need a new battery, get the biggest, meanest, ugliest battery that will fit in your car. Two things to remember about batteries: First, the battery that started your car easily in the summer may not have enough oomph to do it in winter. In winter, the engine is harder to start, because the oil isn’t as “fluid” as it was last July. And secondly, batteries lose power as the temperature drops (you remember your high school chemistry, right?). So not only do you need MORE power to start the engine in winter, you also get LESS power from the same battery.
Believe it or not, your cooling system is critical in the winter
Make certain the antifreeze will protect your car at the winter temperatures you’ll experience in your area. For most areas, you’ll need a 50-50 mix of coolant to water. You may think, “I’ll be extra good to my car, and give it 100% coolant.” Guess what? You’re wrong. The 50-50 mix has a lower freezing point. Not only that, but 100% coolant is less able to transfer heat away from your engine, and has been known to cause such nasty things as melted spark plugs of engine failure under the wrong circumstances. So, mix it up!
You can check the freeze rating of your car’s coolant yourself with a little device that you can buy in an auto part store for a couple of bucks. With it you suck up a little of the anti-freeze from the radiator – or the overflow container – and see how many of the little balls float. It’s cute. If this is beyond you, most real gas stations will do it for you in a couple of minutes. By the way, having good coolant in your engine is very important because if the coolant freezes, it expands, and it’s bye-bye engine block. And that means bye-bye to the 50-inch plasma TV you’ve been saving up for.
But that’s still only half the story. The other primary function of antifreeze is to keep your cooling system from rusting. The rust inhibitors in antifreeze break down over time and need to be renewed. So, at a minimum, change your engine’s coolant at the interval recommended by your manufacturer. Besides, draining out the coolant and refilling the system also removes dirt and rust particles that can clog up the cooling system and cause problems, regardless of the season.
Use winter wipers only in the winter
Winter wipers – with the rubber coverings that keep ice from collecting on the blade – have become very popular. They’re great in the winter, but make sure you take them off in the spring. Winter wipers are heavy, and if you use them all summer, you’ll wear out the wiper motor prematurely.
And when using your wipers in the winter, remember to turn them off BEFORE shutting off the engine. Why? Water frequently freezes overnight during the winter. And if your blades freeze to the windshield, when you go to start your car, the wiper motor may burn out trying to get them back to the “rest position,” while you’re sitting there wondering, “What’s that burning smell?”
Read the complete list of tips at Car Talk