Local Mechanics Urge Newtowners To Prepare Vehicles For Winter Weather

Published: October 29, 2010 at 12:00 am


Local Mechanics Urge Newtowners

To Prepare Vehicles For Winter Weather

By John Voket

When it comes to meeting customers about vehicle repairs, virtually every Newtown mechanic contacted said he would rather those encounters occur over scheduling preventative maintenance, versus meeting individuals when towing broken down or wrecked vehicles into their shops. And those local mechanics all had the same three major concerns about the most common areas of negligence that cause their customers to break down, or worse.

“Most of our winter-related service calls involve dead batteries, and most of our accident calls involve bald tires,” said Rob Marrifield of Sugar Hill Service Center, who is also the local authorized AAA responder.

And the most frustrating thing for Mr Merrifield and several other auto repair pros interviewed by The Newtown Bee on the subject is that almost all winter weather-related breakdowns and crashes can be attributed to things that can be red flagged during a five-minute safety check, and corrected for a fraction of what it might cost if left to chance and the fickleness of Mother Nature.

Maybe Newtowners have just turned their attention to raking up falling leaves, but winter’s harsh follow-up is not too far behind. That means it is time to schedule that basic seasonal safety check-up for your vehicle.

The Connecticut division of AAA Southern New England recommends motorists use a simple checklist to determine their car’s fall and winter maintenance needs. Addressing most items individually can take less than an hour, although several should be performed by a certified auto technician.

Gary Crisci, owner of Newtown Car Care Center, said most of the common service calls he experiences are for dead batteries.

“You know, batteries just don’t like extreme hot or cold,” he said. But he also noted that extremely expensive repairs, like an engine replacement tied to a failed timing belt, could be delayed or prevented by adhering to the recommended schedule for oil changes.

He returned to the issue of bald tires, however, saying that even during periods of light frozen precipitation early in the season, tires with insufficient tread and gripping capability could put a driver and their entire family at risk.

At Amaral’s service center, John White said the single most important thing he looks at to help customers avoid sometimes tragic wrecks is the tires.

“I know it’s expensive if you have to look at replacing four tires, but it’s better than having to tow your car out of a ditch.”

Along with checking the integrity of the battery, Mr White also flagged the quality of a vehicle’s antifreeze. It may seem like a no-brainer to prevent serious motor damage, but he is often surprised when cars get towed in, that the antifreeze has frozen solid.

“That happens because people top off their radiator with water during the summer, but then they don’t flush and refill their vehicle with the right formula of antifreeze.”

That flush and fill procedure, which can cost upwards of $100, could save plenty if the coolant freezes inside a cold engine.

“Those few quarts of water you used to top off your radiator in August could cost you several thousand dollars if that water freezes inside your engine during the winter,” he said.

Jack Dunleavy at Dodgingtown Garage said that belts and hoses are also easily overlooked by vehicle owners, but it is one of the first things to go when a motor is overtaxed because of extreme weather.

“I usually check all the belts and hoses either during a prewinter safety check, or even when folks come in for a routine oil change,” Mr Dunleavy said.

In recognition of AAA Car Care Month in October, AAA makes these suggestions for your prewinter checkup:

*Battery and Charging System — Have the battery and charging system tested by a trained technician. A fully charged battery in good condition is required to start an engine in cold weather. AAA members can request a visit from a AAA Mobile Battery Service technician who will test their battery and replace it on-site, if necessary.

*Battery Cables and Terminals — Check the condition of the battery cables and terminals. Make sure all connections are secure and remove any corrosion from the terminals and posts with a mixture of water and baking soda.

*Drive Belts — Inspect belts for cracks or fraying. Don’t just look at the smooth top surface of the belt, but check the grooved underside where most belt wear occurs.

Engine Hoses — Visually inspect the cooling system hoses for leaks, cracks or loose clamps. Also, squeeze the hoses to check for any that may be brittle or excessively spongy feeling and in need of replacement.

*Tire Type and Tread — In areas with heavy winter weather, changing to snow tires on all four wheels will provide the best winter traction. All-season tires will work well in light to moderate snow conditions, providing they have adequate tread depth. If any tire has less than 3/32-inch of tread, it should be replaced. Uneven wear on the tires can indicate alignment, suspension, or wheel balance problems that should be addressed to prevent further damage to the tires.

*Tire Pressure — Check tire pressure more frequently during winter months. As the temperature drops, so will the pressures in the tires — typically one PSI for every ten degrees Fahrenheit. The proper tire pressure levels can be found on a sticker located on the driver’s side door jamb. And, do not forget to check the spare.

*Air Filter — Check the engine’s air filter by holding it up to a 60-watt light bulb. If light can be seen through much of the filter, it is still clean enough to work effectively. However, if the light is blocked by most of the filter, replace it.

*Coolant Levels — Check the coolant level when the engine is cold. If the coolant level is low, add a 50/50 solution of coolant and water to maintain the necessary antifreeze capability. The level of antifreeze protection can be checked with an inexpensive tester available at any auto parts store.

*Lights — Check the operation of all headlights, taillights, emergency flashers, turn signals, brake lights, and back-up lights. Replace any burnt-out bulbs.

*Wiper Blades — Blades should completely clear the glass with each swipe. Replace blades that leave streaks or miss spots. In areas with snowy conditions, consider installing winter wiper blades that wrap the blade in a rubber boot to prevent ice and snow buildup that can prevent good contact between the rubber blade and the glass.

*Washer and Other Fluids — Fill the windshield washer fluid reservoir with a cleaning solution that has antifreeze components for cold weather use. Check your transmission, brake and power steering fluids to ensure they are at or above the minimum safe levels.

*Brakes — Have brakes inspected by a certified technician to ensure all components are in good working order.

What To Put In Your

Emergency Road Kit

According to AAA Southern New England, every vehicle used this winter should be stocked with an emergency kit in the event of a breakdown or becoming stranded by a weather-related incident. Your winter emergency road kit should include:

               *Bag of abrasive material (sand, salt, cat litter)

                 or traction mats

               *Snow shovel, snow brush, and ice scraper

               *Flashlight with extra batteries

               *Window washer solvent

               *Cloth or roll of paper towels

               *Jumper cables

               *Gloves, hats, and blankets

               *Warning devices (flares or triangles)

               *Drinking water and nonperishable snacks

                 (energy or granola bars)

               *First-aid kit and a basic tool kit

               *Mobile phone and car charger

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