Doit while the sun still shines

Published on Thu, Oct 14, 2004 by Jack Kintner

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Do it while the sun still shines

By Jack Kintner

When asked how to prepare your car for winter, Rich Eacret of Blaine’s NAPA store reminded people of the four-foot snows and weeks of freezing temperatures in the winters of 1990 and 1991. “A lot of those people got marooned and wished they had done more preparing,” he said, “especially things like keeping a blanket and a heavy jacket in the car.”

Predictions so far say that we’re in for a mild winter, although the extreme conditions in both those heavy winters were mostly not forecasted. Still, Eacret came up with a fairly comprehensive list of things you can do now to prepare your vehicle for the coming cold and wet season, even if you’re driving one of the new chariots that needs a tune-up only once every 100,000 miles. It still needs attention in other departments, and most cars used on a daily basis could stand a visit to the ol’ grease rack every six months or so to spot problems and fix them before they get big, which if neglected they are guaranteed to do.

“First, check all the fluids and bring them up to date,” Eacret said, adding that you can change to a lighter weight oil as suggested by your car owner’s manual (not all cars do). You should also check the quality (specific gravity) of your anti-freeze – Eacret sells a simple device that looks a little like a turkey baster with hips - and if it’s been a while since you’ve had it changed, go to a mechanic for a flush and fill. That way you’ll be reasonably sure that the old antifreeze is properly disposed of since it’s an absolute no-no to dump the stuff in a storm drain and if spilled in your driveway it can poison pets. Dogs actually love the sweet taste.

While you’re at it, put a little detergent in your windshield washer fluid to cut through the muck and yuck that other cars and trucks will throw your way in wet weather. It’s got a lot of oil and grease in it and detergent will help to wash it away. And when you buy a new set of wiper blades, get two extra blades to leave in the car so you can refresh them if need be on a dark and stormy night in the middle of a winter more severe than expected.

“We also sell a hard surface protectant for your windshield that’s rubbed on with a cotton cloth,” Eacret said, “filling the little cracks and imperfections that let things like slush and freezing rain cling to it. It’s nice, especially for older cars.”

When you’re doing your fluids, remember that your battery runs on water, and that if it’s more than a few years old it might be better to bite the bullet now and replace it. Cold cranking on a winter day start-up asks more of it than anything else, and the conditions that will make it fail are not those in which you want to find out that it’s time has come. Eacret also sells jumper cables, a handy thing to have along since not much else works to replace them.

Brakes and transmission fluids, of course, need to be checked and reservoirs replenished as needed, and also remember the “fluids” inside the doors. “You’ll want to lubricate your door locks with graphite, which comes in a liquid, aerosol or as a dry powder,” Eacret said, “to help prevent them from freezing.”

WD-40 can unstick a lock or quiet a squeak but it isn’t really a lubricant, even though it works as one for a while. But it is very useful for keeping your lights working. Since it dries out, it’s used to keep things from rusting and corroding, and as such is a good thing to spray lightly inside the bulb sockets in turn signals, backup lights and other exterior illumination. While the lenses are off you might want to put a little Vaseline on the rubber gaskets to keep them pliable and as water tight as possible.

Tires are a topic unto themselves. Washington came close to eliminating studded tires a few years ago and compromised by requiring tire makers to use light aluminum studs to protect road surfaces.

A study done two years ago by the Washington State Department of Transportation, available on-line at studtire/Studded_Tire_Report_Final_Nov_2002.pdf, concluded that there are only a narrow set of conditions these days where studs outperform modern traction tires such as the Bridgestone Blizzak, mostly where one is driving on smooth solid ice or snow on the road very near and just below the freezing point. As temperatures decline, studded tires lose performance more quickly than other kinds of tires.
“That’s because a tire actually melts the ice and then slips on the water, much like an ice skate,” said Blaine’s Trevor Hoskins, former head of Bridgestone Tires for the U.S. “Bridgestone’s Blizzak was the first of the so-called studless tires, and works a lot like a sponge in sucking away the melted water to then be able to adhere to the surface below it. This all happens on a nearly microscopic level, and there are now other brands of course, but they were a real breakthrough because they eliminated all the situations in which studded tires can actually be a disadvantage,” Hoskins went on. Studded tires are worse on dry concrete, for example, and can rut concrete roadways making them difficult to drive in wet conditions.

Studded tires also increase fuel consumption, although the study points out something else helpful to remember in winter which is that snow or slush on the road can decrease gas mileage as much as 30 percent.
“Remember that you’re relying on four tires whose point of contact with the road is a patch no bigger than your hand,” Hoskins said, “so you need to pay attention to your tires. Heat is their big enemy, so keep them inflated to the numbers you’ll find in the doorjamb of the driver’s door.”
Hoskins said that a traditional quick “penny check” of your tire’s remaining life still works. “Take a penny and stick it into a groove. If you can see the top of Abe Lincoln’s head when it’s turned toward the tire, then it should be replaced,” he said.