You may be ready for colder temperatures, but is your car?
We spoke with John Paul, public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, about the steps drivers should take to prepare their vehicles for winter.
“Winter in New England is the hardest time of year for cars,’’ Paul said. “The combination of cold weather and wet weather just makes it hard for cars to perform properly.’’
Battery and charging system
Have the battery and charging system tested by a trained technician. A fully charged battery in good condition is required to start an engine in cold weather. “The typical life of a battery in New England is 39 months,’’ Paul said. “People need to think about it when it gets about three years old. Have it tested.’’
Battery cables and terminals
Make sure the battery terminals and cable ends are free from corrosion and the connections are tight.
Inspect the underside of accessory drive belts for cracks or fraying. Many newer multi-rib “serpentine’’ belts are made of materials that do not show obvious signs of wear; replace these belts at 60,000-mile intervals.
Inspect cooling system hoses for leaks, cracks or loose clamps. Also, squeeze the hoses and replace any that are brittle or excessively spongy feeling. “Although they last much longer than they did in year’s past,’’ Paul said, “they should be checked yearly to make sure they’re not cracked or brittle or broken.’’
Tire type and tread
“Tires are what gets your car moving and has it stop in the wintertime,’’ Paul said. “It’s very important that your tires have really good tread.’’ In areas with heavy winter weather, installing snow tires on all four wheels will provide the best winter traction. People who need to be out before the plows, drive plows, or have to drive in snow often should consider dedicated snow tires, according to Paul. Replace any tire that has less than 3/32 inches of tread. “Having bald snow tires is no better than bald regular tires,’’ Paul said.
Check tire inflation pressure on all four tires and the spare more frequently in fall and winter. As the average temperature drops, so will tire pressures – typically by one PSI for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Check the engine air filter by holding it up to a 60-watt light bulb. If light can be seen through much of the filter, it is still clean enough to work effectively. However, if light is blocked by most of the filter, replace it.
Check the coolant level in the overflow tank when the engine is cold. “You want to make sure the engine is well protected,’’ Paul said. “If it is low, you want to figure out why it’s low. There could be a leak.’’ Add a 50/50 solution of coolant and water to maintain the necessary antifreeze capability. Test the antifreeze protection level annually with an inexpensive tester available at any auto parts store.
It’s important to see and be seen, Paul said. “You want to make sure headlights and taillights are working properly because it gets darker sooner,’’ he said. Check the operation of all headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers and back-up lights. Replace any burnt out bulbs.
The blades should completely clear the glass with each swipe. Replace any blade that leaves streaks or misses spots. In areas with snow, consider installing winter wiper blades that wrap the blade frame in a rubber boot to reduce ice and snow buildup.
“You want to make sure that it’s true washer fluid,’’ Paul said. “Make sure you didn’t fill it up with water. That will freeze’’
If there is any indication of a brake problem, have the system inspected by a certified technician to ensure all components are in good working order. “When your car doesn’t start it’s aggravating,’’ Paul said. “When your car doesn’t stop it can be fatal.’’ Make sure to also check the parking brake.
Emergency road kit
AAA recommends having a kit that includes a mobile phone, car charger, drinking water, first-aid kit, non-perishable snacks for both human and pet passengers, snow shovel, a bag of abrasive material, ice scraper with a brush, blankets, extra warm clothing, jumper cables, warning devices, and a basic toolkit. “All these things fall under the category of better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it,’’ Paul said.
On top of updating their car’s parts, drivers should also get mentally prepared. “A lot of drivers just forget how to drive in the snow,’’ Paul said. “Reduce your speed and leave plenty of room around you and the cars around you.’’ His last piece of advice? “For the drivers out there who don’t clean all the snow off their cars: Please do it.’’ The snow not only blows backward into other cars, it can slide onto the windshield and ruin visibility after an abrupt stop.