“How to properly prepare your vehicle for the winter months.”
As we approach the winter months it is very important that you take some time to prepare your vehicle for the extreme weather that may affect you and your vehicle. Along with extreme weather comes slower traffic, hot tempers, hazardous road conditions and many other unforeseen dangers. As an automobile owner it is your responsibility to take care of your vehicle to assure that you make it through these upcoming months without damage to your vehicle as well as the other drivers on the road. This article will help you prepare your vehicle for the harsh conditions that winter has to offer.
Where to start?
- Tune up: It is very important to maintain your vehicle on a regular basis, especially if you are looking to keep your maintenance cost low in the long run. A tune up should be performed every 3,000 – 5,000 miles and takes less than an hour to complete. Most service centers will change the oil, rotate your tires, check your battery, air filters, and perform a multi-point inspection. All of these services will help your vehicle’s overall performance. A good service center will also top off all your fluids and hand you a report card with up to date ratings on components such as (brake pads, tire tread, and battery life).
- Having healthy tires is one of the most important things to have on your vehicle. There are many factors to keep in mind while trying to determine if your tires are healthy enough to survive the harsh winter season. But before we get into those factors I would like to discuss the different types of tires that are available.
- All Weather Tires: The most common tire on the road today is an all weather tire. If you were to purchase a vehicle today, the tires that the vehicle is equipped with are most likely all weather tires. They have a great balance between performances, road noise, and overall tread pattern. All weather tires are made to perform in all types of weather (hence the name!). While all weather tires are decent in bad driving conditions, there are better options available to you if you drive in bad weather on a regular basis.
- All Terrain Tires: These tires are common on SUV’s and Light Trucks. They have a more ridged side wall and deeper tread depth. The sturdy side wall gives the tire more support to handle tougher surfaces. The deeper tread allows the tire to maintain traction when in contact with bad conditions such as snow, ice, mud, or gravel. While having all terrain tires helps with your performance, they are also known to make road noise which can become annoying especially when driving at high speeds.
- Winter Tires: If you live in an area where it snows a lot you may want to consider winter tires. These tires have a deep and unique tread pattern. They are made specifically for snow, slush, and ice. Although winter tires are great, they are not necessary if you live in an area that accumulates little to moderate snow fall on a yearly basis. I mention this because you do lose ride quality while attempting to drive on normal surfaces with winter tires.
- Summer Tires: Also known as performance tires; can be found on special edition models such as a Ford Mustang, Ford Focus ST, and or Ford Explorer Sport. While these tires give you excellent performance, comfort, and traction (On dry surfaces). They do not fare well in the colder weather and become pretty much useless in snow or slush. Performance tires are made of a softer compound which increases your grip and also have a unique tread pattern which reduces road noise. Performance tires are known to wear down quicker than a traditional tire based upon the driving habits of the owner of the vehicle and the soft compound that the tire is made of.
- Low Air Pressure: Don’t panic if your low tire pressure light illuminates as the temperature drops. This is because air is a gas and the molecules fluctuate as the temperature adjusts. When there is warm weather the air expands, when there is cold weather the air contracts. It is very important to check your tires on a regular basis (at least once a week). While low tire pressure is one of the most common issues that you will have with you tires, there are other factors to consider. As you perform your weekly tire check up, please consider the following: (Turn your front wheels all the way to the right or left so that you can see the entire tread of the tires)
- Inflation levels (Keep an eye out for the low tire pressure light)
- Uneven air pressure between all 4 tires
- Bulges or bubbles in the side wall
- Nails or screws
- Severe uneven tread (Have your alignment checked)
- As a vehicle owner you might want to keep an eye on the condition of your tires as well. If you begin to see any cracks or dry rot please have them checked out because there is a serious risk of a high speed blowout.
- Monitor Tread Depth: As always you want to keep an eye out for your tires tread depth. Good tires usually have 4/32”In depth. Mediocre tires usually have 3/32” in depth and bad tires have less that 2/32” in depth. You should always keep an eye on your tires tread depth, but it is vital to check and replace the tires before the harsh winter months arrive. The lower your tread the less traction you have in all aspects of driving. Whether it be sleet, slush, ice, or snow; all of these driving conditions require the ultimate amount of traction!
