If you haven’t already had your winter service done and are wondering if this is just another ploy from shops to get your vehicle in their doors so they can take your money. Or you are just wondering why this service is necessary. This article is for you.
Living in Calgary winter is a given. Whether it starts in September with an end-of-summer blizzard to take away all the warm happy feelings of summer or hits with a vengeance after an unseasonably warm December. Forget about those last minute reminders in Spring that it will be back with a fury come fall. And as hard as the cold is on your own person, it’s equally taxing on your vehicle that can result in inconvenient breakdowns in the most dangerous places.
That is where taking care of some winter maintenance before or during the cold snaps can save you not only expensive repairs but being caught in the cold.
So what does winter maintenance service actually involve?
It honestly doesn’t matter if you are mechanically inclined or not and if this is done in your home garage or at a registered shop, it still needs to be completed to make sure you’ll keep humming warmly through the winter. Of course, unless you are a licensed tech you are taking some pretty big risks by not having a professional inspect and complete the following tasks. And of course, we highly recommend you have a professional complete all the following work:
1. Oil Change:
This is one of the most important tasks that need to be completed before the cold hits. Reason being, the grade of oil that is put into your vehicle is dependent on the temperatures the vehicle will be driven in as the oil changes viscosity with the change of the weather. And that my friends can be the difference between your car starting or not. In the warmer months, the oil put into your vehicles is of a thicker viscosity. The reason is as the engine warms and the oil warms, the oil becomes thinner. This causes the oil to slide through the tight spaces easier and actually resulting in less lubrication. In warmer months, you need to have a little thicker oil to start since the engine heat becomes higher due to the increased outside temperatures. If your engine isn’t properly lubricated when it’s running, your engine will have increased friction and destroy essential components that often result in destroying the engine completely. But as the temperature outside gets colder the viscosity of the oil changes to become thicker. This has a different effect. Instead of providing less lubrication due to the oil running thinner, it actually provides no lubrication and becomes so thick that it can’t flow at all. As a result, your care won’t start in the cold weather. This is why cars in Calgary are fixed with a block heater that you plug in on those extra cold days. But even with a block heater, the wrong grade of oil will prevent your car from starting. Forget about the extra effort your battery needs to make when rolling the engine over, even if it does manage to start. So I bet you are thinking to yourself… ”Well, I use synthetic oil so that shouldn’t happen”. To a point, yes. Synthetic vs mineral based oil does dramatically reduce this viscosity change between temperatures as it is more durable and holds its consistency better. Which is why we always recommend you pay the extra bucks and run synthetic oil. But that is an article for another day. You should still be changing your oil at least 2 times per year even with synthetic as it does break down eventually not to mention the impurities that build up in the oil over time, which then causes problems during the cold months as well. So long story short – plan your oil changes with the change of seasons and you will always be ready for whatever mother nature has to throw at you.
2. Battery Testing:
While the weather is good you may think that you have all the battery power in the world. But before the cold comes, you really need to have your battery tested for the how well it is really holding a charge and just the over the health of the battery. When the temperature drops, the effort it takes to start your vehicle increases. The colder it gets the more effort it takes. This drains batteries and drains them fast. Not to mention a battery that isn’t healthy can also freeze and stop holding a charge altogether. The only way you, as an individual can tell how good your battery really is, is by going to start your car that sub-zero morning and have it start… or not. By that time it’s too late. And forget about those crazy days when the temperature is warm in the morning and by mid-afternoon, it can freeze the nuts off a steel bridge. And it happened to be one of those days where you needed to go buy groceries for your hungry brood and had to leave your car in a parking lot where you can’t plug your it in. That is a very inconvenient place to be stuck without a running vehicle. So part of winter service includes batter testing so you have the peace of mind that your battery is up for the long task ahead.
Belt Inspections: Yup, this is a big one too. Your vehicle needs all belts looked over to see where the weak spots may be. Any belts that are worn or cracked need to be replaced as they will snap along with the cold snaps that come. That is not only a hassle, but it can happen without warning anywhere at any time. Think of a ticking time bomb under your hood. You don’t want to be one of those poor saps stuck on the side of Deer-foot stranded on the side of the road.
Some belts, like your timing belt, are not just essential to keeping the vehicle running, but if they do break while the engine is running, the whole engine can be destroyed. Of all the belts to fear, having your timing belt break should be your biggest fear as you still not only get stuck on the side of the road but stuck with a bill that will hurt as much as your frostbite. So making sure your belts are healthy and up to par is also essential for getting through the winter unscathed.
3. Coolant Check (better yet Flushed):
If you are asking yourself “It’s so cold outside why does my car even need the coolant?” Then this article is really for you. Like oil, there are different grades of coolant that go into your vehicle at different times of the year. And also like oil, there are impurities that make it into the system that also affect its effectiveness. In summer you want coolant that will hold up to super high temperatures. That usually means it’s not rated for extremely cold temperatures. The last thing you want in the winter is for your coolant to freeze and then, in turn, destroy your engine. Yup, like water, the coolant that freezes expands and will cause all sorts of parts to crack.
Coolant is also responsible for how well your vehicle heats. Without the right amount of coolant or if your coolant system isn’t working properly, your vehicle won’t heat up as it should and you will be left driving with chattering teeth or worse. So having your coolant at least checked minimum; at best flushed and replaced with clean winter grade fluids will keep everything including yourself at just the right temperature this winter.
You also need to make sure your window washer fluid is also rated for those extra cold temperatures. The last thing you needs is for your washer fluid to freeze, cracking the reservoir or lines then leak out during those lovely chinooks. Leaving you with no fluid to wash your windshield when you can’t see while driving due to the sloppy, slushy roads we are so often blessed with.
4 Lastly Tires:
I really hope this one is a no-brainer. Winter tires are of course best, and having your tires swapped for the “winter wonders” will not only keep you moving through the icy white stuff but on track and in your lane. As well as stopping your car at those pesky red lights. If you are not a fan of winter tires or feel you’re saving lots of money by running all seasons, your tires should be checked to ensure they have the right amount of tread to tackle the snowy conditions. You may think a first glance they are great, but your tread should be measured and at a minimum, your tires rotated so they have the most optimal amount of rubber hitting the road. Unless you are confident on what those specs are, then it would be wise to have someone that is an expert take a look and make sure you are good in that department.
Even if you have swapped those winter tires, and have been doing it for years… hopefully not on the same pair, you should still have them looked at to ensure they haven’t reached the end of their life. Bald winter tires don’t do you much good. And when we say bald, we don’t mean queue ball bald like Uncle Charlie’s head. Again, often tires that have reached the end of their life look fine to most people. Get them checked as well.
There is a lot of reasons why winter maintenance service is important. In Calgary especially, it really isn’t too late to have it done. So if you have been procrastinating and haven’t got your car winter ready, well winter is here. It’s not too late to get it done and save yourselves a hard time over the next … you know… 6 months.