Preventive Maintenance Goes a Long Way

In addition to hosting our first snowfall of the new winter season, October was also National Car Care month.

 If you missed it, there’s still time to do a little preventive maintenance before the worst of winter strikes.  Not only can this help prevent a breakdown, but it can also improve your gas mileage, reduce pollution, and detect minor problems before they become larger, according to Martin Lawson, the editorial director at the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).  He says the best plan is to follow the maintenance schedule outlined in your vehicle’s owner’s manual.

In Connecticut, the day after a snowstorm often produces a 60 percent rise in call volume at AAA, according to Aaron Kupec, AAA’s public affairs manager. Last year’s top reason for a wintertime call was for a tow, followed by a battery problem, frozen door locks and a flat tire.

In order to prevent slipping and getting stuck, Kupec recommends that motorists check that they have properly inflated winter tires with good tread depth. Getting the battery checked now could help avoid any starting problems later.

Call volume at AAA also spikes after a long holiday weekend. Cars often sit unused for three or four days over the holiday. Then, when the owner goes out to start the car, the battery is dead.

Batteries should be able to handle much more than four days of inactivity, assuming there’s nothing wrong with either the battery or the car. However, some owners actually cause the problem by going out and starting their car each day and then running it for a brief period of time. It can often take more than 20 minutes of normal driving to recharge the battery after a cold start. Drivers who start their car, then idle it for two or three minutes before shutting the engine down will often leave the battery weaker than it would have been had they done nothing.

Cold temperatures pose a dual threat to batteries. As temperatures drop, your car’s battery delivers lesser amounts of electrical power. Unfortunately, these same colder temperatures increase the amount of electrical power that will be needed to start your car. A weak battery, perfectly able to get you going on a 30-degree morning, may fail at 20 degrees.

ASE recommends checking your cooling system in addition to the battery and electrical system. Antifreeze is required throughout the year, and while it never loses its ability to resist freezing, it can become dirty, lose its rust inhibiting capabilities and even turn acidic over time. The solution is to follow the maintenance schedule for cooling system service.

It should be obvious that any problems, even minor ones, should be addressed now. A rough idle, poor fuel economy, hard starting or a check engine light all should be remedied as quickly as possible.

Owners can check lights, wipers and keep the windshield washer reservoir filled. It is probably better to have a professional put the car on a lift and check under the hood before a prolonged deep freeze arrives.

Finally, motorists should carry an emergency kit – just in case. It should contain warm clothing, gloves, a snow shovel, sand, clay or cat litter for traction, a working flashlight, flares or reflector triangles, a few non-perishable food items and a charged cell phone. In addition, never allow your fuel tank to fall below half full.  That way, you’ll have enough gas to run your car and keep warm if you become stuck for several hours.

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