Time to prepare for winter

by Jim KerrBackyard Mechanic . Sep 23 2016
Ian Lindsay / Vancouver Sun

Ian Lindsay / Vancouver Sun

Daylight hours are getting shorter, the harvest is well underway and the night air is getting cooler. While we hope winter waits a while, and I, optimistically, am sure it will, winter weather will be on us before we realize. Now is the time to get your vehicles prepared for our harsh winter climate.

Most winter breakdowns involve vehicles that won’t start. Dirty battery cables or poor connections at the starter circuit are common causes of not starting. When the temperature plummets, your battery has only a small percentage of the normal capacity it has during warm weather. Dirty battery cables reduce this cranking capacity even further. Cleaning and tightening the battery’s power and ground connections will help ensure your battery can supply all the power it has available to start your engine.

Winter tires are some of the cheapest safety insurance you can buy for yourself and your family. Winter tires with the mountain and snowflake label on the sidewall are a requirement in Quebec and the British Columbia mountain areas during winter months but drivers across Canada can benefit from the extra traction and stability. The tire manufacturers recommend switching to winter tires when the temperatures start dropping below 7 C even if there is no snow on the road. Winter tires provide extra traction on cold pavement too. When the snow flies, the tire shops and dealerships are all extremely busy switching tires and fixing vehicles that didn’t have preventative maintenance, so beat the rush and install winter tires before the snow.

Visibility is so important to safe driving and wet or snowy conditions hinder our visibility, especially if your wiper blades are not good. If they leave streaks on your windshield, they are due for replacement and it is a simple maintenance task. About two years is the maximum life I get out of a set of blades. Teflon blades work better if you have wet slushy snow, but even the cheapest blades are better than old blades.

Check the lights next. I check lights, including signal and brake lights, once a week year-round, but the longer nights of winter and poor visibility conditions make good lighting even more important. Many vehicles have bulbs that are easy to change, but there are a few headlight bulbs that can be very difficult. You may want to have that done at your local repair shop.

Drivers in the coldest part of the country will want to check the engine block heater. The easiest way is to buy an extension cord with an indicator LED when current flows through the cord and plug it in. If the LED doesn’t come on, you need a new block heater or cord.

Under the hood a visual inspection can identify many potential problems. First, look at all the hoses, especially near the ends where they connect or where they may rub against other parts. If you see cracks, staining (caused by a small leak) or wear then the hose should be replaced. Better to do it now before it leaves you stranded. Then check the coolant level in the overflow tank. If the coolant looks dirty or brown, it is due for a change. Check brake fluid levels, too. Low brake fluid is an indication of worn brakes, but it could also indicate a leak. Have the brake system inspected if the fluid is low.

You have probably spotted rusted mufflers and tailpipes by the side of the road. Winter driving is hard on exhaust systems. Rough or rutted roads, frozen suspension systems and lumps of ice and snow on the road all attempt to separate the exhaust system from your car. Only those in good condition survive.

If part of the exhaust system falls off, it could cause serious damage to your vehicle. Many repair shops have “inspection specials” where they check the vehicle’s exhaust system for poor hangers and rusted pipes and mufflers for very little cost. This inspection could even save a life, because exhaust leaks could allow poisonous carbon monoxide gas to enter your vehicle. Have them repaired before they cause problems.

A problem that would be only a small inconvenience in the summer could be disastrous if it leaves you stranded on a lonely winter road, so avoid winter problems by having your vehicle checked out before problems arise.