Car Talk: Winter DrivingNovember 21, 2016
We love this article from Car Talk about the importance of being safe when driving in the winter. Read the rest of it for a quick brush-up on winter driving tips.
If your car needs regular service, get it done now.
Nothing’s a big deal in the summer. You break down? So what? It’s a nice night out. Look at all those stars! But break down when it’s minus jaw-freezing outside, and that’s a different story. Since bad hoses, belts, water pumps and spark plug wires can leave you stranded in the winter, it’s better to bite the bullet and fix them. It’s better than spending the same amount of money after you’ve been sitting in your stalled car for three hours waiting for AAA. (Just kidding, Triple A! No one has ever had to wait three hours for one of your tow trucks, have they?)Here’s one service item that’s often forgotten: tire pressure. Ask your mechanic to check it, or do it as soon as winter arrives. Why? Because tire pressure drops by about one pound per ten degrees of temperature. So, if it’s -10 now, and the last time you checked your tire pressure was back during that sweltering heat wave in July, your tires will be dangerously low and will jeopardize your car’s handling.
Many newer vehicles have tire pressure monitors, which alert you to dangerous changes in tire pressure. In fact, as of 2008, tire pressure monitors are required on all new vehicles. But older cars don’t have them and the pressure needs to be checked manually.
Make sure your battery and charging system are up to snuff.
Your mechanic should check the battery, charging system, and belts. Your battery can leave you stranded simply because it’s old and lousy. Or it could leave you stranded because your charging system isn’t working well, and the battery isn’t getting charged properly. So have your mechanic check the battery and charging system.
If you find that you need a new battery, get the biggest, meanest, ugliest battery that will fit in your car. Two things to remember about batteries: First, the battery that started your car easily in the summer may not have enough oomph to do it in winter. In winter, the engine is harder to start, because the oil isn’t as “fluid” as it was last July. And secondly, batteries lose power as the temperature drops (you remember your high school chemistry, right?). So not only do you need MORE power to start the engine in winter, you also get LESS power from the same battery.
Batteries are rated by a measure called “cold cranking amps” (CCA), the maximum number of amps that the battery can deliver at zero degrees (F) for 30 seconds. Good, powerful batteries are rated at or above 600 CCA. We’ve never really liked this CCA rating because some batteries rated at 600 CCA can just barely make the 30-second criterion, and some can pump it out much longer – clearly better batteries. Along came our pals at Consumer Reports. When they rate batteries, they do the CCA test and report how long the battery puts out the 600 amps. Great, says us. So take a look at their ratings for the lowdown.
Check the cooling system.
Make certain the antifreeze will protect your car at the winter temperatures you’ll experience in your area. For most areas, you’ll need a 50-50 mix of coolant to water. You may think, “I’ll be extra good to my car, and give it 100% coolant.” Guess what? You’re wrong. The 50-50 mix has a lower freezing point. Not only that, but 100% coolant is less able to transfer heat away from your engine, and has been known to cause such nasty things as melted spark plugs of engine failure under the wrong circumstances.So, mix it up!