Are you ready for this?
It may be the last thing on your mind, but we all know it is coming. Winter is just around the corner and while you spend time preparing your house for the cold months, your car should not be ignored.
Many repair shops will offer winter inspections for a reasonable price, and these inspections will cover basic items.
These might be good for newer cars, less than five years old with fewer than 100,000 kilometres, but for older cars, some critical items needing more attention will not be checked, unless there’s an obvious issue.
Here is an example of a winter checklist:
1. A visual inspection of the car body, making sure all light lenses are in good condition, as well as all windows, bumpers and wheels.
2. A short road test to feel brakes, suspension and handling, as well as the drivetrain response.
3. In the shop: Visual inspection of brakes, winter tires if already on the car and a check of the tire pressure, including spare wheel.
4. Visual inspection of the undercarriage, suspension and steering components, exhaust system and underbody damage. The visual inspection should help find any dangerous leaks.
5. Engine compartment: Check and correct engine oil level, the coolant fluid corrosion and antifreeze protection, transmission fluid level and condition, brake fluid level and condition, and windshield washer fluid level and reservoir condition. The mechanic should also verify accessory drive belts, check power steering fluid level, and check for leaks and abnormal noises when the engine is running. Check battery and charging system and the tightness of battery posts.
6: In the car: Check the operation of all lights and wipers, and make sure the heater is functional.
Of course, if needed, perform engine oil and filter replacement, and use oil grade recommended by the manufacturer.
Here are a few things that should be done if your car is an older vehicle. As a rule of thumb, I consider a vehicle old if it is more than five years old or has more than 100,000 kilometres on it.
– Flush the cooling system and replace coolant, and thermostat, which, in most cases, is not very expensive.
– Pay particular attention to hoses and clamps, checking for cracks and leaks. Any damaged ones should be replaced if needed.
– The engine block heater, if your car has one, should be tested, too.
– After five years of use, the battery will most likely start to give you problems, so have it tested properly. If the results are not rock solid, replace it, and clean battery posts properly.
– If original, replace all drive belts, even if they look okay. This is a minimal cost, but will save you headaches.
– And of course, make sure your heater and defroster work, and that the rear glass defogger works properly.
As you should know by now, winter tires are more than just for snow. (They are mandatory in Quebec between Dec. 15 and March 15.)
Before each season, make sure yours are in good shape because more wear equals less performance.
In order to perform properly, a winter tire should not be used if more than 75 per cent worn. All tires have tread-wear indicators, and if the wear is close to indicator, discard your tires and invest in new ones.
While most of us drive in town and are always close to help in case of emergency, you should have a few self-help items in your car.
– Traction aids are strongly recommended, and they are easy to use and can save you a tow-truck bill.
– A collapsible or foldable shovel is very useful, as well as road salt.
– Other good items to have are an old pair of gloves, an old blanket and a flashlight that works.
Make sure these items are secured in the trunk or back of car, because you don’t want to have traction aids flying around in case of an accident.
If your vehicle is equipped with an engine block heater, use it if you can. One to two hours of warming your engine on cold days before starting will greatly facilitate start-up, as well as bring your engine and passenger cabin up to operating temperature faster and more efficiently. It’s also cleaner than running the engine for 10 minutes at idle to warm it up.
Happy winter and drive safely.
Yvan Charlebois is a mechanic with over 30 years of experience.
Photograph by: Debra Brash, Victoria Times Colonist