Monday, October 5, 2015

Quick Tips for Winterizing Your Vehicle

Along with pumpkin spice lattes, a crisp feeling in the air, and a million little snowflakes, the months of October, November, and December bring the highest number of car crashes in snow afflicted states like Utah, Colorado, and North Dakota. Winter wonderlands can create a pretty picture, but can also cause some ugly accidents. You can avoid major accidents by driving the speed limit, using turn signals and other indicators, as well as following the general traffic laws of your state. You can take that preparedness one step further by “winterizing” your car.

What is “winterizing?”

Those of us from warmer climates may have never heard of winterizing. It’s the act of preparing your car for the cold months ahead. Once you hit the first freeze, it’s time to start prepping your car for winter. It takes some time and may seem like a costly expense, but it’s worth it if you want to extend the life of your vehicle. If you have a plan to sell or junk your vehicle, winterizing it will help keep the resale value up during the winter.

Using the proper engine oil.

First, let’s pop the hood and check out our engine oil situation. In order to function at the highest level of cold weather performance, most engines need a slightly thinner oil. The change in viscosity will allow the oil to move faster when cold and prevent premature wear and tear and break downs! You don’t want to be stranded in the snow because your engine is starved for oil. Oil viscosity is indicated as something like “5W30?.  The first part (“5W”) is important when considering winterization as this is the oil viscosity rating at colder temperatures. The lower the number before the W, the more viscous (free flowing) the oil will be. In winter you should consider running a lower viscosity oil such as 5W or 10W. Of course, you should always consult your manufacture’s recommended oil weights as it can vary from vehicle to vehicle.

Coolant and Antifreeze.

While our brains might tell us that we don’t’ need coolant in the winter (it’s already freezing outside!), our brains are wrong. Even in the coldest temperatures engines can produce an enormous amount of heat. Coolant prevents your engine from overheating, breaking down, and leaving you stranded on the side of the road. Water is a pretty good coolant but suffers from one major problem: it freezes! When water freezes it expands, and if it expands too much while inside your engine it can burst hoses or even crack an engine block.  Antifreeze is the answer to this problem.

In the winter months especially, most vehicles need a 50/50 Antifreeze to water ratio. You should never use 100% antifreeze as this can actually make your vehicle more likely to overheat. Coolant can be mixed by yourself or purchased premixed.  We highly suggest asking for help if you’re not experienced adding or replacing engine coolant. A mistake here could end up costing you your engine and ruining your holidays.

Get charged up!

Your battery can lose up to 33% of its power when the temperature drops below freezing, and it can lose over 50% when it gets below zero outside. To add insult to injury, fluids inside the engine become thicker when cold and can actually make the engine harder to turn and thus require more battery power. We suggest finding a dependable dealer or mechanic to check the battery and electrical system for corrosion and weakness. If the battery is showing signs of aging, replacing it prior to the cold winter months is a good idea. Also make sure the cables, posts, and fasteners are in good shape and secured in their places. If you have access to a battery tender it can be beneficial to charge your battery on especially cold nights.

Use specialized winter and cold weather tires

When the temperature is consistently around freezing, the rubber on regular tires hardens, making it difficult to grip the road. Even if there is no snow or ice on the road, cold hard tires on a cold surface can cause a dramatic loss of traction and grip. Almost all tire manufacturers produce special “winter tires” made from a unique rubber compound that is designed to work well in cold temperatures. These tires often also incorporate special tread designs that help increase grip on wet, snowy, or icy surfaces. Don’t wait for the first snow to change your tires to winter tires, that may be too late. If you can see your breath, it’s time to change the tires. Be sure to change them back when spring comes around as using winter tires in warmer weather can wear them out very quickly.

Keep a clear windshield

Winter windshield wipers will also be helpful. They have special rubber that keeps ice and snow from collecting on the blades. Regular fair weather wipersoften have a framework made of movable and flexible parts that can become frozen or jammed with snow and ice. Just be sure to removed them before the big thaw in spring; winter wipers are heavier and can burn out the motor, a repair no one needs to make when the rain comes.

Bonus Tips!

  •  Inspect and change out your headlights, fog, and tail lights. A burnedout taillight can turn your Land Rover into a motorcycle (or completely invisible) to the drivers behind you. You might be able to see them, but they may not be able to see you!
  • Tire Chains may or may not be necessary in extreme conditions. They can be helpful, but if equipped too early can damage the road and causes major safety issues. Keep them in your trunk and listen to your local weather and traffic reports for the green light on chains. Tire chains are not legal in all states so be sure to check your local bylaws before hitting the road.
  • Make sure you carry emergency essentials in your car at all times: flashlight, batteries, flares, jacket, boots, mittens, and a cellphone charger. It’s always best to be prepared for the worst. 
  • A completely optional but beneficial detail: winter mats . These are too inexpensive to pass up when taking care of your vehicle. The snow, dirt, and dead leaves will dirty your car, sog your carpets, and decrease the resale value. If you have a diesel vehicle you may need what’s called a glow plug in the coldest months. This is a device you plug into an electrical outlet and the engine block to keep it warm. This makes a diesel engine easier to start since the cylinder walls and engine block will not absorb the heat of combustion. 
  • Winter is also one of the best times to get rid of junk vehicles! Cars that don’t move often are prone to being snowed in and iced up. If the vehicle becomes covered in snow you may not be able to move it until spring.

Guest post from The Clunker Junker.