Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2003   by Ron A. Melihen

Winter’s Diversity Dictates Chemical Stocking Requirements

Winter across Canada can be diverse, sometimes mild, and often downright bone-chilling.

At this time of year, getting a business ready for the cold and nasty weather is as important as the clothes we wear to combat the below-zero temperatures.

Keeping your shelves stocked up with the right products in sufficient quantities can mean the difference between a good year of sales and a great one. Customers who regularly buy from you expect that you will have what they need when they need it.

Ray Beaulieu, president of RJB Sales in Moncton, New Brunswick feels people are not as ready for the big chill as they were years ago.

“There are enough advertisements on radio and TV, but many people feel they have enough time to get their cars prepared,” says Beaulieu. “There still are many procrastinators who say they will do it next week, until it’s too late.”

One of the bestsellers this time every year is antifreeze. These days there is more than one type and you need to be aware of the differences. The primary ingredient in most antifreeze/coolant is ethylene glycol, though propylene glycol formulations are offered as low-toxicity options. In either case, antifreeze/coolant freezes at a lower temperature and boils at a higher temperature. The raised boiling temperature is also aided by the fact that the engine’s cooling system is pressurized. Antifreeze also contains rust inhibitors and anti-foam additives to help protect a vehicle’s engine. Recent developments have expanded the options for this category, but antifreeze/coolant and windshield antifreeze are perhaps the only two constants when it comes to stocking up for winter.

Keith Wilson, a part-owner at Trio Supply in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, stocks up on both, in preparation for the long and snowy winters in his part of the country. Through the years, Wilson had customers buying large amounts of antifreeze/coolant and windshield washer antifreeze at the beginning of the season, but he has noticed a significant change in the orders he has been receiving in the last few years.

“In the last few years many have been buying on demand,” says Wilson. “They used to buy 50 cases or more at the beginning of winter, and now they buy a few cases and wait and buy on a demand basis.”

A less common, but just as important, product to combat freezing is airbrake antifreeze. Airbrake antifreeze protects airbrake systems from freeze-up. It is introduced through an alcohol injector or evaporator. Lubricants and corrosion inhibitors included in the formula also protect the metal parts of the brake system.

“Airbrake antifreeze is primarily used by truckers, but the majority of buyers up here are construction companies and snow removal outfits,” says Wilson. In such situations, it pays to have the products ready for the cold snap, or the impulse buy.

With temperatures dropping in most of Canada, it is recommended by auto manufacturers to use different grade motor oil in winter conditions as compared to summer. When you are in Strathmore, Alberta or Lafleche, Saskatchewan the temperatures in winter can go as low as -40 degrees Celsius. The last thing you want is to get stuck without enough 10W30 or 5W30 engine oils in stock.

“We had an extended period of time five to six years ago when the temperature got down to -38 degrees Celsius and there were many cars that couldn’t get going,” says Tom Blakney, president of Big S Automotive Parts Ltd. in Strathmore, Alberta. “A lot of the car companies now specify 5W30 and 10W30 engine oils.”

With new car manufacturers, and people with older cars trying to maximize the life of their vehicles, 10W30, 5W30 and synthetic oils are important to stock up on. In climates like northern Alberta or Northwestern Ontario, where temperatures can drop into the -25 to minus -40 degrees Celsius mark, thinner oils can mean the difference between easy start-ups or difficult ones.

Jason Meyer, owner/manager of Agri-motive Bumper to Bumper in Lafleche, Saskatchewan, remembers a cold snap last year where many of his customers ordered so much 5W30 motor oil he ran out.

“I have never seen that big a demand for oil; antifreeze and windshield antifreeze is always a big seller, but having such a great demand for oil shocked even me,” says Meyer.

Changeable weather can also keep you hopping if you’re not prepared.

“Here in Moncton where weather conditions can change in an hour, our customers feel it is better to be safe than sorry,” says Beaulieu. “When temperatures dip to -45 degrees Celsius overnight, if your oil started out thick it’s safe to say that when the temperature drops to that level it is not going to be easier to crank your engine; it will be harder.”

Moving from an environment where cold is the norm in winter, to much of British Columbia where temperatures rarely dip too far below freezing, jobbers have a different outlook on what they stock up on.

“It is not extremely cold here, therefore we don’t see a big difference come winter, other than our usual good sellers such as diesel fuel conditioners,” says Richard Christenson, manager of Aspen Automotive Parts in Clearwater, British Columbia.

With different weather conditions across Canada you must cater to the demand that conditions dictate. Canadians might get snow just about everywhere, but temperatures vary from mildly cold to downright nasty. As long as you keep ahead of the weather, you can keep on top of your customers’ needs.

Coolants of a Different Colour

The heat of internal combustion engines is transferred via the cooling fluid to the radiator where the mixture is cooled by means of airflow. Coolant provides protection against freezing, boiling, and corrosion.

The traditional green antifreeze’s life expectancy over the past years has been two to three years and 65,000 km (30,000 miles). This traditional engine coolant formulation contains silicates, phosphates and/or borates for corrosion inhibiting to help keep the solution alkaline. As long as the solution remains alkaline, corrosion is controlled and the system is protected. Over time corrosion inhibitors are used up, and corrosion protection is lost. Aluminum is especially vulnerable. Many new vehicles have cylinder heads, radiators, and other aluminum components in the cooling system, so this is even more critical.

Extended life coolant has a life expectancy of five years or 160,000 km (100,000 miles) in newer cars (1996 and up). In older cars (1996 and older) its life expectancy is four years and 100,000 km (60,000 miles). It has a different type of corrosion inhibitor (organic acids) which gives it a longer service life than green antifreeze (silicates, phosphates and borates).

Dex-Cool Extended Life coolant/antifreeze bowed in a few years ago, and still challenges the aftermarket’s understanding at times. Dex-Cool engine coolant meets GM 6277 M coolant specifications and has a distinctive orange colour. It is a single-phase, ethylene glycol type universal coolant with long-life corrosion inhibitors. Dex-Cool has a rated life of five years or 240,000 km (150,000 miles). Besides its coolant properties it also provides corrosion protection for the six basic metal alloys in most heat transfer systems: aluminum, cast-iron, steel, solder, brass, and copper. It is also compatible with water pump seal materials and minimizes the formation of abrasive dissolved solids. Providing it stays in a sealed container it is stable for at least eight years of storage with little or no silicate dropout or gel formation.

Ron A. Melihen is a journalism student interning with Jobber News for the Fall term.