The holiday travel season is upon us, and so too is winter driving season. Is your car winterized? This is especially important if you are hitting the road with a high mileage vehicle. Just this week, AAA* projected that 43.6 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, of which ninety percent will drive to Thanksgiving destinations and 7% will fly. Furthermore, according to a recent AutoMD.com survey,** there is an aging fleet of cars on the streets, with the primary vehicle for 60% of respondents having over 100,000 miles. This all adds up to a lot of older metal on the road this holiday season. Fortunately, most cars on the roads today, even the high-mileage ones, have been built to last longer and withstand the test of time – and weather – with the proper care, of course.
AutoMD.com encourages all drivers to take some time to put their rides through their ten point winter travel vehicle checklist before making those Holiday road trips, so they don't end up stranded on a chilly roadside.
1. Check the antifreeze (coolant). The engine cooling system should be filled with a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and distilled water to prevent freezing and boiling over. Antifreeze testers are available at your local auto parts store to test the mixture. To keep the cooling system operating at peak performance, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for changing the antifreeze (flush and fill). In addition to changing the antifreeze, pressure testing the cooling system on an older vehicle may expose a minor leak before it becomes a major problem. Most repair shops charge a minimal fee for pressure testing, and some shops will do it for free.
2. Change the engine oil. Be especially meticulous about changing your car’s fluids and filters during the winter months. Your car’s older engine will thank you for it! Remember to change the oil and oil filter every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. Use the recommended oil viscosity range for winter. 5W-30 motor oil flows quicker in cold weather than 20W-50. Most vehicle manufacturers recommend 5W-30 oil for year round protection.
3. Check the tires. Keep your vehicle riding smoothly and safely by maintaining your tires! Remember, there’s a very good chance a third set of tires is needed if your vehicle has reached the 80 to 90,000 mile mark. Tires that are unevenly worn or out of balance can cause a car to pull or shake when driven, potentially damaging other components. Remember to rotate and balance your tires every other oil change; regularly check for uneven wear and try to keep them clean. Tires should be properly inflated, and the tread depth should be at least 4/32”. Using snow tires can improve traction over all-season tires.
4. Check the battery. Cold temperatures can reduce the battery’s power. If the battery is older than four years, it may be time to replace it. Check the battery tray and hold down brackets for corrosion - a common problem on older vehicles.
5. Check the belts and hoses. If your vehicle has a timing belt, it’s very important to replace it at the recommended interval (60,000 miles or more). Cold weather can reduce the life expectancy of belts and hoses, so make sure yours are in good shape before getting on the road. A stretched timing belt affects engine performance, and a broken belt can leave you stranded. If you have an interference engine, a broken belt will also cause engine damage!
6. Check the wipers and wiper fluid. Replace wipers that are old or worn, and (to prevent freezing) use windshield washer fluid instead of water. Just like the elderly, an aging vehicle needs clean glasses to see!
7. Check the emergency kit. Make sure your kit is well stocked and add an ice scraper, tire chains, jumper cables, and warm clothes for winter weather emergencies. Remember to include a candle and matches, as well as some bottled water and energy bars. You can use a candle for light and warmth inside the vehicle if you get stranded.
8. Check 4WD operation if equipped. Since you may not have used 4 Wheel Drive (4WD) all year, or in several years, make sure the 4WD is activated (review your manual on “how to activate”) when you switch it on. Using 4WD improves traction in slippery conditions.
9. Change your driving habits. Cars that are driven easy last longer. To prevent component wear and possible damage in very cold temperatures, warm up your car by driving it slowly to start. This will help the engine, transmission and other drive line components warm up with less stress. Avoid fast driving in general, hitting curbs, off-roading, and trailer towing as these can put unnecessary strain on your vehicle. Slow down and increase your following distance when driving in harsh weather. All vehicles lose traction in rain, snow and ice.
10. Wash and wax your car. It is a good idea to get a good car wash and wax before heading out onto winter roads to protect your paint from road salt. And be sure to wash your car as soon as you return home, to remove any lingering road salt. As your vehicle ages, the paint/finish becomes more vulnerable to the elements, which could lead to rust etc. so, if you can, keep your vehicle in the garage to protect it or consider a cover if you don’t have a garage.
I wish you all safe travels this holiday season!