Now that the boat is all winterized, the pool cover is installed, the patio furniture is stored in the shed, and the children are safely back in school, comes the time of year that we should all look forward to. As we enter fall and look ahead to winter, it is time to get the fleet standing proud for the Thanksgiving travelers and Christmas parties.
The changing of the seasons is upon us, and with every change, there are a few things that need to be done to prepare for the cold months ahead. For many of you, winter means sleet, freezing rain, snow, and bitter cold temperatures. No owner wants to get the call that their car is on the side of the road with a mechanical issue — especially in the freezing cold.
Let’s take a walk around the car and look to see what can be done to help ensure that that call does not come.
01 LIGHTS Turn all of the lights on the car on and check the bulbs, high beams, fog lights, and low beams. Pull the car up to a wall at night and look at the headlight alignment. You have all seen the car going down the road with one headlight shining full into your lane, blinding you. Don’t be that car. The lights should be even and shine straight ahead. If they do not, your local body shop usually has a headlight alignment machine that can set them back correctly. Proper headlight alignment is critical to eliminating snow blindness caused by light shining on new snow. Make sure the hazard lights work. You never know when you will have to pull over, and a 30-ft. long white car can disappear beside a snow bank.
02 TIRES Look at the tires. Are they inflated correctly? How much tread is left on them? If you insert a penny upside down in the tread and can see the top of Abe’s head, it is time for some new tires. Worn, under inflated tires have much less traction in wet and slippery conditions and can leave you stuck, or worse — in a ditch.
03 WIPERS Simply put, if you don’t know when you changed the wiper blades last, put a new set on. Wiper blades are cheap and a set that streak or do not clean well can be dangerous. Before you put the new set on, take a minute with glass cleaner and a single-edged razor blade. Spray the windshield with the glass cleaner and scrape the glass gently from top to bottom and then side to side. You will be surprised at the amount of road grime that will come off. As the blades go back and forth, they leave little tiny bits of rubber in the surface of the glass, a gentle scraping will remove this and you will be amazed how well they work the next time you need them. I use Rainex on my windows. It helps the water bead up and roll off so that wipers aren’t necessary during a gentle mist.
Another thing to do before you install the new wipers is to check the windshield washers. Fill the reservoir with washer antifreeze (not regular antifreeze or you will have one heck of a mess). There are many good products that will keep your washer water from freezing, and frozen washer fluid is useless. Operate the washers and make sure that they cover the windshield. A stopped-up nozzle can be cleared with a pin or a little compressed air. Make sure they work well. Now put those new blades on.
04 EXHAUST Get under the car and check the exhaust from front to back for any leaks or holes that have occurred during the summer. Driving in snow reduces the ground clearance of the car and exhaust can make its way into the cabin if there are leaks. Make sure that nothing is damaged from scraping over the entrance to that one club every city has — the one with the bad rise in the driveway that you have to go over crossways, while hoping your clients didn’t eat a lot at dinner.
05 BRAKES Drive the car and make sure that there are no pulling issues with the brakes. A vehicle that pulls one way or the other under hard brake application will be 50 times worse with the limited traction caused by water or slush on the roads. Make sure your brakes are in good shape and are adjusted correctly. Many times the rotors on a stretch will become warped during summer driving and cause a shudder when you are stopping. This needs to be corrected because that shudder is uneven braking on that one wheel. If you hit a slick spot and the wheel stops turning, you have lost steering control on that wheel, which can land you in a ditch or worse yet, get you into an accident.
06 BATTERY Make sure you check the battery! Batteries lose as much as three-quarters of their power when the temperature goes below freezing. A weak battery in warm weather will become a dead battery in cold weather. Check and make sure the charging system is putting out the correct voltage to both the coach and the vehicle batteries. Make sure all of the connections are clean and tight. With all of the lights, the heater blowers, and all of the entertainment devices operating, the electrical system will be stressed to its maximum. Don’t let a dirty or loose cable leave you stranded.
07 HEAT Make sure the heat works in the car. I know this sounds silly, but the little vacuum hoses that operate the heat in the coach section have a way of splitting and falling off at the worst times, leaving you no heat in the rear of the car. Make sure that the defroster blows warm air at the windshield to keep it free of fog and to melt whatever falls on the outside of the glass.
08 BODY I suggest taking the car to the local “jiffy wash” and using the wand to spray the undercarriage of the car thoroughly. When you finish, turn the knob to wax, and spray the undercarriage with wax. This will help keep the road salts and such from attacking the body of the car during the winter season. When you get back to base, wash the outside and generously apply wax to the car. If your car has a vinyl top, apply a dressing to the vinyl to help keep it pliable so that it doesn’t get brittle and crack in the cold.
09 SAFETY Last, but nowhere near least, check your safety kit. Make sure the flares or safety triangles are still there, that there is a blanket, and some emergency food in the car. Make sure that there is a working flashlight in the car. Make sure that there is a pair of gloves in the car in case you have to change a tire in the snow. A cell phone charger is also a very good thing to have in your safety kit. Check the first aid kit to make sure it is stocked well. You will never have everything you need with you, but with a good plan and a little foresight, you should have enough to get you through a problem safely. The Boy Scout motto is “be prepared.” I hope that this list will serve as a general guide to help keep you prepared for the coming winter months. If you have followed good maintenance and good planning guidelines, you and your coaches should have a very good winter season.