Getting Ready For Winter
|FTLComm - Tisdale - October 2, 1999
||For the second day in a row we have looked out to see leaves falling like snow and
the thermometer showing temperatures below freezing. These are sure signs that now
is a good time to make preparations for the coming difficult conditions we all face.
For most of us we will have a check list of the things we have to do such as put
away the garden hose and the lawn chairs but the low temperatures of fall and early
winter can really sneak up on us and a little planning and action can save money
and inconvenience when it comes to operating a car or other vehicle.
So, let's consider the things
we need to check on to make sure that our car works when we need it and it is still
running come spring.
||If you do not already have a motor club deal now's the time to get one. One way or
another you are almost certain to require either a tow, a boost or help of one kind
or another before this time next year. Shop around for what looks like the best auto-club
deal for you. Besides the AAA and similar operations most of the fuel companies have
some plan or another as does Sears and some other department stores. No matter how
good your preparations things can still go wrong and a snow drift can put a quick
end to a trip or just getting out of the driveway.
Check over your package policy and see that you have glass coverage, the cheapest
situation is $100 coverage on glass. I realise most of us associate broken and shattered
windows with summer driving but fall is the time for those little nicks to turn into
wandering cracks. The average windshield replacement will set you back heavy money
and with $100 deductible on your insurance you can get those stone chips fixed at
SGI's expense before they wander off to the other side of the car.
You have seen the signs and advertisements for you to take your car in and some
service business will check it out for winter. Sounds like a great idea but ultimately
the responsibility and the need to be assured that your vehicle will work falls on
you and you are further ahead to follow your own fall preparations rather then count
on someone selling you a bunch of parts. Below is a simple check list.
- Battery - modern batteries have a rather finite life span and they either
work or they don't. For efficient and cost effective operation use it until it quits.
So many people replace batteries when it is unnecessary and they might just as well
keep the old one in until its life ends.
- Plumbing - Coolant lines to and from the radiator and heating system wear
out from the inside and a skilled mechanic can spot the signs of failure long before
you have ethylene glycol splashing all over the engine compartment. Get a mechanic
to go over those lines and replace those that are going soft.
- Belts - Most modern vehicles have very few belts which means if one goes
your vehicle is disabled. Have a mechanic check over the belts and replace the ones
that are endangered. Keep the one that was on your vehicle as a spare. Going off
the road into packed snow can often send debris into the belt system and snap a belt
so having a spare is a good idea it could save your life in dire temperature situations.
- Electrical - Don't leave this to someone else, get some one to do the
walk around with you and check yourself that all lights are working, turn signals,
head lights, license plate, what ever, there is no excuse driving around with light
bulbs burnt out. All are easy enough to replace that you can do the task yourself
with the exception of the head lights which need a bit of perseverance so you might
get someone to help with them, but give it a try yourself first.
- Windshield fluid - Time to top up the windshield washer fluid tank with
winter (blue) fluid.
- Fluid Levels - Though you can worry yourself about these things your mechanic
will check them at your oil change time and see that you have the right level of
coolant (check to see that it will withstand very low temperatures), oil, power steering,
brake fluid and transmission fluid.
- Air Filter - When you have your oil changed insist that the mechanic check
the engine's air cleaner. Modern fuel injected engines require clean air filters
for their fuel economy.
- Tires - Books could be written that discuss this issue as it relates to
winter traction. Issues about snow tires and all weather tires just make most our
heads spin. There are two issues with winter driving; temperature and traction related
to snow. Once a vehicle's tires warm up they are remarkably close to standard temperatures
all year round so it is only that first mile or so when the tires warm up that are
important. With very low temperatures air will escape from the tire around the bead
so you just have to check them for inflation at that time. With regard to traction
it is a matter of tread depth and pressure which is the same for summer driving.
Bald tires are prone to loose air and have much less traction either for stopping
or in snow so you decide. If your tires are safe now they should do well in the winter.
Keep the wheels aligned for good tire wear and reduced gas consumption. Studded tires
are not appropriate for Saskatchewan driving conditions. We are on pavement almost
all of the time and you want as much tire in contact with the road as possible. Snow
tires are appropriate for vehicles having to drive on roads with some snow cover
all the time and for most Saskatchewan drivers they are unnecessary and waste money
in fuel economy.
