Winter Maintenance and Driving

If your car needs service, get it done now! Don’t wait, it could cost you more later and it is not a safe way to handle your car and your life.

No big deal in the summer. You break down? So what? It's a nice night out. Look at all those stars! But break down when it's minus jaw-freezing outside, and that's a different story. Since bad hoses, belts, water pumps and spark plug wires can leave you stranded in the winter, it's better to bite the bullet and fix them.

Here's one service item that's often forgotten: tire pressure. Ask your mechanic to check it, or do it as soon as winter arrives. Why? Because tire pressure drops by about one pound per ten degrees of temperature. So, if it's -10 now, and the last time you checked your tire pressure was back during that sweltering heat wave in July, your tires will be dangerously low and will jeopardize your car's handling.

Have your battery and charging system checked by a professional.

Your mechanic should check the battery, charging system, and belts. Your battery can leave you stranded simply because it's old and lousy. Or it could leave you stranded because your charging system isn't working well, and the battery isn't getting charged properly.

Check the cooling system.

Make certain the antifreeze will protect your car at the winter temperatures you'll experience in your area. For most areas, you'll need a 50-50 mix of coolant to water. You may think, "I'll be extra good to my car, and give it 100% coolant." Guess what? You're wrong. The 50-50 mix has a lower freezing point. Not only that, but 100% coolant is less able to transfer heat away from your engine, and has been known to cause such nasty things as melted spark plugs of engine failure under the wrong circumstances. So, mix it up!

Double check those wipers, don’t want to get caught in snow storm and then find out they are not up to par. And also make sure your windshield washer fluid is full, very important after the storms and all the dirt getting kicked up on your windshield.

If you have to drive in the snow.

That is, if you can't call in sick or tell the boss you'll be in later. If you live in an area where it snows a fair amount, you should get four good snow tires. Nothing will make a bigger difference. Because it's such a pain to get your snow tires remounted and balanced every year, splurge and get yourself four steel rims and mount the snows permanently on those rims. That'll make the changeover in the fall and spring a snap. By the way, lots of tire shops will offer to store your regular tires over the winter and then store your snow tires in the summer. This is a great deal. The only potential problem is that when they file a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, they'll have four of your tires in their basement, so you'll have to break in and retrieve them.

If you absolutely can't afford four snow tires, two new snow tires will be better than whatever you have on your car now. Mount them on the wheels that are driven by the engine. For all-wheel drive cars, you should use four snows.

If I have a front-wheel drive or an all-wheel drive car, do I need to have snow tires? The answer is, if you need to drive in the snow, yes. If you really, truly need to get around before the streets are plowed, four top-quality snow tires are the single best thing you can do. And the reason you'd still want them on a car with decent traction is because they not only help get you started, they also increase your traction when you're braking and turning.




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