Whether it’s low tire inflation, a dead battery, engine issues or frozen fuel lines, winter weather can create serious woes on the road. To help prevent these issues, Meineke Car Care Centers, which services nearly three million vehicles per year with tires, tune-ups, oil changes, brakes, tires, exhaust systems and other repairs, offers 10 tips for cold weather car maintenance.
- Check Your Battery:Rob Fillman, vice president of Operations for Meineke Car Care Centers, says vehicle batteries lose 33% of their charge when the temperature dips below freezing and more than 50% of the charge when the temperature falls below zero. Poor battery maintenance and the battery age can also reduce battery charging ability. If you’re experiencing slow cranks or clicks when starting your car, it’s time to get your battery checked. If your battery is over three years old, it’s time to have it replaced.
- Get a Grip:It’s important to check your tire treads to make sure they can handle the winter roads. If you insert a penny in the tread, you shouldn’t see Lincoln’s head. If you do, it’s time for new tires. Also check inflation — for every 10 degrees the temperature drops, your tires can lose a pound of pressure. Fillman notes that this can cause premature wear on your tires and decrease your gas mileage.
- Update Your Oil.Switch to the correct winter motor oil. Typical 20W-XX oil can gain viscosity at 0 degrees. At the low-temperature end, oil has to be resistant to thickening so that it flows more easily to all the moving parts in your engine. Also, if the oil is too thick it can cause slow cranking and possible damage for the oil pump, and can make it harder to start the engine, which reduces fuel economy. A 5W oil is typically what’s recommended for winter use. However, synthetic oils can be formulated to flow even more easily when cold, so they are able to pass tests that meet the 0W rating.
- Winterize Your Fluids:Many fluids can contain water, so Fillman advises switching them for cold weather. Windshield washer fluid – critical for removing road salt and sludge – comes in cold weather formulations. Check the label to make sure it is designed for your climate. Sometimes the label may read all-season or winter, but should also show the lowest temperature the particular fluid can perform to, such as -40 or -45 C. And, never fill the washer fluid tank using plain water. When the weather gets cold enough, regular H20 will turn into a giant frozen block potentially creating a safety hazard on the road. Temperature fluctuations occurring in the engine bay can also lead to the water becoming a breeding ground for mold.
Don’t forget the anti-freeze either. A 50/50 mix of full-strength coolant and water generally protects to around -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure you check with the supplier or your owner’s manual for the correct formulation. Additionally, antifreeze is sold in BOTH pre-mix and full strength. Do not add water to pre-mixed antifreeze/coolant, and never run your vehicle on straight water, since it can freeze and potentially cause severe engine damage. Even in warm weather, due to the higher operating temperatures of emission-controlled engines, straight water could boil and cause an overheating condition.
- To Warm Up Your Ride… or Not: Experts are torn on this issue. Some say a car can be driven immediately, just at a “neighborhood speed.” Others argue that cars need to idle for a couple of minutes to get the oil properly flowing. A third group says that you should warm up a car no longer than 30 seconds before you start driving in winter. Regardless of what route you choose, it takes about 5 to 15 minutes for your engine to warm up while driving, so take it nice and easy for the first part of your drive. Extensive idling is not only bad for your car, it’s bad for the environment.
- Don’t Freeze Your Fuel Line:When outdoor temperatures dip below freezing levels and water vapor gets into your car’s fuel lines, they can easily freeze. Fixing a frozen line is typically inexpensive, but it can be frustrating to deal with. Prevent your fuel lines from freezing by adding a fuel additive and keep your fuel tank at its maximum capacity to decrease moisture in your system. The less moisture, the less chance your fuel lines will freeze.
- Wipe Away Winter:Fillman suggests that before ice and snow hit, update your wiper blades to ensure they can efficiently remove precipitation from the windshield. When parking outside in the snow, leave your wipers in the raised position so they don’t freeze to the windshield.
- Light the Way:Falling snow limits visibility, so ensure your headlights, taillights and turn signals are all operating. Consider switching to a new high-output headlamp for a brighter profile on the road. If plastic headlights are hazed and pitted, have them restored before winter weather arrives to improve safety.
- Pack a Snow Emergency Kit:If you find yourself stranded on the road during a storm, an emergency kit can save the day. You’ll need a cell phone charger, water, snack bars, blanket, matches, flares, folding shovel and two two-by-fours to place under the wheels for traction, snow brush and ice scraper.
Find a Trusted Total Car Care Partner:The best way to avoid overall vehicle failure is to have a professional car care partner you trust maintain your vehicle.