There are two kinds of car owners, those with a garage and those without. If you
are a have not you can expect to spend a little more each year on your car's upkeep
and you have to pay considerably more attention to what you do to keep it ready to
run in low temperatures. For those folks with a garage your vehicle will rarely experience
temperatures below -20C. Since a block heater really has no effect in temperatures
above -20C you are wasting your electricity when you plug in a vehicle. But those
with their cars out in the cold let's make preparations.
- Extension chord - Work out a plan and have a chord available to plug in
your vehicle where it is parked if the temperature falls below -20C. Keep that chord
inside until you have to use it and bring it inside when you unplug it. If you plug
in at work then keep a second chord in the trunk for that purpose.
- Block heater - when you have your oil changed have your mechanic check
on the block heater that its chord is plugged in and that it works. About 90 seconds
after you plug in a block heater it will begin to make a cooking sound. Many people
splice a Christmas light onto their block heater chord so that they can visually
check to see if there is power going to the block heater.
- Battery Blanket - If you vehicle does not have one, buy one, they are
inexpensive and will give your battery much better starting power.
- In car heater - A luxury and expensive extra, these things use the same
amount or more, electricity as a block heater and for the few minutes of discomfort
before the car comes up to temperature it is more costly then its returned value.
For the most part Saskatchewan winters, though even severe ones rarely have the
kind of temperatures that require anything more then described above. Your block
heater and battery blanket should get your car going down to -40C but if you have
to deal with temperatures lower then -45C for several days you have to add on significant
support to keep your vehicle operating. Below are the add on things for -54C conditions.
Many years in the Yukon assisted in acquiring this knowledge.
- Dip Stick Oil heater - These electric dip stick heaters are very inexpensive
and draw very little current but when installed after you have shut down your vehicle
they will keep the oil warmer and improve chance of starting.
- Engine Robe - That's right, when you shut a vehicle down in really cold
temperatures the temperature in that engine is rapidly radiated and you can save
that heat by wrapping the engine up as soon as you park it for the night. Just remember
to remove the covering before you try to revive it.
- Preheat the transmission pan - In -54C temperatures the oil in the transmission
will not flow sufficiently to move the vehicle so you can install a magnetic contact
heater or just before you try to start your vehicle slide under it with a blow torch
and warm up the automatic transmission pan. Failure to apply heat to a very cold
transmission can have catastrophic results.
Driving conditions on Southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba's open prairie are far
more dangerous then other places because of the energy robbing affects of cold winds.
Temperature wind chill factors of 2000 and greater will freeze exposed skin in seconds.
So if you go off the road or you vehicle is disabled in a high wind you had better
stay inside that car until you are rescued. The difference between life and death
from the cold is actually only a small amount of heat and you can equip your car
to handle emergencies that you will encounter for certain. Put together an emergency
kit for your car and do not venture out on the highways after mid October without
this in the trunk.
- Candles - A large candle or two and matches to get it going will keep
you warm enough to survive inside your car.
- Sleeping bag - Every car should carry one or more sleeping bags in case
the vehicle is disabled.
- Shovel - If you go off the highway in a storm a shovel is not going to
get you going again but much more common is getting into snow that will stop your
vehicle's movement and a shovel will get you out.
- Methyl Alcohol - You can buy this in mixtures designed to dump into your
gas tank or for freeing a frozen lock. Gas line freezing with cars is very miserable
and often comes from gas with water in it or some odd contamination of your tank
but fuel injected engines and carburetor ones both can suffer from line freezing
and alcohol will clear up the problem.
- Extra Cloths - Most often we set out dressed for the amount of time it
takes to get from the house to the car. Pack in your emergency kit, socks, mitts,
a hat and a parka.
- Flares - Sets of highway flares can be purchased at Canadian Tire for
little money and they are really handy to have along. Most accidents that occur on
winter roads involve other people and you can be a big help and increase your own
safety by having three twenty minute flares in your trunk. They will light under
any condition and will light a camp fire or signal oncoming traffic of vehicles in
- Flash Light and batteries - A simple flash light is a must in every car
and requires attention, low temperatures will zap the energy in the batteries so
you should take it inside and put it back in the car when you are going some where.
Women who carry purses often carry their flashlight among everything else in their
trusty survival kit and I carry a small pen light in my jacket. These things are
cheap and completely invaluable in an accident.
- Cell Phone - They don't work everywhere and you should not skip the list
above because you have one but they are handy and worth having with you out there
when its cold and dark.
- Jumper Cables - Most us do not need them but if you have some put them
in the trunk they will do you more good in your car then in the shed at home.
- Tow Rope - Not really necessary but like jumper cables can be a real help
in one of those incidents that seem to surprise us every so often.