Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2014   by Andrew Brooks

Outsmarting the Elements

Being ready for winter includes paying attention to tires, coolant and lighting

The onset of winter represents a huge opportunity for service operations. As always, there is lots of money to be made repairing and remedying the damage the cold weather does to cars that haven’t been properly prepared; but perhaps more than ever, the lead-up to winter represents a huge opportunity to help forward-thinking car owners prevent weather-generated problems, saving them money as the winter season does its worst. Coolant and winter tires are obviously crucial. We will take a look at these, as well as the importance of lighting.

Winter Tires

The compound in winter tires is the biggest difference, says Jeff Bullock, sales director, Hankook Tire Canada. “Winter tires have a softer compound. All-season tires lose their grip at seven degrees Celsius while winter tires gain grip including stopping distances at seven degrees Celsius and below.”

“The sipes and the square edges or biting edges are what make winter tires unique in comparison to all-season tires,” Bullock says. “The sipes provide a lot more biting edges which contribute to better traction and better stopping distances. Some winter tires are studdable, which gives better performance on ice.”

“Many think [winter tires should be installed] only when there is snow or ice on the ground, not when the weather drops below a certain temperature,” says Phillip Diogenes, market planning manager, consumer for Yokohama Tire (Canada) Inc. “A good guideline for installing winter tires is once the temperature is regularly seven degrees Celsius or less, to benefit from the increased traction, braking and handling winter tires provide, as per the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada.”

Materials science plays a huge role in the advance of winter tire technology, Diogenes notes, pointing out that Yokohama’s own iceGUARD line is based on a high-density compound and flexible polymer, which helps to maintain tire adhesion to the road surface in cold conditions. In addition to the substances used in their construction, winter tires also employ specially developed surface features that deal with icy and wet conditions. “The iceGUARD’s Absorptive Balloons and Absorptive Carbons eliminate water through a suction and drainage process,” Diogenes says. “The Absorptive Balloons wick away and drain water in a capillary motion, scientifically similar to a sponge.”

In order to help meet the demands of these weather conditions, product designers must continue to make creative selections in tread design, compound mixes, geometry and tread blading,” says Mike Markoff, Goodyear category manager. “Confidence in winter driving will remain the primary consideration for winter tire buying consumers. However, with expectations on the rise across segments, new technologies will seek to balance quiet handling and a smoother ride with traditional winter driving needs.”

Winter tires generally have more blades and sipes for improved winter traction, Markoff notes, but he adds that while achieving optimal sipe depth or adding blading inside the grooves may increase surface area traction, this has to be balanced with other performance requirements, including handling stability, rolling resistance, tread mileage, low noise and more.

“Goodyear uses something called Winter Reactive Technology in some winter tires,” Markoff says. “This is a combination of innovative features that work together to help deliver exceptional winter performance on snowy, icy, wet or dry roads. WRT features a blend of 2D and 3D blades, also incorporating Goodyear’s exclusive TredLock Technology. The 2D blades are hardworking biting edges in the center zone of the tire, for enhanced starting and stopping power on snow and ice. The 3D TredLock Technology blades are found in the shoulder zone. They lock together to form large outer tread blocks in sweeping turns. This mechanical design helps provide uniform stiffness across the tread for enhanced contact with the road surface.”


Frank Cook, chief technical officer at Old World Industries Inc., makers of the Peak line of antifreeze and coolants, recommends that coolant be checked at least twice a year for freeze point, ideally before and after the fall/winter seasons. “For heavy duty applications, the coolant additives should be checked every 500 hours or 30,000 miles. Coolant level should be checked at least during every oil change.”

Cook notes that other than using test strips to test heavy duty coolant additives, there isn’t much need to perform pH or other inhibitor level checks on coolant for gasoline engines. “As long as the antifreeze is flushed at the recommended service interval – two years for conventional green and between five and 10 years on extended life products typically – there should be no concern over the antifreeze being able to adequately protect the cooling system against corrosion.” If a pH strip is used, the result can vary depending on the type of antifreeze. Conventional green and other fully formulated coolants should be between nine and 11, while extended life coolants are usually between 7.5 and nine, even after longer periods of service, Cook says, noting that an ideal freeze point from a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze should be at -35 Fahrenheit (just under -37 Celsius).

“A pre-diluted 50/50 mix is ideal for any climate or condition,” Cook says. “This will give you the best heat transfer, boil over and freeze protection. In extreme cold, a 60 per cent antifreeze, 40 per cent water mixture is fine, and in hotter year-round climates a 40 per cent antifreeze, 60 per cent water mixture would be okay to use. It isn’t recommended to go outside of those ratios in either direction.”

Cook points out that Old World covers its Peak Global Lifetime or Long Life Antifreeze + Coolant with a lifetime guarantee, and will cover the cost of the repair or replacement of the car’s antifreeze or cooling system.

Modern coolants are formulated for year-round use and can last for five or more years as long as they’re topped off with 50 per cent coolant of the proper quality, says Todd Holcomb, Valvoline’s product line manager, antifreeze-chemicals. “Still, one needs to keep the system full and watch for leaks which are indicated by the level dropping. Zerex recommends the coolant level should be checked every time the hood is opened. If you need to add coolant, do so when the radiator is cool to the touch and the top hose is not under pressure – soft on squeezing – to avoid scalding from hot, pressurized coolant.  Always top off with 50 per cent coolant, never just water, except in emergencies. Check the freeze point a couple times a year.”

