Tires, wipers, battery among winter checks neededWritten by Jay Hathaway | | email@example.com
The window for taking summer road trips may be closed, but our vehicles are still in for a long cold season of work commutes, family gatherings and traffic jams while holiday shopping. Therefore, drivers should make preparations to ensure they are not left out in the cold (pun intended).
One of the first things to examine are a vehicle’s tires, said Bob Kazmierczak, enterprise development manager at AAA Northwest Ohio.
“You not only want to look and make sure they have proper tread, but you also want to make sure they’re not dry-rotted, slowly losing air over time,” he said.
An easy way to check tire tread depth is to take a penny and place it upside-down within one of the grooves on the tire, Kazmierczak said. If part of Lincoln’s head is covered, the tire has at least 2/32-inch of tread depth, which is the legal minimum. However, if all of the former president’s head is exposed, it’s time for a change.
Bo Schimmel, manager of Firestone Complete Auto Care in Holland, also recommended checking tire pressure on a monthly basis.
“For every 10 degrees the temperature drops, tires can lose about one pound per square inch of pressure,” Schimmel said. “Monitor tire pressure more closely in cold weather.”
Next, take a walk around the car, checking to make sure all lights are functional, especially headlights and brake lights, Kazmierczak said.
“It’s surprising how many people don’t know that there’s a light out,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to see two [lights] coming at you in a snowstorm than one.”
Few things are more frustrating — or dangerous — than struggling to see through a snowy windshield due to bad windshield wipers, so it is recommended they be checked before storms hit. Warning signs include streaking or skipping while the wipers are running on a wet windshield.
“Definitely do not use them as a snow scraper,” Kazmierczak said. “That shortens their life.”
Under the hood, drivers should check belts and hoses for dryness or cracking.
“There’s nothing worse than a belt breaking or a hose bursting in the middle of a winter storm, and having to get out and figure out what might be going on,” Kazmierczak said.
The serpentine belt is especially important, as several of a vehicle’s subsystems will not function without it. Check the underside of the belt; if cracks are numerous and running deep, it should be replaced, he said.
To check hoses, give them a squeeze. They should be somewhat pliable, but firm.
“Hoses wear from the inside out, so when you give it a good squeeze, it will feel like you’re crushing something if the hose is bad,”
Even if belts and hoses are in good shape, vehicle owners should not ignore one absolute essential — the battery.
Vehicle batteries can lose half of their cranking power during extremely cold weather, so checking power with a battery tester can ensure the battery has enough juice to survive a nasty freeze.
Drivers should also regularly check fluids to make sure they are not running out and that they are clean. For example, transmission fluid may appear burnt, Kazmierczak said, which means it should be drained and replaced.
“In the wintertime, when you’re slipping on the ice and snow, people tend to get a little excited when they get stuck and start shifting from reverse to drive, and then they start burning the fluid.”
Other fluids, such as oil, go through changes during cold weather, which may affect how vehicles run, Schimmel said.
“Fluids get thicker in cold weather and take longer to properly lubricate engine components. This causes more metal particles to be present, which results in additional wear and damage,” he said.
Schimmel added that cold weather can take its toll on the exterior of vehicles as well — bad news for those who appreciate a fine-looking ride.
“Keep your vehicle washed,” he said. “A washed and waxed exterior better protects a vehicle from the elements as the seasons change.”
In addition to preventative maintenance and inspection, drivers should stock their vehicles with several items that can provide safety and comfort during a breakdown.
A small utility shovel should be kept in the trunk. Also keep a flashlight within reach for breakdowns after dark.
In case of a breakdown that leaves you with no heater, keep a blanket or two in the car — as well as one object many may not think of.
“Believe it or not, a candle should be kept in the car, along with matches,” Kazmierczak said. “A lot of people forget the matches. A candle, in cold weather, will heat your car, so it’s a good thing to have.”
A stockpile of food like granola bars can come in handy during long waits for towing service. Though water can freeze, Kazmierczak said special “nonfreezing” water packages are available.
“If you’re stuck on a roadside for a couple of hours, you could become dehydrated, so it’s important to have something to drink and something to eat.”
Sometimes, especially during blinding winter storms, it may be difficult for emergency vehicles to spot a stranded vehicle, so drivers should have a flashing emergency light with fresh batteries.
Schimmel added gloves, extra windshield washer fluid, a cellphone charger and an emergency roadside kit as essential items to stock, along with a small bag of cat litter.
“[Cat litter is] great for providing added traction for tires if stuck in snow or ice,” he said.
While Northwest Ohio drivers may dread the possibility of experiencing car trouble during the coming months, savvy auto owners can take some comfort in knowing they are prepared.