Under The Hood
Between the snow, sleet and storms, winter is never kind to your car. It’s the time your car needs that extra pick-me-up care to fight the cold days ahead. Be wise and beware that skipping out on the basics of winter care can leave you stranded -or worse!- once the roads and rails turn white.
Following simple steps can get you and your car through the winter without any hassles. Here is your go-to winter maintenance checklist to protect your car and stay safe on the road!
1. Protect exterior
Keeping your ride clean is a rule of thumb for any car lover. However, washing your car at least once a week can do wonders during the winter. Driving through the salt and ice-melts treatments, it is important to thoroughly wash your car to keep it rust and grime free. Be sure to wash and dry the undercarriage to prevent oxidation.
Top it off with a coat of wax.
The wax coat will form a protective layer between the paint and the water, sleet and slush on the road to keep the salt and dirt away. It is recommended to get a fresh coat of wax every three months. DIY kits are affordable, easy to use and provide great results.
2. Change oil
Whether you plan to store your car away for the winter or take it on the road, it is important to change the engine oil. This is might also be the best time to considering switching from conventional to synthetic oil.
Why? Because synthetic oil withstands lower temperatures better and provides superior lubrication. This means less hassle getting your engine started in cold and foggy mornings and better protection for all moving parts of the engine. In extremely harsh weather conditions, conventional oil breaks down quickly and needs to be changed after every 3000-5000 miles on road. Though synthetic oil is markedly pricier than conventional oil, it is often worth the premium since it does not need to be changed as often and improves engine life.
Synthetic blends are another alternative which offers better performance results than conventional oil at a lower price than synthetic oil.
It is equally important to check the owner’s manual for specific manufacturer’s requirements before choosing the oil type. Some manufacturers strictly recommend fully synthetic oil for certain make and models. It is best to follow the instructions since you run the risk of losing warranty coverages if found in-compliant in the event of a failure.
Winter poses a triple threat to your car’s battery- it increases the battery’s discharge rate, slows down internal chemical reactions and creates power strain.
Test your battery and charging system before the onset of winter. Watch out for warning signs of a weak battery like dim lights and engine cranks.
Replace the battery if necessary. A fresh battery is the best defense against power strain and failure in cold weather conditions. During harsh winter, it is recommended to keep the battery attached to a trickle charger or disconnected when not in use.
Winter makes driving challenging by reducing visibility on the road.
Removing piles of snow from the window shield and cover is just beginning. It is important to promptly check the headlights and tail lights of your car before winter’s onset. Replace any burned out bulbs before hitting the road. Upgrading to High Intensity Discharge (HID) Halogen headlights or LED tail lights are recommended if the visibility conditions are dangerously low.
Cold climate can cause the wiper blades to freeze to the windshield. Handy tricks like covering your wiper blades with a pair of socks overnight can keep them from freezing to the glass. Use special winter blades and add anti-freeze to the screen washer fluid or de-icing liquids in the windshield water tank in extreme winters. Running the air-conditioning system will dehumidify the air and prevent the windshield from fogging up.
Check the full beam headlights, fog lights, indicators and the defrost functions of the vehicle every day in the winter to avoid accidents.
Winter roads are unpredictable and having the right set of tires matters.
Ensure that all four tires are properly inflated. Every 10-degree drop in temperature causes the tire to lose one psi of air. Hence it is important to recheck tire’s psi throughout the winter to increase fuel efficiency, maneuverability and life span. Under-inflated tires increase brake time, and tire wear, and skid easily on wet pavements.
Use the tried and tested penny test to check the tread depth. Insert the penny with Lincoln’s head pointed up in between the raised portions of the tire tread pattern. Provided Lincoln’s head is not visible, the tires have sufficient depth. Repeat at multiple points to check if the tire is wearing evenly since uneven wear can cause alignment problems.
In areas with extreme snowfall, specifically designed winter tires with unique tread depth and pattern, and temperature withstanding compounds that can keep tire material pliable in extreme cold and provide better traction on the snow.
6. Do an Antifreeze test
Antifreeze plays a critical role in ensuring the longevity and performance of your vehicle’s engine by operating it within a prescribed range of temperature. It contains additives that help prevent corrosion, aids in lubrication and provide efficient heat transfer from metal to the engine.
Engine coolant should be a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze. Too little antifreeze can cause the engine to freeze as the temperature cools while with too much water, the fluid could boil inside the engine.
Checking your antifreeze levels is a quick and easy task and require a simple coolant tester/ digital multimeter. Always make sure that the engine is cold before testing for electrolytes.
To use the coolant using a digital multimeter
- Remove the radiator cap and set the digital multimeter to DC voltage
- Turn on the engine
- As vehicle revs and the engine starts operating, insert the positive probe of the meter directly into the coolant.
- Similarly, rev the engine as the negative probe is placed on the negative battery terminal
A reading of .4 volts or less on the digital scale indicates that the coolant is in good condition. A reading greater 0.4 volts on the scale means the coolant is low on electrolytes and needs to be replaced immediately. It also indicates possible damage to the radiator, water pump or heater core of the vehicle. Several float and strip tests kits are also available for anti-freeze test.
7. Clean fuel injector
A fuel injector system can be added to your vehicle to improve performance during winter weather. The fuel injector system cleans the fuel system by flushing out the nasty carbon residues in the system. Also, it removes water from the fuel system which might freeze as the temperature drops below zero.
Add a fuel injector system to your gas tank anytime during a routine fill up to reduce carbon emissions and improve mileage.
8. Stock up on de-icing chemicals
Winterizing your car require that you carry a sufficient supply of de-icing chemicals.
A good spray de-icer can solve a great many problems. Variety of lock de-icers and windshield deicing liquids are now available in most auto parts and hardware stores. They thaw and lubricate door locks and are safe and simple to use.
Couple of tubes of de-icing fluid can come clutch in the winter in battling frozen doors and locks.
9. Inspect radiator cap and thermostat
Commonly reported faults with vehicles in the winter involve coolant leaks or a blocked thermostat.
A quick check of the radiator cap before winter can save you both time and money. The radiator cap is an inexpensive yet critical part of your vehicle’s heating and cooling system as it keeps the coolant in place. Replace worn out caps with new ones to prevent coolant leakage.
The other key component to watch out is the thermostat. Thermostats can fail because they have become jammed and/ or weak. A faulty thermostat can wreak havoc on your vehicle's cooling system. Inspect your thermostat before the temperature dips and replace it, if faulty, to facilitate the proper circulation of engine coolant.
10. Survival kit (if you live in a rural area)
It is essential to carry a survival kit, especially, while undertaking long distance travel in the winter. A basic survival kit must include a shovel, torch, blanket, jumper cables, first-aid kit, non-perishable food and drink supplies, scraper and de-icer.
Always carry a fully charged mobile phone and keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid being stranded without help. Also, check your vehicle’s insurance coverage policy. It is highly recommended to invest in comprehensive roadside assistance if you are planning a long trip.
Following these 10 steps can take you and your vehicle a long way on the winter roads.