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All Info About Auto Repair: Winterizing Your Car
All Info About Auto Repairs
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Winterizing Your Car

It's getting cold out and soon the dark days of winter will be upon us. Will you be ready?

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Part 2

Every year I look out of my window and see the snow piled up on the lawn. I see the icicles hanging down from the eaves and the wind blowing. I look at the thermometer hanging out there and it says it's 18° below zero. As I sit and look at this winter wonderland I can't help but think.... should I check my car for winter today. Then I say to myself, "Nah, it's too cold out."

This year it's going to be different. It's 65° out, the sun is shining and I'm going to winterize my car today. I know a lot of you live in climates where winter is not much different from summer. To you winterizing is not all that important. But here in Minnesota where the temperature can go down to 40°, 50° or even 60° below zero, winterizing a car is an important consideration.

Okay, where do we start? The first thing to check is the anti-freeze. Most anti-freezes are an ethylene glycol based fluid that has a low freezing point when mixed with water and a high boiling point. For this reason it makes an excellent coolant for our vehicles. Most times it is a nice bright green color, but it can be either black or red. The red should not be confused with Dex-Cool® anti-freeze used in General Motor's products. Dex-Cool® is a special anti-freeze that GM uses and is rated to last 10 years or 100,000 miles before requiring a change. It is NOT compatible with other anti-freezes and should never be mixed with them.

Does it need to be changed? Well, if you didn't change it last winter, you need to change it this winter. Anti-freeze should be changed every two years or 30,000 miles whichever comes first. In addition to ethylene glycol, anti-freeze has other chemicals that lubricate the water pump and inhibits corrosion in the engine. These chemicals wear out and need to be replaced.

Next is the motor oil. Most manufacturers have a summer and winter grade oil recommendations. Check your vehicle owners' manual for the recommended winter grade oil and change the oil to that grade. It is important to follow the manufacturer's specifications, since using a motor oil that is too thick, or too high in viscosity, will delay the flow of oil into the engine upon start-up in extreme-cold conditions. This can result in increased engine wear and lower gas mileage, and even can prevent the engine from turning. Naturally, you should change the oil filter as well.

Now we need to look at the wipers and washers. If you have ever driven on a highway that has had a lot of salt and sand dumped on it you will know that a good set of wiper blades and a working windshield washer is essential. It takes about 10 seconds for the spray from the car in front of you to totally cover your windshield. Make sure your washers are in good working order and filled with washer solvent. Most washer solvents are good to about 10° below zero. For most parts of the country this is good enough. For those of us who live in the real cold, we need something that goes a little lower.

Have the battery (especially if you're within one year of your warranty) and charging system tested. A weak battery or alternator may get you by in the summer, but they will not handle cold weather when you need extra amps to start a cold engine. Clean the top of the battery with a solution of baking soda and water. Dirt and "blue snow" will slowly drain the battery and the colder it gets, the faster it will drain. When it is nice and clean, spray a nice coat of terminal protector or put a layer of white lithium grease on the terminals to keep them clean and air away from them.

Inspect all lights to assure they are functional; lack of light for illumination or visibility can be deadly. And don't forget the back up lights.

Chances are you haven't changed your wiper blades in a while. I have two sets of blades, one for summer and one for winter. The winter blades are covered with a rubber boot to keep ice, snow and water from freezing on the pivot points. This insures that the blade can flex and make good contact with the windshield to keep it clean. You can replace the rubber inserts in either set, so use the winter blades and put in a fresh set of refills for the winter.

Now for the engine itself. The lower the temperature, the harder it is for the fuel to ignite when starting. If you haven't had a tune-up in a while, now is the time to get one. With a fresh set of spark plugs and new distributor cap, rotor and ignition wires as needed, your chances of your car starting without flooding greatly improve. Look at the belts and hoses as well. Winter driving puts an extra-added strain on the engine. It's one thing to be stuck with a broken belt when it's sunny and 80° out, but a different thing all together when it's -10° and snowing.

Check the heater and engine thermostat and make sure they are up to specs. I put a hotter thermostat in my engine in the winter to make my heater more efficient. In the summer I go back to a colder thermostat for summer driving. This is especially needed in a diesel engine that does not put out as much heat as a gas engine. If you have a diesel engine, you may even need a radiator cover to restrict the airflow through the radiator. I'm sure you have seen them on trucks and school buses. They fit over the grill and have a zipper that allows you to control the airflow. I use a piece of cardboard in front of my radiator to get more heat out of my diesel.

If you have a diesel engine, a good option to consider is an electric engine heater. I have a block heater installed in my engine and it makes cold morning starting a sure thing. It keeps the engine warm and the oil from getting too thick. It also gives instant heat when you turn the heat on. There are ones that fit into the upper radiator hose and ones that replace the dipstick, but I have found the block heaters work so much better. It's not a bad idea to have one installed in your gas engine as well.

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Additional Information provided courtesy of
ALLDATAdiy.com and Warranty Direct
© 2000-2007 Vincent T. Ciulla

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