By Pat Maurer
It’s foolish to head out in a poorly maintained vehicle in the dead of winter.
Area professionals say that a fall car-care check is very important here in northern Michigan where the weather could easily leave you stranded if you haven’t taken good care of your vehicle before the bad weather arrives.
Besides making your vehicle safer, regular, routing maintenance can improve your gas mileage, reduce pollution and catch minor problems before they become a major headache.
ASE, the non-profit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, an independent group that tests and certifies the competence of auto technicians – and some of our own local experts have some tips – a road map to fall car care.
Jim Paetschow, owner of Jim’s Body Shop of Clare, said, “The most important thing a vehicle owner can do is to look things over and make sure your vehicle is ready for the harsh winter ahead.”
Darrin Howard, owner of Dagwood’s Auto of Clare and Mt. Pleasant, said, “There is so many things in this climate that a complete winter inspection is the most important thing you can do for reliable, safe winter driving.”
First things first–Read your owner’s manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommended service schedules.
Eric Miesler of Eric’s Automotive of Clare said, “The most important thing is a fall safety inspection to check all belts, hoses and fluid levels before the cold weather hits.”
Get engine driveability problems (hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc.) corrected at a good repair shop.
Cold weather makes existing problems worse. Replace dirty filters—air, fuel, PCV, etc. A poorly running engine is less efficient and burns more gasoline.
For your safety this winter, D&R Auto Sales and Repair Head Mechanic Tom Brake said, “One of the most important things you can do is to check you brakes and tires this fall.”
Worn tires will be of little use in winter weather. Examine tires for remaining tread life, uneven wearing, and cupping; check the sidewalls for cuts and nicks. Check tire pressure once a month. Let the tires “cool down” before checking the pressure.
Rotate as recommended. Don’t forget your spare, and be sure the jack is in good condition. Under-inflated tires or poorly aligned wheels makes your engine work harder and thus use excess gasoline. Also have your brakes checked periodically for safety and to prevent costly repairs that can be caused by neglect.
Dave Cookson, Lead Technician at Clare Auto Service urged, “The most important thing is to be sure your tires, battery and cooling system are up to snuff. They leave people stranded more than anything else.”
The only accurate way to detect a weak battery is with professional equipment. Routine care: Scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections; clean all surfaces; re-tighten all connections. If battery caps are removable, check fluid level monthly. A word of caution: Removal of cables can cause damage or loss of data/codes on some newer vehicles. Check your manual. Be sure to avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid. Wear eye protection and rubber gloves, or better yet have a professional do it for you.
Bob Strong, Service Manager at Benchley Brothers Auto Service Depatment said, “Have the cooling system and the battery checked. They are the two most important things to do in the fall.”
The cooling system should be flushed and refilled as recommended. The level, condition, and concentration of the coolant should be checked periodically. (A 50/50 mix of anti-freeze and water is usually recommended.) DIYers, never remove the radiator cap until the engine has thoroughly cooled! The tightness and condition of drive belts, clamps, and hoses should be checked by a pro.
Donnie Carr, Co-owner of Double D’s of Clare said, “One of the first things to do in the fall is to have your antifreeze checked for the correct ration and to make sure there is no contamination.”
Put a bottle of fuel de-icer in your tank once a month to help keep moisture from freezing in the fuel line. Note, too, that a gas tank that’s kept filled helps prevent moisture from forming.
Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your manual—more often if your driving is mostly stop-and-go or consists of frequent short trips. A poll of ASE Master Auto Technicians revealed that regular oil and filter changes is one of the most frequently neglected services, yet one that is essential to protect your engine.
The heater and defroster must be in good working condition for passenger comfort and driver visibility. Windshield Wipers—Replace old blades. If your climate is harsh, purchase rubber-clad (winter) blades to fight ice build-up. Stock up on windshield washer solvent—you’ll be surprised how much you use. Carry an ice-scraper.
Your electrical system is important. Inspect all lights and bulbs; replace burned out bulbs; periodically clean road grime from all lenses. To prevent scratching, never use a dry rag.
Your vehicle should be placed on a lift and the exhaust system examined for leaks. The trunk and floorboards should be inspected for small holes. Exhaust fumes can be deadly.
Your cars transmission is often neglected until a major failure. Routine checks and fluid changes at prescribed intervals can prevent very costly repairs down the line.
Finally, in spite of everything, if you do find yourself stranded, be prepared. In case of an emergency, carry gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel, sand or kitty litter, tire chains, a flashlight, and a cell phone. Put a few “high-energy” snacks in your glove box.