For those worried about keeping their car running through the winter, the answer may be as simple as getting an inspection before the snow and ice sets in.
Local mechanic shop owners noted that a host of issues may pop up as the temperature drops but many can be taken care of with a simple check, which are often conducted free of charge when customers bring their cars in to change their oil or get serviced in other ways.
Andy Ross, owner of Ross Auto and Muffler, said he always suggests people bring their cars into their local auto service shop.
“We always advise getting your car serviced. They’ll do a safety inspection,” he said, adding that many shops will check a car’s wipers, tires, battery and make sure its coolant, a liquid substance used to help regulate a car’s engine, is clean and adequate for impending freezing temperatures. Making sure a car’s coolant is able to handle colder weather is essential because it helps keep the engine running by helping it to maintain a correct working temperature.
Ross added that Iowans should make sure their coolant has freeze protection and can handle temperatures that go as low and 35 degrees below zero.
“They need to know what their freeze protection is and add to it accordingly,” Ross said.
Ross also noted that with new technology being introduced to cars, what used to be considered simple tasks that anyone could do at home has now become more difficult.
“Before, we used to see people drain their radiator or put in antifreeze, but with the tech involved now, people need to be careful doing those things on their own. You can end up causing bigger problems,” Ross warned.
Mt. Pleasant Tire owner Gary Crawford echoed Ross’ advice for people to get their car serviced. Crawford highly recommended those who often drive during the winter to get their oil changed, especially if a car is nearing 3,000 miles since its last oil change.
“Going into winter, make sure your oil has been changed. Going from hot to cold, you can get condensation build up inside the motor and you don’t want to get moisture in with the oil,” Crawford explained.
Like Ross, Crawford also stressed the importance of making sure a car’s coolant can handle colder weather. Crawford also suggested adding fuel line antifreeze that has isopropyl alcohol in with a car’s gas. Antifreeze is the part of the coolant mixture that lowers the freezing temperature of liquids circulating in the engine. Vehicle owners can purchase fuel line antifreeze, which often come in small vials, and are advised to add it to their gas approximately once a month, or every 4th fuel-up, during the winter.
“The reason you want isopropyl alcohol is because some gas line antifreeze separates the gas and the water and does not let it pass through the system. Isopropyl alcohol mixes with the water and mixes it with the gas so it all goes through the system … again, you’re trying to get rid of moisture,” Crawford said.
In terms of tires, a point of concern for many drivers, both Ross and Crawford remarked that with front-wheel drive vehicles and all-season tires, most people in southeast Iowa will be able to get around without too much trouble. However, tires lose about a pound of pressure for every ten degree drop in temperature, which means drivers need to make sure their tire pressures are at an adequate level as winter sets in.
For drivers with front-wheel drives who want to put on snow tires, Crawford strongly encourages putting in four, rather than just two in the front.
“The problem is, the front’s gripping and better traction, if you have to go and stop quick on snow and ice and your front grabs and your rear doesn’t, it comes around on you,” Crawford explained how using only two snow tires could cause a car to spin out.
Snow tires are only really necessary for southeast Iowans driving rear-wheel drive vehicles, but only require snow tires for the rear because it does not face the same risk of spinning out.
The auto repair and tire shop owner also articulated the difference between snow and all-season tires.
“The tread on snow tires is much softer. They won’t last as long but they’re got better traction. An all-season tire, the tread design is harder because it’s made for longevity,” Crawford pointed out.
Snow tires also have additional grooves called sipes, that give it even better traction and grip that give it additional biting edge to hold onto snow and ice. All-season tires also have some sipes but not at the frequency of snow tires.
Those looking to go the extra mile and looking for even more heavy-duty tires, studded snow tires are also available. The tires come with little holes that allow auto shops to put in studs that, in addition to the sipes, will give extra grip and biting.
Still regular snow tires will not give the lift necessary for vehicles to get through thick or deep snow.
“The reason you get stuck in deep snow is not because you don’t have good traction, it’s because the bottom of your car gets on top of the snow and then you’re high centered and there’s just no plowing through it,” Crawford said.
Outside of tires, Crawford and Ross suggested people who commute to consider investing in winter windshield wipers, which are built to avoid snow build up and freezing and stay flexible. Other tips included making sure window wiping fluid could also withstand winter temperatures as well as stocking cars up with emergency kits in case it stops working out in the cold.
“Any mechanical thing, in general, cold is much harder [on vehicles] than heat,” Crawford said, reiterating that making sure a car’s general condition is good going into the winter is the best way to prevent any unexpected issues cropping up.