Its Coming “Weather” You like it or Not: Preparing for Winter
By Courtney Evans
Well, its that time of year again. Time to dust off that turtle-neck and make sure that all the mittens and gloves are paired up. Its time for much lower temperatures, slick and salty roadways, and complete white-outs. Its time for dirty snow and cold/wet feet. Boy, I sure do LOVE winter (Insert sarcasm here).
Winter is certainly coming and it is already present in some parts of this great country of ours and other parts of the world. Are you ready for it? Maybe I should ask, “Is your vehicle ready for winter weather?”. In other words, is it winter-ready?
A winter-ready vehicle is one that can get you safely to and from your destination through snow, sleet, ice, and salt. Safety is paramount but reliability is important too. The winter prep list is not a long one. There are just a few key areas that need attention now and not later. The short list is your battery, antifreeze, tires, windshield wipers, windshield washer fluid, and heater/blower.
Your battery’s health is always important but it is even more important during the demands of winter. Cold temperatures wreak havoc on the metals and chemicals that make up your battery. This damage causes your battery to work harder so it is important to make sure it is up to the task. How can you tell if your battery is ready?
Cranking Amps (CA) is the measurement of the current that your battery provides for starting. This measurement is taken at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and if you remember from chemistry class, 32 degrees is the freezing temperature of water. It is a good measure of your battery’s power. However, Cold Cranking Amps (CCA) is better because this measurement is taken at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure that your battery is generating enough CCA’s.
Another measurement of your battery’s health is its Reserve Capacity (RC). Reserve capacity is simply how long the battery will supply power without being replenished by the alternator. Use this measurement in conjunction with the cold cranking amps rating when purchasing a new battery.
You can get your battery tested and installed for free at most auto parts stores. If your battery doesn’t measure up, its time to replace it before you get caught in a snow storm.
Another item on the list is your vehicles antifreeze or coolant. If you recall from the previous issue “Flushing Your Cooling System“, antifreeze is what keeps your engine cool. Typically, antifreeze is mixed with water in a 50/50 concentration. If this mixture is not correct and there is too much water, your coolant could freeze when the temps get really low, particularly overnight.
Make sure you check the fill level of the coolant in your radiator and check its water content. You can measure the specific gravity of the coolant by purchasing a gauge at your local auto parts store. If you have not flushed your coolant in the past 2 years or 24,000 miles, now is a great time to do this.
Tires provide that critical contact between you and the road. The importance of having the proper tires for winter weather cannot be overstated. Make sure you have all-season or winter tires installed. For more information on tires, see “Be Smart About Tires” Parts one and two.
Make sure you have a minimum of 2/32 inches of tread and that your tires are properly inflated. Your tires’ inflation level should be checked monthly. Also, don’t forget to check your spare tire.
To keep your windshield clear during winter driving, make sure you have fresh wiper blades installed. This is an easy and inexpensive fix. If your wipers aren’t showing that they are worn now, they will certainly reveal themselves when ice, snow, and salt covers the glass.
Not only could your rubber blades be worn out, but the actual arm that applies pressure to the blades to keep them in contact with the windshield may be worn as well. You can even find versions of wiper blades that are designed specifically for winter driving. Stop by your local auto parts store to pick up a new set of blades. Most of these stores will even install them for free. Don’t forget your rear wiper if your vehicle is equipped with one.
Windshield Washer Fluid
Be sure to top off your washer fluid reservoir. Use “antifreeze” versions. It doesn’t matter what color it is. As long as it is designed for the lower temperatures of winter driving. There is nothing worse than spraying the washer fluid on the glass and have it immediately freeze, which further obstructs your view.
Make sure your washer fluid nozzles aren’t clogged. Its not going to do you any good to have a full washer fluid reservoir if the fluid cannot reach the glass. In most cases you can use a small paper clip to dig out a clogged nozzle.
Heater and Blower
Ok, this one is to keep you nice and toasty while driving or while sitting in traffic. Make sure that your heat works. Check the function of your heater control valve by turning the controls to “heat”. Do this after the engine has warmed up. Is the air warm? If the engine is warm and your air is not, the heater control valve may have malfunctioned and may be stuck in a closed position. Check your blower fan to make sure that adequate air circulation is being created. If it is not working, check the fuse inside your fuse panel. Replace the fuse if necessary.
Here’s the quick winter-prep list:
1. Check your batteries cold cranking amps, replace if necessary
2. Check your coolant/antifreeze level and water content, top off or flush
3. Check your tire type, tread depth, and inflation
4. Check the quality of your windshield wipers, replace if necessary
5. Check washer fluid type, make sure its an “antifreeze” type
6. Check your heater function, temperature, and fan/blower
That’s a very short list! A little preparation will take you a long way towards safe winter driving. Spend a little time now for added insurance later.