Unless you live in the Sunbelt,
each year motorists have to go through the mundane, but
essential ritual of winterizing their vehicles. Not to do so
puts your vehicle, and you, at risk. Fortunately, none of the
preventive measures are very expensive and other than taking up
precious time, can be done with a minimum of fuss. Used Cars has
put together some common-sense tips to help you get ready for
old man winter.
If you do only one thing to
winterize your vehicle, check your antifreeze! On most vehicles,
you should have your anti-freeze tested every fall and spring
and changed every 2 years or 30,000 miles. The proper
water/antifreeze mix for your area should be indicated on a
chart on the back label of the antifreeze container. Make sure
you use the ratio that matches the lowest temperature you can
expect in your area of the country. Usually a 50/50 mixture is
best. You will also find guidelines in your owner's manual.
Renewing the antifreeze should
include a pressure check on all the components of the system, a
thermostat test, and a radiator pressure cap test. Once
that checks out, a pressure flush should be performed to wash
away impurities, corrosion, and mineral deposits that can build
up in the system and eventually clog internal passageways.
Make sure that during your system
check you include a visual inspection of all belts and hoses.
Look for leaks around ends. Clamps should be tightened. Hoses
should feel firm to the touch, not soft and squishy. Belts
shouldn't have any frayed edges, and posses no more than
half-inch of play when pressed in an area between any two
pulleys. The belts are important because one drives your water
Speaking of water pumps, you
should consider them a regular service item. Do not wait for it
to fail. Often a water pump will signal it's imminent failure by
developing clattering noises. It usually signifies that the
propeller bearings are on the fritz. You may also hear a
screeching noise at times. This could be a low coolant level,
inadequate coolant flow, or an indication that you need a new
pump. Have it looked at immediately.
On many overhead-cam engines, it
is recommended that you replace the water pump while your
mechanic is replacing your timing belt, usually at the 60 or
90,000 mile mark. You'll save money by doing it all at once.
Otherwise, you should have it replaced around the 90,000 mile
mark, regardless of whether you have any other work to do at
that mileage mark.
Also check the radiator (internal
and external), and the engine itself, especially around the
intake manifold and the area where the cylinder heads meet the
engine block. Inspect closely for indications of current or
previous coolant leakage. If you are inspecting the car
yourself, ALWAYS make sure that the car is cooled down before
removing the radiator cap to inspect its insides. Coolant should
appear clear and the insides of the radiator should be open and
clear with no crusting or other blockage noticeable.
Some later model cars,
particularly General Motor's products, have long-lasting
antifreeze/coolant that is supposedly good for 5-years or
150,000 miles. You can also buy this protection over the
counter, but it is not recommended for older cars as it's
formula can interact negatively with copper -- found in many
Regardless of the type of
antifreeze/coolant used, you should still have your cooling
system checked regularly.
Most often, the only thing
between getting to work on time on a cold winter morning and
missing that important meeting is your battery. Cold weather
sucks the life right out of your battery, decreasing its
performance by a substantial margin. Cars that won't start, most
commonly due to a dead or weak battery, account for 40% of
trouble call to the American Automobile Association (AAA).
Fortunately, it's easy to make
sure that your battery and electrical system are operating at
peak performance. If your battery is more than three years old,
have your local service station perform a load test to see how
much "juice" is left. Your electrical system can be check by
hooking up to a diagnostic computer and by visually inspecting
exposed contacts to make sure they are free of corrosion, thus
ensuring strong current flow.
Most new batteries are designed
to be maintenance free, but it's always a good idea to check the
water level anyway. If you need to add water, use distilled
Of course, even the most prepared
motorist can be surprised by winter battery failure. For those
times, you should have a backup plan available. Membership in an
auto club with emergency service helps, but often it can be a
long wait before they show up. Jumper cables in your trunk are a
low-cost and effective solution, but you need to have another
car around with a driver who is willing to help you.
Also available are portable,
rechargeable 12-volt (the rating of your car's electrical
system) power units. Depending on size and features these run
anywhere from about $30 to over $100. They'll give you at least
one start, and often several. The more expensive ones also may
have an accessory outlet to plug in your cell phone, laptop or
other electrical device.
The big advantage of these
portable power units is the security of knowing that no matter
where your battery has failed, you can take care of the
situation yourself in a matter of minutes. They're available at
large department and auto parts stores.
Your cooling system and battery
may be the most important may be the most important items to
keep in top condition, but there are some other things you can
do to augment your car's winter performance.
If you live in a very cold area,
you may want to switch to 5W-30 oil for the winter months. This
is lighter than standard 10W-30 oil and offers quicker
lubrication to internal engine parts during bitter cold
Make sure all suspension and
chassis points are properly lubricated and protected with
grease. Exposed joints do not take well to road salt and sand,
leading to premature wear. Also have your CV (constant velocity)
boots inspected to make sure your CV joints are protected. These
are expensive to replace and are particularly susceptible to
water, salt and sand intrusion.
Most cars are equipped with all
weather tires. For most conditions, these are adequate.
Make sure the tires with the deepest tread are on your drive
wheels. If you live in an area of heavy or frequent
snow, a set of aggressive snow tires on your drive wheels will
offer superior traction. Tire chains or belts will get you
through all but the nastiest snowfalls. Studded snows (where
still legal) offer extra traction on ice.
Winter Wiper Blades
These are merely regular wipers
enclosed in a soft, flexible rubber casing. Ice cannot
accumulate on the blade -- greatly improving snow and ice storm
Engine Block Heater
Do you live where it's really,
really cold? Then nothing gives you peace of mind like a
block heater. It keeps your block and oil comparitively
warm, assuring quick start up with a minimum of cranking on even
the coldest mornings.
You Gotta Have
You've now protected your vehicle
with all reasonable means, but being a complex mechanical
device, things may still go wrong -- leaving you stranded.
Used Cars has assembled a check
list of desirable stuff to have with you at all times -
regardless of season.
- Air compressor - small
- Antifreeze/Coolant mix -
- Auto Club or
manufacturer's emergency roadside assistance phone number
- Cellular phone
- Cooling system repair kit
- Duct tape
- Fan/accessory belt(s)
- Fire extinguisher - small
- First-aid kit
- Food - energy bars
- Gasket tube
- Hazard flares, lights, or
- Jumper cables
- Lug wrench - high quality
- Oil - quart
- Spare tire - (not as
uncommon as you think!)
- Tire inflator - aeresol
- Tire plugs
- Tool set
- Wiper blades
There are myriads of winter
weather gear you can carry along with you for most any
emergency. Here are some of our favorites that haven't already
- Sturdy ice scraper w/brush -
you didn't need us to tell you about this one
- Lock de-icer - for those times
it rains and then the temperature quickly drops
- Folding shovel - for the big
- Windshield cover - laid over
your windshield before a storm, it makes short work of
- Wet-start spray - electrical
system spray used to help start soggy ignitions
- Old carpet - use for traction
under a spinning wheel
By following these guidelines
you'll have the confidence knowing that you and your vehicle are
well prepared for whatever old man winter throws at you.