Regular service keeps cars running in winter

Posted: Tuesday, October 29, 2002

It takes more than changing to studded tires to make a vehicle winter ready, and now is the time to do the work that will keep a vehicle starting regularly and running smoothly all winter long.

In car care, prevention is the best maintenance policy, and that goes double in the winter. Ideally, the best time for car maintenance is all year long, but for those who have let their filter changes, fluid checks and other such tasks slip behind schedule, now is the time to catch up.

"You take care of them all year long, you don't wait till winter time to get them in order," said Roger Scoles of Echo Lake Auto. "They should be in order all the time."

Since regular car care is more of a priority for some than others, there are some last-minute maintenance procedures that can be done to even a neglected automobile to make it winter ready.

First off is checking to make all general equipment is in good condition, including lights, windshield wipers, defrosters and heaters, brakes, snow tires and the vehicle's block heater, if it has one. Simply plugging the heater in and seeing what happens is one way to check. If it's a block heater, it should make a hissing noise, which means it is properly heating the water in the heater, Scoles said.

Flushing and filling up fluids is a must. Engine coolant should be adequate to 40 degrees below zero. Window washer fluid should be good to at least 25 degrees below zero. Oil should be changed every three months or 3,000 miles, Scoles said, and if a vehicle has gone longer than that the oil is definitely due for a change and the oil filter is due for a check, if not a change. For those especially cold nights, gas line deicer products, like HEET, should be kept on hand. Any and all engine fluids, like power steering and brake fluids, should be checked for leaks and topped off.

"If anything leaks you want to take care of it before it gets cold," Scoles said. "You should act before you really have a problem."

Checking the vehicle's exhaust system for leaks is of high importance. Rolling up the windows and cranking up the heater with exhaust fumes leaking into the car can cause serious injury and even death to any occupants of the car. To check the exhaust, Scoles recommends letting the vehicle idle and holding a gloved hand over the exhaust pipe. If the hand is pushed away by the exhaust coming out, there probably isn't a leak. If a hand can be sealed over the pipe and the exhaust is pushed out elsewhere in the car, there is a problem.

"If the exhaust is louder than normal, that's a good indication that you maybe have a leak somewhere," Scoles advised.

All automobile engines should have a tuneup every two years, Scoles said. If a vehicle is past due, it is better to have a tuneup done now than wait until the car won't start in the middle of the winter.

Any preexisting problems the vehicle may have also should be fixed before extremely cold temperatures set in, as they can aggravate some mechanical problems.

The bottom line in winter car care is a little prevention now can save drivers a lot of aggravation later.

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