Fall Car Care
By Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®
The vacations are over, the kids are back in school and cooler evenings have begun. I recommend that you take advantage of the lull to prepare your vehicle for the winter ahead. Breakdowns, never convenient, can be dangerous in cold weather. The following tips should give motorists a road map to fall car care.
First things first — Read your owner’s manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommended service schedules. There are usually two schedules listed: normal and severe.
Engine performance — Have engine drivability problems (hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc.) corrected at a good repair shop. Cold weather will make existing problems worse. Replace dirty filters — air, fuel, PCV, etc.
Fuel — Put a bottle of fuel de-icer in your tank once a month to help keep moisture from freezing in the fuel line. Note, too, that a gas tank that’s kept filled helps prevent moisture from forming in the first place.
Oil — Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your manual — more often (every 3,000 miles or so) if your driving is mostly stop-and-go or consists of frequent short trips.
Cooling system — The cooling system should be flushed and refilled as recommended. The level, condition, and concentration of the coolant should be checked periodically. (A 50/50 mix of anti-freeze and water is usually recommended.) If you’re doing your own work, allow the radiator to cool down completely before removing the cap. (Newer vehicles have coolant reservoirs.) The tightness and condition of drive belts, clamps and hoses should be checked by a certified auto technician.
Heater/defroster — The heater and defroster must be in good working condition for passenger comfort and driver visibility.
Windshield wipers — Replace old blades. If your climate is harsh, purchase rubber-clad (winter) blades to fight ice build-up. Stock up on windshield washer solvent — you’ll be surprised how much you use. Carry an ice-scraper.
Battery — The only accurate way to detect a weak battery is with professional equipment. But do-it-yourselfers can do routine maintenance. Scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections; clean all surfaces; re-tighten all connections. If battery caps are removable, check fluid level monthly.
A word of caution: Be sure to avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid. Wear eye protection and rubber gloves. Note too that removal of cables can cause damage or loss of data/codes on some newer vehicles so refer to your manual for instructions.
Lights — Inspect all lights and bulbs; replace burned out bulbs; periodically clean road grime from all lenses with a moistened cloth or towel. To prevent scratching, never use a dry rag.
Exhaust system — Your vehicle should be placed on a lift and the exhaust system examined for leaks. The trunk and floorboards should be inspected for small holes. Exhaust fumes can be deadly.
Tires — Worn tires will be of little use in winter weather. Examine tires for remaining tread life, uneven wearing, and cupping; check the sidewalls for cuts and nicks. Check tire pressure once a month. Let the tires “cool down” before checking the pressure. Rotate as recommended. Don’t forget your spare, and be sure the jack is in good condition.
Emergencies — Carry gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel, sand or kitty litter, tire chains, a flashlight, and a cell phone. Put a few “high-energy” snacks in your glove box.
Why look for a certified technician? The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) was founded in 1972 as a nonprofit, independent organization dedicated to improving the quality of automotive service and repair through the voluntary testing and certification of automotive professionals. ASE-certified technicians wear blue and white ASE shoulder insignia and carry credentials listing their exact area(s) of certification, while their employers often display the blue and white ASE sign. They can be found at all types of repair facilities from dealerships to independent garages and franchises. Visit www.ase.com for more information.’
Choosing the Right Repair Shop:
Tips for finding the best ASE certified auto repair shops — the group that tests and certifies automotive technicians.
* Start shopping for a repair facility before you need one.
* Ask your friends and associates for their recommendations; consult local consumer groups.
* Arrange for transportation in advance so you will not feel forced to choose a shop based on its location.
* Look for a neat, well-organized facility, with vehicles in the parking lot equal in value to your own and modern equipment in the service bays.
* Look for a courteous staff, with a service consultant willing to answer all of your questions.
* Look for policies regarding estimated repair costs, diagnostic fees, guarantees, and acceptable methods of payment.
* Ask if the repair facility specializes or if it usually handles your type of repair work.
* Look for signs of professionalism in the customer service area such as civic, community, or customer service awards.
* Look for evidence of qualified technicians: trade school diplomas, certificates of advanced course work, and certification by ASE.
* Look for the ASE sign.
Visit laurenfix.com for car care tips as well as information about how consumers benefit from voluntary technician certification.