Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2008   by Mike Farrell

Winter Maintenance

Even though winter seems like it is a long ways away, it is time for repair shops to begin preparing their customers for the winter driving season. Cold weather is tough on a vehicle; batteries lose s...

Even though winter seems like it is a long ways away, it is time for repair shops to begin preparing their customers for the winter driving season. Cold weather is tough on a vehicle; batteries lose some of their cranking power, tire pressure drops and fluids tend to thicken. In addition to the cold, some areas of Canada are subject to large amounts of snow, compromising traction and stability. Even though a new vehicle does not need as much maintenance, common items still need to be checked. Common checks include the lights, brakes, heater operation, wiper arms and blades, engine tune up and oil levels.

A vehicle’s cooling system should be checked for coolant strength and pH level. Coolant has a service interval: glycol antifreeze should be serviced every two years or 50,000 kilometres while extended life antifreeze is good for five years or 240,000 km. When checking the strength, also check the pH of the coolant. With the increased use of aluminium in the engine and cooling system components, a pH level below 8.3 will accelerate corrosion of these components. A refractometer should be used to check the coolant strength because a hydrometer will not provide an accurate measurement when used on the extended life coolants. When checking the cooling system, also inspect the operation of the vehicle’s block heater. Be careful as some manufactures use a special thermostatic block heater cord that does not allow current to flow to the heater unless the temperature drops below -20C.

Most vehicles sold in Canada come equipped with all season tires. These tires are a compromise between summer and light winter conditions and may be good for three out of the four seasons but come up well short if there is any significant snowfall. Winter tires can add up to 25 per cent more traction and can reduce braking distances by 20 per cent when the vehicle has winter tires on all four wheels. Installing just two winter tires on the drive wheels will allow the vehicle to climb slippery hills and plough through snow banks but compromises the handling and cornering. With winter tires mounted on the drive wheels of a front wheel drive vehicle and all seasons on the rear, the back end will have a tendency to try and pass the front end under hard or emergency braking. Also, using just two winter tires, may cause the anti-lock brakes and traction control systems to operate more often. When installing snow tires, always recommend installing four tires rather than two.

If the customer insists on using all season tires, inspect the tread depth. An all season tire may have good traction on clean or wet roads unless it is worn down to the wear indicators. In mud or snow these tires will provide little traction. A new all season tire has a tread depth of 13 mm, and, recently, some tire manufacturers have begun to install snow bands on the tires. These are similar to the wear bars that all tires have but indicate when the tire is worn to 6mm. The tires will still provide good traction on wet roads but are worn too much for winter driving.

Tires also lose pressure as the temperature drops. Air expands when heated and contracts when cold so, as the temperature drops, so will the tire pressure. The rule of thumb is the air pressure will drop approximately 1 psi for every six degrees C. (10F.) drop in temperature. Remember, the tires should be checked when cold and filled to the manufacturers specifications found on the tire placard.

Inspect the wiper blades and windshield washer fluid. Wiper blades deteriorate due to wear and exposure to ultra-violet light. The blades are inexpensive and easy to change. Verify the customer has not been filling the washer fluid reservoir with water during the summer months; there is nothing more unsafe than having frozen washer fluid when following a large truck on the highway.

Spending a few extra minutes inspecting the customer’s vehicle before the snow flies can help build a better relationship with the customer as well as generating some extra income.


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