Winter is upon us again here in Chicago and winter driving presents challenges to you and your car. Cold weather tests the limits of your car’s mechanical condition, while driving on snowy or icy roads tests your abilities and awareness as a driver. Here are some tips to help you prepare.
In general, if your car is due (or overdue) for basic maintenance, do it now before the weather gets really bad. Worn belts and hoses, old spark plugs and dirty coolant are just some of the maintenance items that will get taxed when the weather gets cold. Any of these items can lead to failures and leave you stranded. Being stranded in the winter when it is 10 degrees outside is much different than in the summer when it is 70. Bring your car into Midwest Performance Cars for a free inspection, and we will let you know if your vehicle is ready for the cold weather ahead.
Some specific items to be aware of include:
Tires – Make sure your tires are in good shape. If you have performance tires on your car, you need to get snow tires for the winter. Performance tires will provide almost no traction in even a dusting of snow or on any ice. Midwest Performance Cars can help you get snow tires and arrange storage for your off-season set. Many of our clients use all-season tires and thus have only one set year-round. If this is the case, make sure your tires have plenty of tread – worn tires will provide almost no traction. Finally, check your tire pressures. Tire pressures drop by approximately one pound for every 10 degrees. If you last checked in August, your tires are likely under-inflated.
Brakes – Having your braking system in good working order is always important, but in the winter you might need all the stopping power you can get. Make sure your pads have plenty of thickness. If you have a brake related warning light, such as the ABS light or ESC (electronic skid control), make sure you have it checked out before you really need it.
Battery and Charging System – Check your battery, charging system and belts. In winter, your car needs more power to start as the oil is thicker in the cold and thus the engine needs more force to turn it over. Also, batteries lose power as the temperature drops. If your battery is older than four years, it may let you down. Your battery may be ok, but if your charging system is not charging it correctly this can leave you stranded as well. Midwest Performance Cars can perform a complete check of your battery, alternator, and starter to make sure you are ready for the cold.
Cooling System – Many people think that a car is not likely to overheat in the cold, however this is incorrect. The cold outside air will not dissipate the heat from the engine. Having the correct coolant in your engine (many marques now use a specific type – it’s not all green any longer), with the correct mix of coolant to water, is vital to keeping your engine running cool. Do not use unmixed, or straight coolant, as it is designed to be mixed with water and has a lower freezing point when properly mixed. Good coolant is also vital in the very cold, as if your coolant freezes it will expand in your engine block and can crack it – that is expensive! Finally, the coolant circulating through your engine block also travels through your heater core which creates the heat in your car. This not only keeps you warm but keeps the defroster working properly. Midwest Performance Cars can check your entire cooling system including coolant, radiator, hoses, fans, and thermostat. We will also check your rear window defroster to make sure it is working properly.
Windshield Wipers & Fluid – Make sure your wipers are in good shape and you keep your wiper fluid reservoir full. It is amazing how easy it is to use up a gallon of wiper fluid in one trip home on a messy, snowy day. Always use good wiper fluid (never water) so it does not freeze in your system and damage your pump, lines, and reservoir.
Keep your gas tank over half full – In the summer, if you see your gas gauge getting low, you can take a risk and bet that you will find a gas station. In the winter, however, this can leave you out in the cold – literally. Besides, if you get stuck or caught in a storm, your running engine is your only source of heat.
Have some basic supplies in your car – Have a good snow-brush and ice scraper, small shovel, blanket, warm boots, flashlight, and cell phone charger. A bag of sand is helpful if you get stuck and also provides some weight in the back for front engine, rear wheel drive vehicles. These items might seem silly in the metro Chicago area – but if you travel at all, these items can be really handy in a storm.
Clean your car off completely including the headlights – Clean off all the windows, not just a little peephole in the windshield. In poor conditions, you need as much visibility as you can get in order to see pedestrians and other vehicles on the road – particularly the knuckleheads who cannot see you because they are peering out of a little peephole. Now clean off the rest of the car – why? – because the snow and ice that are there now will either slide off your roof onto your windshield, or fly off and land on someone else’s windshield that you are sharing the road with. Finally, even if it is daylight, take the time to clean your headlights. You will not remember once it gets dark and your headlight’s effectiveness goes way down when they are covered in snow/ice/dirt.
Know your car – Every car has different handling characteristics. You should understand what your car can and cannot do in the snow and how it feels. If you bought a new car, new tires, or have not driven your vehicle in the snow – go to an empty parking lot day (preferably without curbs or poles) on a snowy day and drive around a little. It is a great learning experience and a bit of fun too if you like to act a little juvenile now and again.
When driving in the snow, do everything slowly – Even with practice, a cleaned off car, snow tires, and a perfectly working car with ABS and skid control; driving in the ice and snow is treacherous. Even if you maintain control of your car, not everyone else will. (Ever wonder if those guys in 4X4’s that go flying by you realize that they can’t stop any better than anyone else?) In the snow or ice, do everything slowly and gently – acceleration, turning, stopping – all slow and gentle. Keep plenty of distance between you and the other cars. Expect the other drivers to do something stupid. Remember driver’s education in high school? They were always talking about Defensive Driving. Drive defensively in lousy conditions and you can avoid a lot of trouble.
Midwest Performance Cars is happy to look over your car and tell you what might need attention in the colder weather. Give us a call at (312) 432-9492 or use our online scheduler at