- Penny Test: These days a penny doesn’t get you much. However, it can be useful while preparing your vehicle for the winter months. To perform this test, take a penny and place it in the center of your tires. You want to make sure the penny is turned upside-down so that the top of Lincoln’s head is touching the tire. From there determine if you can see Lincolns full head or if the top of his head in not visible. If the top of his head (including hair) is fully noticeable you are due for new tires soon. If the top of his head is covered by the rubber of the tire you most likely have enough tread to survive the winter months. If you are unsure, have the tires checked out by a professional.
- Tread Wear Indicator Bar: Another simple way to determine the health of your vehicles tires is by locating one of the many tread wear indicator bars that are located in between the tread pattern. Theses bars represent 2/32”. Once your tires have reached this point it is time to replace them.
A few simple services that you test on your own that can save you a lot of hassle and prevent any future inconveniences. Here is a list of a few:
- Wipers: Windshield wipers are one of the most over looked and under-serviced components of your vehicle. Depending on where you are geographically located, you may have to change your windshield wipers every 6-12 months. Because wipers are considered to be a wear item it is important to monitor their performance. During a raining day be sure to check that the wipers are successfully clearing the all of the rain and that they are not making any odd screeching sounds. If your wipers fail either one of these test please replace the blades. They are inexpensive and are an important safety feature to have properly working all year long. If you do not want to test your vehicles blades you can wait until you see the dot turn a different color (usually yellow). This means that the wipers have worn down; however there is no guarantee that the dot is 100% accurate.
- Battery: Be sure to have your battery tested to assure that it can maintain a charge and provide the vehicle with enough juice to start up the vehicle on any given day. You also want to make sure that the connections are corrosion free, if you see some corrosion building up please have it checked or cleaned.
- 4×4: If your vehicle is equipped with Four Wheel Drive (4WD) it might be a good idea to check to make sure it will actually kick in when you need to engage it. To do so:
- Please read your owner’s manual before you engage the 4×4 system in case there are additional steps for your particular vehicle.
- When driving in bad conditions, shift into 4WD when you get ready to leave solid ground. If you have lockable front hubs, lock them (Usually in Big Trucks).
- For severe conditions, use low range (4L). Before shifting into low range please slow down or stop (3-5 MPH). If you shift into four low on the fly there are many things that can go wrong. (only in severe situations, otherwise use 4 High)
- To disengage your 4×4 system, shift out of 4WD or unlock the center differential. In some cases the 4WD system will get stuck and/or will stay engaged for a little while. Don’t worry this is totally normal. If you do run into this issue either turn the wheel and move forward until it disengages or place the car in reverse to unlock the system.
- Heat: Having heat coming from your vents is almost an essential part of driving a vehicle during the winter months. Especially on a Monday morning at 7:00 am when the thermometer is hovering around 20 degrees Fahrenheit! To assure that your heat is working turn the climate control up and make sure that warm to hot air is coming out of the vents. If not please bring it in to your local service center before it is too late. You can thank me later!
- Defroster: Most vehicles are equipped with front and rear defrosters. Both are considered safety features that help your vision as you drive down the road. The front defrosters blow warm air to melt any ice or condensation that builds on the front windshield. While the defroster might take a few minutes to heat up it definitely helps you see the road as you are driving. Same is true for the rear defrosters. The major difference between the front and rear defrosters is the heating source. The rear defrosters are strips that run across the windshield and melt any snow and or ice.
- Heated seats: This luxury item can be found in many new vehicles and is an awesome feature to have during the cold season! As a precautionary measure press the heated seat button to assure that you can stay toasty when you need to.
- Ignition Check: Other than the battery there are many other components that help the vehicle start and run properly. It would be wise to make sure that you alternator is in good condition and the starter does not give you any hesitation when you turn the key. Issues with these components may not be too evident so during your next service be sure to have these components looked at.
