When wet sloppy snow started falling early last Monday morning, a handful of motorists made a beeline for Honest-1 Auto Repair in Maple Grove. They were knocking on the door before the shop’s 7 a.m. opening to buy tires.
“They knew they were not going to have any traction,” said Rick DuChene, manager of the shop at 6310 Vinewood Lane. “They weren’t expecting the snow.”
Before we laugh or point fingers at those who procrastinated, let’s be honest: We all probably figured that we had a couple more weeks to check the tread on our tires, test battery strength, change wiper blades, replace burned-out bulbs, inspect belts and top off antifreeze and windshield fluids. Heck, folks in my neighborhood were out the night before the snowstorm cleaning up leaves.
While people should always be maintaining their vehicles, experts say now is the time to address five key components to keep you out of the repair shop during inclement winter weather.
No. 1 on the list? Tires, says Honest-1 master technician Steve Ahrens. Yet they are often neglected until we get a flat. “Tires are the first contact with pavement, and people often overlook that,” he said. “You could have a $100,000 Benz,” but without properly fitted tires, “that car doesn’t move.”
Tire tread depth is measured in thirty-seconds of an inch. Tires with treads below four thirty-seconds need to be replaced. Aged tires and those with worn edges should be discarded, too. To prevent uneven wear, Ahrens suggests rotating tires with every oil change.
AAA Minneapolis’ Garrison McMurtrey says car batteries lose power when temperatures drop below freezing. If it takes a few cranks before a vehicle starts, that’s a sign of a weak battery. Replace it ASAP. Dead batteries were the leading cause of service calls last year for AAA, he said.
Wiper blades have a short life, but are key to providing good visibility. “If they are streaking, they need to be replaced,” DuChene said.
How many of us have ever used a handful of snow to clean the windshield because we ran out of fluids or it froze up? Motorists should top off their reservoirs with antifreeze and windshield fluids that won’t freeze at 20 and 30 below zero. “Residue from ice and snow makes it hard to see, and that can be a safety hazard,” McMurtrey said.
Belts are what makes the car go, driving the engine fan, water pump, air-conditioning compressor, power-steering system, and the alternator in a lot of vehicles. If there are cracks, it’s time to replace them. Headlights, taillights and emergency flashers also need to be in working order.
“This is important, but it’s [car breakdowns] not a topic people care about until it happens to them,” McMurtrey said. “People have no idea until it’s too late.”
Ahrens says motorists should set $100 aside per month for repairs. That way they will have the money on hand if, say, the water pump goes out. And when it does, both the master technician and the AAA guy agree that motorists should take their vehicles to a car expert rather than tackling fixes themselves.
“You may choose to YouTube it, but that is not always a good source,” Ahrens said. “Don’t take chances. Go see an automotive buddy to make sure the car is up to service level. This is critical heading into winter, and it is going to save you money.”