Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Get your car ready for winter

10 tips to Get your car ready for winter

Everybody posts lists of what you should do to get your car ready for winter, but most of them don’t tell you why or explain the consequences of not doing them. I will.

1) Check (and change) your coolant. Driving on worn out coolant is a bad idea all year ‘round, but it’s especially bad in winter. Worn coolant can freeze and destroy your engine, but you probably already knew that. However, there’s more to coolant than just freeze protection. Fresh coolant prevents corrosion damage to your heater core, radiator, and water pump. The corrosion comes in two forms, ordinary corrosion caused by the 50/50 solution of water and coolant, and the kind caused by electrolysis. Electrolysis occurs when you have dissimilar metals and an electrolyte. And that’s exactly what you have in a vehicle. You’ve got aluminum, steel, magnesium, copper, and cast iron all connected electrically by the coolant. Fresh coolant contains additives to combat electrolysis. Once that additive wears out, galvanic action begins starts transferring metal from one surface to another. The heater core and radiator are the first to go. They can spring leaks or plug up. A heater core repair alone can cost upwards of $1,000. If you can’t remember the last time you changed the coolant, change it now. It costs far less than the repairs you’ll face later. See my article on choosing the right coolant.

2) Get your battery and charging system checked and serviced by a pro. On a cold winter’s night you’re likely to have all your electrical accessories (headlights, wipers, heater/defroster, and rear window defogger) running at the same time. That puts tremendous stress on your vehicle’s electrical system. So it’s important to have clean connections and a fresh battery. Old batteries just can’t the handle frequent discharge/recharge cycles and can actually cause premature alternator failure by causing it to full at full output. If your battery is four years old (or older), it’s living on borrowed time. Replace it now with the best battery you can afford.

3) Tune it up. In cold weather, new spark plugs and ignition wires can mean the difference between a rapid start and an engine that won’t fire up. Check your owner’s manual to find the manufacturer’s recommendation for when to change them. If you’re within 20% of that mileage, change them now and enjoy better starting all winter. Keep this in mind; if the plugs are rated at 100, 000 miles and you have 80,000 on the odometer, your plugs are 80% worn. They’re already starting to misfire, causing your gas mileage to suffer. Most drivers will only replace them once in the life of their vehicle. So why not change them now and enjoy better starts and gas mileage? Read this post on Spark Plugs.  Then read this one on spark plug MYTHS.

4) Replace your wiper blades with “winter blades.” Winter blades are covered in a rubber boot that prevents snow and ice from packing inside the squeegee’s support arms. So they keep your windshield clean even in heavy snow. Many newer vehicle come with beam style blades that don’t have support arms. If you have those on your vehicle, make sure they wipe without streaking. If you see streaks now, they’ll only get worse as road salt and grit wear them down even more. Replace them now for clearer visibility. Read this article on the difference between traditional and beam style blades

5) Check your headlights. The UV coating on plastic headlights degrades over time and the lenses turn cloudy, reducing road illumination by 70%. You don’t have to replace the entire headlight to see clearly again. Just buy a headlight restoration kit (about $25) at any auto parts store. I like the kit from Sylvania best because it contains a bottle of remover to help get rid of the old UV coating, AND it also contains a bottle of NEW UV coating to wipe onto the lenses after you’ve buffed them. I haven’t seen any other kit that includes those two items. Most include just sandpaper and plastic polishing compound. You can buy those kits and buff up your headlights. But if you don’t recoat them with new UV coating, you’ll be doing the job all over again in six months. Read this article on headlight restoration kits.

And don’t forget about the headlight bulbs. Pull out one of your low beam headlight bulbs and examine it. The glass should be crystal clear. If you see grey or brown deposits on the inside of the bulb, replace both bulbs. Those deposits can reduce nighttime visibility by almost 300-ft.

6) Check the tread depth on your tires with a tread depth gauge (from any auto parts store for less than $5). If the tread measures 5/32-in. or less, you’re almost due for new tires. Rather than wait until next spring, buy new tires now and get better traction and stopping power through the winter. Driving on good tread is one of the best ways to avoid winter accidents.

7) Change the cabin air filter. A plugged cabin air filter dramatically reduces air flow through the heater and defroster vents. So it takes longer to defrost the windshield and heat up the vehicle. Plus, it puts added strain on the blower motor, causing it to fail early (about a $200 repair). You’ll have to change the filter eventually, so change it now and enjoy faster defrost times and warmer toes.

8) Lubricate door and trunk locks. Sure you’ve got keyless entry, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore basic lock cylinder maintenance. If you don’t lubricate them and your key fob fails ever fails, they may not unlock due to corrosion. Spray dry teflon lube spray (available at home centers and auto parts stores) into each lock and turn the key several times to distribute the lube. That’ll keep them in shape in case you need to manually open the door or trunk.

9) Lubricate weatherstripping and window channels. Sleet and rain can seep into door gaps and window channels and freeze them shut. If you try to force the door open, you can rip the weatherstripping apart ($150 for new weather-stripping). And, if you try to operate a frozen window, you can damage the window regulator mechanism (a $300 repair). Prevent damage by spraying the door weather-stripping and window channels with a generous application of aerosol silicone spray (from any home center or auto parts store).

10) Check and recheck tire pressure. Tire pressure is dependent on outside temperature. Pressure drops by about 1-psi. for every 10° of temperature drop. If it was 70° outside when you last checked your tires, they’ll be 7-lbs. low when the outside temperature dips to 0°F. That’s too low for safe driving. So check them now, and again as it gets even colder.

© 2012 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat


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