Fall/Winter Check-up For Your Vehicle
By Staff Sgt. James Fountain, 17th Training Wing Safety Office
/ Published November 03, 2009
GOODFELLOW AFB, Texas --
I know we don't live in Alaska or North Dakota, but these few tips could help prevent you from spending money and frustrating car troubles!
1. Due for an oil change soon? The oil used should have the right viscosity, or thickness, for your vehicle at this time of year. Oil tends to thicken as it gets colder, and if it's too thick it won't do the best job of keeping your engine lubricated. Check your owner's manual for guidance about which oil to use in different climates and temperatures.
2. Make sure you can see clearly through the windshield. When was the last time you replaced your windshield wiper blades? They usually work effectively for about one year. West Texas heat dries the rubber, so be sure to invest in some new ones if you're due. Fill up your windshield washer reservoir with windshield washer fluid rated to withstand cold temperatures. Also check your heater and defroster - are they are working properly? Visibility is important to see objects in front and rear of vehicles.
3. Check your battery. This is an ideal time of year to make sure your battery's posts and connections are corrosion-free and your battery has all the water it needs. If your battery is more than three years old, have a certified repair shop test its ability to hold a charge. So, is your battery fresh enough to endure the winter weather? Compare its voltage with these figures:
12.6V to 12.8V: full charge
12.2V to 12.4V: half charge
11.8V to 12.0V: discharged
4. Examine your belts and hoses. Make sure the belts and hoses get checked for wear and tear, even if you're driving a newer car. Cold weather can do a number on belts and hoses, so they deserve attention.
5. Check your tire pressure. Your tires must be properly inflated to ensure you'll have the best possible traction when you drive. Traction is often severely jeopardized in wet, snowy or icy conditions. The air pressure in your tires will drop as the weather gets colder. Again, your trusty owner's manual will tell you what your target tire pressure should be.
6. Get the antifreeze mixture just right. Every vehicle requires a certain ratio of coolant to water, and your owner's manual or repair technician can explain what your engine needs. For most vehicles, a winter ratio is 60 percent coolant to 40 percent water. Adjusting this ratio is an important step in winterizing your car. If you need help, ask someone who is experienced and knowledgeable. Be sure you're equipped to dispose of your old antifreeze properly if you do the job yourself. It can't just be poured down the drain.
7. For those old fashioned non-key chain clickers, door locks can freeze in cold weather and break your key if you try to force them open. The old fashion cure was warm water, but what if you're not at home and don't have any warm water nearby? Discount stores, auto parts stores, and even hardware stores sell glycerine you can use for de-icing. Think about where you keep it, however, because if the de-icer is in the glove box of your frozen-shut car, then it won't help you any. Stock a tube at home in the garage and also in your desk at work. That way whenever your locks freeze up, you'll be able to solve the problem.
8. Prepare an emergency kit (recommended items below). Store the contents in your trunk during the winter months, especially if a road trip is in your future:
Extra boots and gloves
Extra set of warm clothes
Extra water and food, including hard candies
Extra set of windshield wipers
Spare tire inflated to the proper level
Bag of abrasive material such as sand, salt or non-clumping kitty litter, which can provide additional traction if a tire gets stuck in snow.
Also, keep the gas tank as full as you can to prevent the gas lines from freezing.
9. Use operational risk management to know and plan what to do if you get stranded. Don't wander away from your car unless you're completely sure about where you are and how far away help is. Light two flares and situate them at each end of your vehicle to call attention to your situation. Put on the extra clothes and use the blanket to stay warm. If you have enough gas in the tank, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes for each hour you're waiting for help. Leave at least one window open a little bit so that snow and ice don't seal the car shut.
Climate changes don't affect just you; they also affect your car. Take the time to winterize your vehicle.