Are the wheels ready for winter?

  • Article by: PAUL BRAND
  • Updated: November 15, 2011 - 11:07 AM

Today's cars are tough, but you'll still need to prepare yours for the worst of the weather.

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Congratulations, Minnesotans -- you're all set for winter, right? You've dug the galoshes out of the closet, found your gloves in a coat pocket, dusted off your parka and tried on your furry bomber hat to make sure it still fits. You've changed your furnace filter, put on the storm windows, cleaned out your gutters and even waxed the snow shovel so the snow won't stick.

You're ready, but what about your vehicles? Sure, modern motor vehicles are so well designed and built that they'll start and run in any conditions -- well, almost any! But will your car or truck get you safely where you need to go, when you need to go? Let's make sure, okay?

In terms of importance and safety, tires are at the top of the list. M&S all-season, winter or even snow tires can make the difference between getting there and getting stuck. A tread depth of 50 percent or better is just as critical. Even worn winter tires aren't going to effectively move the snow and water out from under the tire so that the tread can actually grip the pavement.

Even the best tire won't go far if it's flat, so make sure your tires are aired up to at least 35 psi before the cold weather hits. Remember, tire pressure will drop about one psi per 10 degree drop in air temperature. Said differently, a tire with 25 psi in it now will be virtually flat when temps drop below zero. And nobody wants to deal with a flat tire in sub-freezing temperatures!

Next on the list of preparations is visibility -- both your ability to see and other motorist's ability to see you. As I've preached for so many years, good situational awareness -- seeing and being aware of everything going on around you all the time -- is the absolute key to driving safety. Thus, clean all of your vehicle's glass inside and out. On the inside, a roll of paper towels or wadded up newspaper along with a non-drip automotive glass cleaner will remove the dirt film, smudges, dog slobber and kid's hand prints. The clean surface will be much less prone to fogging on those cold morning starts.

Ditto the outside glass including the windshield, side windows and back glass. I've even used Brasso metal polish and/or a single edge razor blade to remove tar, dirt, bugs and other road crud from the glass, followed by the automotive glass cleaner and newspaper routine to remove the residue. (The metal polish will not scratch the glass.)

But of course a clean windshield won't do much good if the wiper blades are shot. Don't mess around -- just install a new pair for winter, period.

Before we put the visibility' issue to rest, have someone sit behind the wheel, start the engine and cycle through each and every external light on the vehicle including headlights, running and parking lights, brake lights, turn signals and emergency flashers. They all need to illuminate properly for other motorists to see you and know your intentions.

Earlier I said that modern motor vehicles almost always start and run, even in our extreme climate. Except if the battery is dead. Then they just click and moan, reminding you that you probably forgot to test the battery and check/ disassemble / clean the battery terminals and connections.

The simplest way to ensure your vehicle will crank and start on a sub-zero morning is to buy and install a new battery every three years. Cheap insurance. The alternative is to confirm a no-load battery voltage of at least 12.5 volts when ambient temperatures are still above 50 degrees. Many shops and auto parts stores will also load test your battery in the vehicle at little or no cost. Better safe than sorry and cold, angry, shivering and late to work as you wait for the tow truck.

It's also a good idea to catch up on any routine maintenance that will come due during the coldest months. Better to have oil changes, transmission flushes, coolant changes and the like done now if for no other reason that it gives you or the tech a chance to look at things like brakes, tires and fluid levels now, before there's a problem when everything, including you, is frozen.

Take a moment to make sure you're prepared in case something does happen while you're on the road. A properly inflated spare tire, jack, lug wrench and a simple roadside emergency kit that includes safety flares and triangles, tow rope, jumper cables, fix-a-flat, windshield washer solvent, glass scraper, blanket, gloves, simple tools, etc., can help you quickly fix a simple problem and get back on the road.

And take a moment before it's wet and cold outside to spray the rubber gaskets and grommets that seal the doors and trunk with an aerosol silicone to prevent freezing and sticking, and squirt a small shot of Deep Creep or deicer into each outside key slot to make sure you can manually unlock your vehicle.

Finally, go easy on gas line anti-freeze. Today's gasolines already contain ethanol, so adding more than a bottle at the beginning of the season can be too much of a good thing.

Why spend all this time, energy and money preparing your vehicle for winter? Beyond the obvious safety issues, remember the automotive inverse of Murphy's Law -- if your vehicle is prepared, you won't have a problem.

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