We instinctively transform ourselves when summer turns into winter. We trade in our t-shirts and Bermuda shorts for parkas and heavy jeans and we might switch from a diet of fruit salad to that of beef stew.
It makes sense that your automobile be given the same consideration.
It is wise to have an expert check out and troubleshoot your vehicle prior to the onslaught of winter. Not only are experienced, reputable auto specialists able to fix what’s broken, they can also foresee potential problems and eliminate them with the correct preventive maintenance.
“We will help to reduce the operating costs, by informing you of worn parts before the need for urgent repairs,” says Eric Mileham of Green Tree Auto Care in Orangeville.
“If the vehicle is still covered by a warranty, knowing what is wrong before a dealership visit should make it easier to have warranty repairs performed. This will help to minimize operating costs and break down inconvenience.”
Oil changes are always necessary to ensure engine life and efficiency. They are even more crucial when preparing for the winter. This is especially true if you have an older vehicle. While you might hear of 10-30 oil being “the one-size- fits-all” oil, that axiom does not account for areas like ours which are prone to extreme temperature changes. Therefore, it is sensible to fully understand the difference between, let’s say, a 10-30 and a 5-30; the latter being more suitable for winter.
The first number, 5 or 10 in this case, is a measurement of how easily the oil pours at low temperatures. The lower the number, the thinner it will be in these conditions: a 0 pours easier than a 5, a 5 easier than a 10, etc. Oil with a lower viscosity (a lower number) will reach and protect the engine’s internal components faster. The second number, which in this scenario is 30, indicates the thickness of the oil once the vehicle is up and running at high temperature. High viscosity (thicker) oil will adhere to mechanical components better when subjected to high pressure and stress and can withstand higher temperatures before thinning out.
The difference between these two oils is cold flow ability; 10w30 oil will move more slowly than 5w30 oil during cold startups. For winter usage, it is best to use 5w30 oil.
It goes without saying that good visibility is vital while driving, and this particularly applies during the winter. Therefore, ensure your windshield wipers are in proper working order. If they are leaving streaks of water on the windshield, or if the wiper-blade rubber is either cracked or stiff, replace the wipers with a new set. For the sake of preservation, use a brush and a scraper to remove ice and snow from the windshield rather than your wipers. Another precaution could be to lift the wipers off the glass before an overnight snow to keep them from freezing to the windshield.
During the winter, it is vital to make sure your windshield washer reservoir is filled with a washer solution that contains an antifreeze agent. While the standard blue fluid might suffice, do not use water as a substitute if you find you are running low… More than likely, you will end up with frozen washer lines.
Your vehicle’s heater needs to be functioning properly so that plenty of warm air is being directed to the windshield when it’s in the defrost mode. If there is a separate A/C button, turn it on to hot when defrosting. The air conditioner dehumidifies the air and speeds defogging.
Finally, check that all the vehicle’s lights are working properly and clear of snow and ice, so that you’ll have optimum visibility at night and other motorists will be able to see you.
These final two points serve to emphasize how important it is to have a battery that operates at optimum efficiency. “The battery is the heart of the electrical system in a vehicle,” says Eric. “Today’s vehicles have more electronic modules in them than ever before.”
He adds that these modules rely on a stable electrical supply and a weak battery can be the cause of many component failures. “Often the driver has no indication that the battery is weak,” warns Eric. “Many times, the vehicle will even start and run correctly, but the air bag light, stability control light or one of the other warning lights has come on.”
“Waiting until there are symptoms of a weak battery present can become costly. Having your battery tested once or twice a year is excellent insurance against unplanned vehicle failures.” Cold temperatures reduce your battery’s cranking power. At zero degrees F, your battery has roughly half the cranking power it has at 80 degrees F.
Then there is the issue of having the proper tires.
The idea of using all-season tires, instead of winter tires, is becoming less and less of an option. The province of Quebec, for example, has made winter tires mandatory. Driving during the winter on the rural roads of Dufferin-Caledon can be a slippery experience. Winter tires have tread patterns and rubber compounds specially designed for optimum traction on slick roads. Winter tires typically have shorter tread life and generate more road noise than the all-season tires that your vehicle came with, but the extra safety they provide is generally worth the compromise. Ensuring correct tire pressure is especially important during the winter. Properly inflated tires will guarantee the best possible contact between the tire and the driving surface. In winter’s lower temperatures, however, the cooler air contracts, and the air pressure in your tires can drop. “We add about four extra PSI in the cold weather to compensate for temperature changes,” mentions Eric. Proper inflation also saves money because it minimizes tire wear. Read your owner’s manual to find the correct tire pressure, or look for the sticker in the driver side doorjamb.
It is also advisable to take a look at the engine’s cooling system. During spells of extremely cold temperatures, there’s a chance the rubber parts can become brittle and fail. Check the radiator and heater hoses for cracking, leaking, or contamination from oil or grease. The hoses should be firm yet pliable when you squeeze them. Replace them if they feel brittle or overly soft. If it is time to flush your system, have it done before the cold weather arrives. The system should be refilled with a mixture of antifreeze and water, typically in a 50/50 ratio. Very cold conditions, however, can call for ratios of 60/40 or 70/30. Check your owner’s manual or the back of the antifreeze container.
Water can get into door and trunk locks and then freeze, locking you out of the vehicle. To prevent this, lubricate the locks with a silicone spray or door-lock lubricant. If they’re already frozen, use a lock antifreeze product to thaw them. At Green Tree, there is an emphasis on proper lubrication. It is offered with the 5,000 kilometre oil change. “Lubricate hinges, latches, and locks,” Eric advises. “This will minimize the wear and tear of the door hinges and latches. It also prevents corrosion and seized parts. Lubricant in the door lock, even just once in the life of the vehicle, can prevent a very inconvenient lockout or a possible tow call.”
With all these precautions taken, it is time to actually drive the vehicle. In these environmentally-conscious times, warming your car up is often frowned upon; to the point where some municipalities even fine motorists for excessive idling. Still, it is beneficial to let your car or truck’s engine warm up a bit. While older cars would cough, stumble, and stall if not given sufficient time to warm up, today’s models can be put in gear and driven away as soon as they are started, but that doesn’t mean you should not warm it up at all. A little idling time before you drive gives the oil a chance to heat up, thin out and flow more smoothly.
It may be a bitter winter, but that does not mean there should not be happy motoring.
Written By: Dan Pelton