Get Energized to Winterize!
What should I do to my car to prepare it for winter?
I live in sunny and humid Houston, Texas, so I really don't hear this question in my shop very often, but I have received numerous E-mails about winterizing from readers who live in snowy climates. My first suggestion to those readers is MOVE! I am just kidding. Here is a short list of things I would do to winterize my vehicle.
Inspect and/or change all fluids
Outside temperature changes the viscosity and thickness of the lubricants that are protecting your engine and transmission. Check your owner's manual for recommended engine oil weight, and change the oil and filter as needed. It would also be a good idea to service the transmission fluid and filter as general maintenance prior to snowy weather as well. Warning: If your transmission has high mileage and/or has not been properly maintained, consult your mechanic before servicing the internal filter.
Get the front end parts of your vehicle greased. Your mechanic should do a "grease job" as part of an oil change, but it seems that this procedure often gets overlooked. Some newer cars do not have accessible grease fittings, so a grease job is not necessary. The reason for the grease job in the first place is to keep the front suspension and linkage parts properly lubricated and to reduce friction and wear. As with your body, the metal front end parts are affected by the cold weather, and extra lubrication is needed to keep things moving smoothly.
Check the radiator and heater operation
The radiator removes the excess heat from the engine, and the heater disperses excess engine heat into the cab to keep you warm. Both items need antifreeze to operate. The antifreeze should be checked for the proper mixture (see your owners manual or consult with your mechanic for the ratio of antifreeze to water that is correct for your climate). The condition of the radiator and the heater core (the small radiator-like part inside the dash of your car that produces the heat) should also be ascertained.
Check the radiator cap for wear. Replace the radiator cap as needed with a vent type cap that will allow you to vent off the dangerous steam and quickly check the antifreeze level inside the radiator without having to let the engine cool down. This type of radiator cap is a great item to have if you are on a long road trip and want to safely check the antifreeze level inside the radiator while the engine is still hot.
Inspect and/or replace rubber parts
Inspect or replace the windshield wiper blades and add the proper amount of windshield de-icer additive to the washer reservoir bottle. Rubber products will get hard and brittle in the cold weather, and the wiper blades will have to work extra hard to remove snow and ice from the windshield. Wiper blades are often overlooked when your car is in the shop, so plan ahead and replace them before you have to depend on them.
Other rubber products that take a beating in the cold weather are the belts and hoses. Have your mechanic check them when testing the antifreeze and radiator operation. Most cars have two to four special heater and by-pass hoses in addition to the two standard radiator hoses. These smaller hoses are often overlooked, but due to their smaller size, are usually the first hoses to develop a leak. If the radiator hoses are due for replacement, have the other hoses replaced as well so they are all the same age.
The rubber fan belt should also be inspected. Most newer vehilces are equipped with a serpentine-type fan belt. Most vehicles have one, but some have two serpentine belts that drive all the accessories and engine components. If this single serpentine belt breaks, the engine dies and the drive is stranded, so check the belts!
Check battery condition and load test
A very simple electrical test can check the battery "load," the amount of electricity it can hold and distribute to the engine and its accessories. Using accessories like the heater blower, headlights, radio, defroster, etc. will add an extra load to the electrical system. The cold weather can cause the battery to work harder than in a warmer weather condition.
Sometimes an overnight cold snap can zap the power from the battery without any prior symptoms. A quick battery load test can reduce the chances of getting stranded out in the cold with a dead battery. Also check the battery cables and terminal ends, and make sure they are tight and clean of corrosion. Dirty or loose battery cable ends can result in all kinds of electrical problems.
Check tire pressure and condition
The air in your tires will contract in the cold weather, so checking the pressure with a tire pressure gauge is a must. Now is also a great time to replace any worn or slick tires before the ice and snow hits the road. If one tire is worn more than the other tires, have your alignment checked.
Don't forget about yourself and your passengers
Now that you have protected and cared for your car, it is time to do the same for you and your passengers. In winter, carry extra warm weather clothes and a rainproof jacket in the car. Also keep on hand a flash light with new batteries, your cell phone charger, a pen and paper to write on and a disposable camera. In the event of a mechanical breakdown or a car accident, you want to be prepared. Use the camera to take pictures of the accident scene and take pictures of the other driver, passengers, and condition of their vehicle. Get names and phone numbers from all bystanders or anyone that you can call on as your witness. Always call the police to the scene of the accident!
Have a safe drive in your winter wonderland. I will be thinking about you when I still have the air conditioner on in my home in Houston in mid-December. Drive on down, I have plenty of room.
Austin C Davis
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