Time to Winterize the Car

Changing technology has brought big changes to the century-old problem of how to get your car ready for winter. The oil and gas industry has improved oils to the point we know longer need to worry about changing to “winter oil” versus summer oil, we just keep on driving around with the same high quality multi-viscosity oil all year. They have also put 10% ethanol in our gas. The byproduct of this is some protection against frozen gas lines if you get water in your gas. The battery folks have improved their products as well. Where we used to be advised to test our batteries and refill them before winter, most batteries now are factory sealed and you could neither test them with a hygrometer or fill them if you would thought they were low on fluid. The only thing you need to do with your battery these days is make sure the connections are tight. If you suspect your battery is losing its capability to hold a charge, your mechanic will be happy to do a load test for you to help determine whether you need a new one.

Advances in tire technology have given us the “all weather” tire which can safely be used all year round for many of us. If you live in an area on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula where there is a lot of snow – like Brinnon for example – you might want to consider snow tires. Please remember though that all-season tires only work when they have plenty of tread and when they are properly inflated. Your tire pressure will drop with the falling temperatures – about 1 pound per square inch for every 10°. Here, if you inflated to 30 pounds per square inch in July, by November you could be closer to 25 pounds per square inch. If you move around a lot two areas of the state where there is a lot of snow, you might want to consider studded tires. If you have four-wheel drive, follow your manufacturers’ recommendation for servicing and be sure to test an “on-demand” system before winter weather sets in.  

As your Washington auto insurance agency, Homer Smith Insurance wants to remind you to be prepared for winter driving.  You can anticipate at least a few days of pretty rotten weather between November 1 and April 1 if you live here on the Peninsula. Don’t neglect your car’s windshield wipers. Check your wiper fluid and wiper blades; refill fluid and change blades as necessary.  Wiper blades are generally good for about a year. Replace them if they are worn, frayed or leave streaks.  Dirty water and salt on your windshield reduces visibility and you need a clear view for a safe trip. You don’t want to be navigating our twisting roads peering out the side window and looking for the white lines on the road.  Fill your wiper fluid reservoir with a brand that has an appropriate freezing temperature.

The end of daylight saving time is a good marker to check your belts and hoses.  Cold weather can weaken belts and hoses so any problems are only likely to get worse.  Looks for leaks where hoses connect and check for frayed belts.  If a belt or hose looks questionable, get it replaced.  

Prepare for emergencies.  Make sure your spare tire is properly inflated and you have a wheel wrench and a good jack.  Carry a shovel, jumper cables, tire chains and at least a minimal tool kit that includes a flashlight.  A bag of sand, salt or cat litter carried in the trunk will help provide a little weight over the wheels for a rear wheel drive car and may give you some extra traction if you need to get a wheel our of a rut. 

Winter or summer, your car should have a “survival kit” analogous to the one in your house.  Pack some extra batteries for that flashlight in your toolkit, a knife or scissors and cord and matches in a waterproof container.  A small first aid kit is important and should include sterile gloves and a CPR shield.  , Pack reflective triangles or brightly-colored cloth and flares for roadside safety and a compass in the event you need to leave the car.  Winter specific items you should include are:  extra windshield cleaner, an ice scraper/snow brush and high energy foods with a long useful life – nuts, dried fruit and energy bars, for example.

The folks at weather.com have some advice if you get stranded:

  • Do not leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help, and are certain you will improve your situation. 
  • To attract attention, light two flares and place one at each end of the car a safe distance away. Hang a brightly colored cloth from your antenna.
  • If you are sure the car’s exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank.
  • To protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia use the woolen items and blankets to keep warm.
  • Keep at least one window open slightly. Heavy snow and ice can seal a car shut.
  • Eat a hard candy to keep your mouth moist.


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