General Winter Car Maintenance for Burke VA Drivers
By Douglas Flint
Cars built in the last 15 years are so far advanced compared to the generation before that prepping for winter can seem like a thing your dad did or perhaps even your granddad, but not something you have to deal with. Winter car care in Northern Virginia no longer requires changing from “summer weight oil” to lighter weight “winter oils” in all but the most extreme climates. There are no cantankerous carburetors, with chokes to be cleaned and fuel mixtures and idle settings to tinker with. Electronic fuel injection handles all that. But “General Winter” is always ready to administer stinging rebukes to those who do not show him the proper respect.
One thing cars do use a lot more of than they used to is electricity, and automotive batteries have not changed substantially since the mid nineteen-fifties. But when you turned your ‘72 Maverick off, it was off. No electric draw whatsoever unless you had the optional clock. You could leave it a full year and still have enough battery power to crank the engine. Not so today. When you turn your car off, many computers and modules continue to draw power. And when you go to start it, a lot more things that require electricity have to power up and work, from the engine control computer to the electric fuel pump in the gas tank. Add heated seats and all sorts of creature comforts and that battery has a rough life. So it’s best to get the battery tested by a facility that can really stress-test it under a high-load condition. At any sign of weakness it should be replaced and the charging/starting system tested. The battery should be physically inspected for a bulging or distorted case, acid leaks, or excessive corrosion build-up, all of which signal a bad battery. It’s not just cold starting that matters. A weak battery will overstress the alternator, starter, and every component in the electrical system. In extreme cases a bad battery can even explode, and what a mess that makes. So get it checked.
Antifreeze strength and condition should be checked and serviced as needed. And it’s not just freezing point that matters. Antifreeze becomes corrosive over time, eating away at the internals of the cooling system, so if it’s been more than a couple of years, have the system flushed and refilled with the proper specified antifreeze.
Believe it or not, some of the quick-oil-change places fill the windshield washer fluid reservoir with what is essentially “blue water” in the spring, summer, and fall months, leaving customers surprised at the first freeze when they try and clear their windshield and either nothing comes out (frozen in the lines) or worse, it re-freezes immediately on the windshield, hurting visibility more than it helps. I saw two neighbors this morning stop and try to clear the mess off their windshields. What I really like is the expensive washer fluid that melts ice and prevents refreeze.
You know that tire that was slightly low? It will be nearly flat when the temperature dips to 20 degrees. Tire pressure should be checked at least once a month.
And speaking of tires, fall is the best time to purchase new tires in Fairfax Station VA so that you head into winter with new tread.
When it does snow, and if you have the opportunity, find an empty lot in Burke VA with no hidden obstructions to tear the oil pan off your car. Take it up to 15 miles an hour and find out what those anti-lock brakes and skidding really feel like. The brake pedal will buzz and push back in a disturbing way, and the car will make little “jinks” as it stops, but it is important to ignore these and just keep your foot pressing on the brake pedal.
Last of all, the advent of all-wheel drive, stability and traction control systems have made winter driving almost too easy. Just remember that vehicles will still skid, crash, and roll, and technology has not repealed the laws of physics. Slow down, keep safe following distances, and “may the odds be ever in your favor!”
Doug Flint is a manager at Wiygul Automotive Clinic and formerly a columnist for CarConnection.com, Forbes and other online publications.