Holcomb notes that Zerex has a range of chemistries approved by GM, Chrysler, Ford, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, VW, Cummins and others. “Light and heavy duty engines are more complex than ever,” he adds. “OEMs use custom, lightweight metal alloys and gasket materials in engine designs to meet performance standards. Zerex formulas are designed to meet or exceed performance demands and engineering specifications, Holcomb says – and the company aids correct product selection by listing approvals and recommendations on the product labels.

Another thing for technicians to keep in mind is that European vehicles will need specific formulations of antifreeze. Prestone Products Group offers a range of antifreeze products that are phosphate-free. Why is that important? According to the Prestone website ( “Some European automobile manufacturers request that a phosphate-free antifreeze be used in their vehicles. This issue is related to the extremely high mineral content of the water in Europe. If you were to mix an antifreeze that contained phosphates with the type of water they have in Europe, it may produce deposits that can settle in the cooling system and promote corrosion. However, in North America we do not have this type of water problem. Typical North American coolants have contained phosphates (which is part of the corrosion inhibitor package) for many years. Therefore, the question of phosphates is a non-issue here in North America. Prestone Antifreeze/Coolant is completely safe for use in both foreign and domestic vehicles. Products that are free of phosphates include the Prestone Extended Life 50/50 Antifreeze/Coolant which is phosphate, silicate and borate free. The Prestone Extended Life 50/50 Antifreeze/Coolant has been approved by General Motors under their DEX-COOL specifications and is compatible with other DEX-COOL approved coolants.”

Once again, Prestone’s helpful “Frequently Asked Questions” page (, also outlines the correct mixture to use when preparing a vehicle for winter driving, something that can be shown to vehicle owners if they have questions about what the technician or service writer is recommending:

“We recommend that you use between a 50 per cent and 70 per cent concentration of antifreeze. At least 50 per cent is necessary to give the adequate amount of corrosion protection, as well as freeze/boil-over protection. However, we do not recommend more than 70 per cent antifreeze. This would cause restriction of the heat transfer capabilities, corrosion protection, and freeze protection.”

Prestone recommends regular coolant flushes and refills in order to remove deposits thereby helping to maintain the integrity and operation of the system. Prestone offers Prestone Radiator Flush+Cleaner, a 2-in-1 product which can be used as a 10 minute flush at every flush and fill, or as a 3-day cleaner for neglected cooling systems. Once the system is flushed and cleaned, a mixture of 50 to 70 per cent antifreeze/coolant and water is recommended.

Prestone just introduced a new antifreeze/coolant to the market, New Prestone with patented Cor-Guard Inhibitors. According to a release for the new product, this antifreeze formula provides corrosion protection for a vehicle’s entire cooling system, protecting the water pump, heater core, radiator and gaskets from corrosion. Prestone adds that Cor-Guard does not void manufacturer warranties and works in domestic, Asian and European model vehicles.


Making sure headlights are functioning properly and are well aimed is important at any time of year, of course, but with the added uncertainty of road conditions, the winter season makes proper headlight function especially important. Technicians should check for debris that might obstruct the beam, make sure that headlights are properly aimed, and ensure that the bulbs aren’t so old that they have stopped generating full illumination.

“A halogen bulb will generally last around four hundred hours, which for a regular driver is about four years,” says Alfredo de la Vega, vice-president, product management and marketing for North and South America with Hella Inc. “But just because the bulb still lights up doesn’t necessarily mean you have the full light output that you should have.” de la Vega recommends replacing the bulbs at least every two years, and that they should be replaced in pairs so that the lifecycle is a known quantity, and to avoid variations in light output, colour and power that can affect the driver’s perception of the road. The same approach should be followed for turn and braking lights. “It’s also advisable to review the wiring, and to make sure you don’t have things like water inside the lights,” he adds.

“One thing we rarely do is check the aim of the headlights,” de la Vega says. “This is especially important if the car has been in an accident or has had some other issue requiring service, and of course for owners who have used cars and don’t know the service history.”

In addition to being bumped off-beam while other parts of the car are being serviced, headlight aim can degrade over time simply due to the vibration that occurs during regular operation, especially when a vehicle is used in rough conditions.

“Proper aim will improve headlight performance tremendously,” de la Vega says. “You can buy the most powerful light on the market, but if it’s not aimed properly you just won’t get the output you want.” Hella offers a portal called Hella Tech World that gives guidance on proper headlight aiming as well as other resources. But probably the best advice, de la Vega says, is for shops to acquire beam setting equipment so they can offer headlight aiming as a full-fledged service.

“Good, bright lighting is important both so you can see better in less light as days get shorter, and during the months where visibility is reduced due to bad weather and also so you can be seen by other drivers during these same conditions,” adds Bess Collins, marketing manager for Canada with GE Lighting. “Headlights can dim over time, and that’s not always obvious unless you compare a new bulb to a used one. GE Nighthawk headlights put more light on the road — our GE Nighthawk Xenon headlights put up to 120 per cent more light on the road and that will help you see more, and give you a better chance to react. That’s why GE recommends always changing bulbs in pairs, even if only on is burned out, so that you have equal light output and brightness in both sides.”

Collins continues that vehicle lights should be examined often and changed regularly.

“This varies depending on how often lights are on, your car and the type of headlights you use. GE makes headlights that produce more light and also those that will offer longer life, ensuring we have the product that is right for whatever is important to the individual driver.”

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