HJ/EDHerald Journal, Dec. 26, 2005

Vehicle maintenance, safety for winter weather

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

With the hustle and bustle of the season, vehicle maintenance may be the last thing on the to-do list, but a few simple precautions may mean the difference between dreaming of the white stuff or being stuck in it.

The first step, and easiest, is to monitor a vehicle’s fuel level. At a time of the year when standing at a gas pump is made less attractive by not only the prices, but also the windchill, buying gas more often is a chilling thought.

But experts recommend that’s exactly the way to go. In fact, it’s a good idea to never let the tank get below half full.

“If you keep the tank too low, it can damage the fuel pump, which is expensive to replace,” Al Cafferty of Bryan’s Service in Winsted said.

If there is at least half a tank, it cuts down on the moisture balance, preventing freeze-ups.

Another way to help the fuel pump survive winter is to pour a can of fuel injector in the gas tank every once in a while.

The fuel injector also helps cut down on excess moisture by evaporating the water in the tank.

Fuel injector is sold at most gas stations for a few dollars. Even a dose once a month can help.

But fuel injectors aren’t absolutely necessary, as gas, itself, changes during the winter months.

“It does have an additive, it’s a winter blend to help prevent freeze-ups,” Cafferty said.

Gas isn’t the only fluid that deserves attention, however. Making sure a vehicle has plenty of oil and windshield washer fluid is important, but only half the battle.

Even if all fluids are at an acceptable level, they need time to warm up before they can work properly.

“In real cold weather, it’s not a bad idea to let your car warm up for a while, don’t just jump in and speed away,” Cafferty said.

This may seem like common sense, and it is, but even after warming up for several minutes, the vehicle may need more adjusting time.

In other words, the best way to warm up the engine is to drive slowly for several minutes to give parts a chance to work.

Once out on the open road, when is the best time to put it in four-wheel drive?

“On dry pavement, you shouldn’t have it on, but when roads are slippery, drive in four-wheel drive, high,” Caffertly.

Four-wheel drive, low, is reserved mostly for pulling. Some people also prefer to use it out on the lake for extra traction.

Whatever drive the vehicle is in, nothing beats good tires when trying to get good traction on slippery roads.

When talking tires, air pressure is key, according to Randy Brandel at the Pit Stop in Howard Lake.

“Because of the cold weather, you can lose air through slow leaks,” Brandel said.

Tires should also be rotated about every 8,000 miles, depending on the vehicle, and have good tread depth to cope with driving through snow. The best tires should be in front for better steering and traction ability.

Also be aware of anti-lock brakes, which most newer vehicles are equipped with.

“With slippery intersections, sometimes people hear that clatter and they think their brakes are bad, but it’s just the anti-lock brakes working,” Cafferty said.

Of course, taking these extra steps will not guarantee a stall-free holiday season. Be prepared for not-so-merry vehicle mishaps by always keeping a car safety kit in the trunk including;

blankets

matches

shovel

bucket of sand (for traction to get out of deep snow or ice)

small pan (to melt snow for water if stranded for a long time)

always carry a fully charged cell phone

flashlight

Keeping these tips in mind will not only benefit a vehicle during the winter, but will keep it in good shape all year-round.


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