Kate on Cars - October 2011
Kate’s Basic Winter Car Care Tips
Sonoma county doesn’t have as much of a winter as other parts of the country, but there are temperature changes here, and seasonal rain. We need to make special preparations to try to reduce the chance of getting caught in a bad spot with our cars.
Cold weather and rain or snow can cause your car to react differently. Metal parts expand and contract with temperature changes. Rubber components can get dry and brittle. Electricity flows differently through cold batteries, wires and circuit boards than through hot ones. Belts and hoses can be affected by cold weather.
Have a thorough safety and maintenance inspection done by a reputable shop before winter weather begins. And especially any deferred maintenance such as oil changes, spark plugs, filters and belts are all best done before cold weather hits. This goes a long way to catching potential problems before they leave you stranded, or even worse, being involved in an accident.
Three of the most important car winterization concerns I suggest to all my customers are as follows:
Wiper blades wear out and should be replaced every 6 months. They eventually crack and fray and don’t do their job – which is to clear the windshield for you and allow you to see clearly in all types of winter weather.
Another way to ensure you can see out your windshield is water repellent on the glass. One popular brand is “Rain X.” It will have to be removed and reapplied about once a year, but that stuff works great. The water practically falls off the windshield when using such a product.
You’ll also be much safer and happier on cold or frosty days if your car’s defrost function works without fail.
Driving in the rain
Make sure you have good tires and brakes. Wet roads reduce traction, making it harder to control your car. Good, deep tread allows water to be pushed away from the tire, keeping as much traction between the tire and road as possible. That will help you with control of your car as well. Good tires can help you stop safely and quickly on wet roads, which we all know are a winter reality here in Sonoma County.
Although you can inspect your tires to a certain point yourself, it can be really tough to accurately figure what is or is not a safe tire. And it’s almost impossible to see all of the tire. Have your repair shop put the vehicle on a lift to really take a good look. Some suspension problems can cause tires to look good at first glance, but upon more careful inspection it may be found that they have uneven wear across the width of the tire.
Brakes are a given, and are always really important. Especially so in the rain, where every inch of braking distance counts.
You can’t go if it won’t start
All this safety stuff is really important, but you’re going nowhere fast if your car won’t even start.
Batteries don’t like cold weather. Their main job is to store electrical energy to turn the starter to make your engine turn so it can start. In cold weather, their ability to do this is decreased. It’s important to have your battery and charging system checked in preparation for winter. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have it checked again mid-winter, especially if the battery is more than a few years old.
Without question, weakened batteries especially do not like cold. If batteries freeze, they can sometimes be thawed enough to start a car by turning the headlamps on for a couple minutes. This is not so much of an issue in Sonoma county, but a cool trick to remember nonetheless.
If the battery fails, you could get a jump-start, but wouldn’t it be better to avoid having to do that in the first place?
Remember, stuff happens
Even with superb planning and preventative maintenance, stuff still happens. It’s wise to keep an emergency kit in your car including a first aid kit, flares and safety triangles at the least. Know what to do and whom to call if you get stuck. You might keep a list of phone numbers in your glovebox, including the number for your repair shop, AAA, your insurance company (who may offer roadside assistance), and also the local police.
We’ll cover some other winterization topics in future articles. Please feel free to email any of your questions to me firstname.lastname@example.org.