Winter’s cold means cars need preparation, careVehicles are not made to run in the conditions that North Dakota winters bring. So, with another potentially harsh winter on the horizon, now is smart time to ready the family vehicle for the snow and bitter cold that accompanies it.
By: Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun
Vehicles are not made to run in the conditions that North Dakota winters bring.
So, with another potentially harsh winter on the horizon, now is smart time to ready the family vehicle for the snow and bitter cold that accompanies it.
“In North Dakota, it can disable the car,” said Tom Copeland, automotive technology instructor at the James Valley Career and Technology Center. “It gets so cold that your seats freeze when you sit on them, and if you don’t have proper lubrications, that’s going to freeze things up and make it very tough to operate.”
Now is the best time to be proactive before winter hits, Copeland said.
“The best thing to do is make sure you’re following the maintenance schedule, which you can find in the owner’s manual,” he said.
When temperatures start to drop below 40 degrees at night, it’s a good time to do some basic winterizing work, Copeland said.
A task most people could complete at home is a quick check of the engine’s fluid levels.
He said motorists should check their owner’s manuals before checking the fluids. The specific methods for checking some fluids can vary from car to car.
“You can check all your fluid levels pretty much under the hood,” Copeland said.
That goes for engine oil, automatic transmission fluid, brake fluid, window washer fluid, engine coolant and power steering fluid.
Other fluids — like transmission fluid for vehicles with manual transmissions, axle differentials and the transfer cases in four-wheel-drive vehicles — are more difficult to reach and should be taken to a professional if a problem is suspected.
Checking fluids, however, is easy enough depending on the make and model of a vehicle and what the owner’s manual recommends. In many cases it’s as easy as removing the particular dipstick, wiping it off, putting it back in and pulling it back out and looking at the hash marks to find out how full it is.
“Make sure it’s above the low mark and not overfilled,” Copeland said.
Because heat causes fluids to expand, the engine’s temperature can affect how high a fluid is marked when checked. The owner’s manual will say if a fluid should be checked with a cold or hot engine.
Also, some vehicles require a different viscosity, or thickness, of oil in winter. Automotive website Edmunds.com recommends checking if your vehicle needs an oil change before the season changes.
When checking engine coolant, Copeland urges at-home mechanics to wait until the engine has cooled down before taking off the radiator and coolant caps. A hot engine will pressurize the fluid, which if released while under pressure, could spray and cause serious burns.
If the coolant freezes, the water in it will expand, and that can damage the engine’s components. Copeland said a tool to check freeze protection can be an inexpensive purchase at a general store like WalMart or Kmart.
A common problem caused by the cold is that a vehicle’s oil can appear to be overfilled when gasoline leaks into the lubricant. It happens when an engine is operated without properly heating up.
Copeland recommends vehicles warm up for at least 10 minutes in weather when the temperature is below zero. Otherwise, gas can leak into the crankcase, diluting the oil, which makes it less effective as a lubricant. This can cause engine wear and breakdowns.
If gas is leaking and the oil appears overfilled, Copeland recommends an oil change and installing of a block heater to keep the engine warm when the car isn’t running.
A block heater can cost $30 to $50 but the labor installation could run $100 or more depending on the shop.
Tire pressure also is affected by the cold temperatures. Cold temperatures make the air in tires contract, which lowers the pressure. In effect this can speed up wear on the tread and also affect handling.
“It’s best to test your tire pressure weekly in the cold,” Copeland said.
Also, the tires with the most tread should be on the drive axle if the vehicle is two-wheel drive.
Another easy check most motorists can complete at home is making sure there is no corrosion where the battery cable connects to the battery. A faulty connection can lead to an uncharged battery and not enough power.
Making sure a battery has enough power matters because cold temperatures slow down the chemicals in a car’s battery, sapping the power it needs to turn the engine over.
Other items to check, according to Edmunds, are the windshield wipers, the belts and hoses and the car’s heating system and window defroster. For vehicles with four-wheel drive, make sure the system engages properly and without making any strange noises or affecting handling. Any strange results should be investigated by a professional.
Those who want to drop the vehicle off at a mechanic will find that checking fluids and tire pressure is commonplace with an oil change. Alone, the cost for a checkup ranges anywhere from free to $10, depending on who works on the vehicle.
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at email@example.com