- Brakes: It is very important that you frequently check your vehicles brakes. Brakes are one of the most important safety components on any vehicle. It is vital that the brakes are in healthy conditions especially during the extreme weather Mother Nature has to offer us. Brakes are known to (warp/crack) during extreme conditions. It is also important to monitor the vehicles brake condition on a periodic basis. Your local service center should be able to provide you with a rating (Red/Yellow/Green) based upon the amount of brake pad left and the overall condition of the rotors. It is important to get your vehicle into the shop as soon as you sense an issue with your braking power, shaking of the steering wheel when the brakes are applied, and or any noises coming from your front or rear wheel wells. The earlier these issues are addressed the less you will have to replace. The brake pads wear down as they are used on a regular basis. Once the brake pads are completely worn down the rotors will receive damage and will most likely have to be replaced as well.
- Hoses & Belts: Both of these vehicle components are considered to be wear items due to the fact that they do wear away as they age. Hoses are rubber items that tend to crack or bubble due to extreme temperature changes in the summer and the winter. These parts are essential to assure that all of the fluids are reaching the destination within the engine. Belts are stressed day in and day out as they propel the motion of engine parts to produce and transfer power. Because these belts do a lot of work it is very important to keep an eye out on the condition of the belts. One easy way to determine if your belts are on their way out is to determine if there is an odd noise such as a squeak or whine coming from your engine.
- Spark Plugs: Although spark plugs are small in size they play a huge role within the engine. The spark plug uses an electrical spark to ignite the fuel within the engines cylinders. This mix causes combustion which powers the engine and allows it to generate power. Without properly functioning spark plugs you and your vehicle will not be traveling very far.
- Air filters: It is important to periodically change you vehicles air filter in order to pump clean air into your vehicles engine. Over time the filter accumulates dirt and debris that can restrict the amount of air that enters the manifold. The cleaner the filter the better the engine can breathe and produce power. Most filters last 20,000 – 30,000 miles depending on your geographically location.
- Fuel filters: It is important to service your fuel filter every 10,000 -12,000. Dirt tends to enter the fuel filter and has the capability of running down the fuel lines into the fuel injectors. The key is to replace the fuel filter before the dirt reaches the fuel injectors. If you do not change the filter you may have bigger problems down the road.
- Radiators: As a vehicles engine runs for an extended amount of time it tends to become extremely hot. To assure that the engine can cool down while running, automotive engineers invented a part that would lower the engines temperature internally. There are many engine components that contribute to the radiators functionality so it is very important to have the entire system checked out periodically. If there is an issue with the radiator your vehicle will overheat even in the coldest conditions.
- Anti freeze: It is very important that you check to make sure that your Anti-Freeze levels are up to par. Anti-Freeze is a 50/50 mix of water and anti-freeze. This liquid is a vital part of keeping your engine running healthy. Not only does it lower the temperature that a liquid freezes but also raises the temperature that a liquid boils. Without a proper amount of anti-freeze there is a huge risk for major engine failure.
- Items to have handy everyday:
- Inflated Spare Tire
- Jack To Elevate The Vehicle
- Wheel Wrench
- Jumper Cables
- Tool Kit
- Reflective Triangle
- Full Tank of Fuel
- Snow Brush
- Ice Scraper
- Flash Light
- Bag of Salt
- First Aid Kit
- Non-Perishable Food
- Winter Hat
- Snow Boots
- Other Warm Clothing
If you become stranded:
- Don’t leave your car
- Attract attention if you are in a good area
- Run the car on and off (Keep the car warm but don’t waist fuel)
- Keep warm
Please tune in the local news stations and weather channels before you drive to assure your safety and for live updates on any winter storms. You might also want to inform a friend or family member when you’re driving during harsh conditions and let them know the route you plan on taking in case you cannot contact them during an emergency. Also make sure you have a few numbers handy. (Please know your 17 digit Vin number and License Plate #)
- Ford Roadside Assistance # 1-800-241-3673
- Lincoln Roadside Assistance # 1-800-521-4140
- Also save a local tow truck # in your phone as well
While all of these services will help your vehicle during the harsh driving conditions that winter pushes upon us. These precautionary measures will definitely decrease your chances of an automotive inconvenience, however, you are just one of the many drivers on the road. Please spread the word or pass along this article to anyone that may benefit from it. Please remember to drive safe!
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