Winter Woes

By Simone Slykhous

February 22, 2013 4 min read

Winter can be a wonderful time -- a time for snowmen, a time for hot chocolate and a time to finally wear that hand-knitted holiday scarf from your aunt Marge. Unfortunately, the most wonderful time of the year also has its drawbacks. Dry skin, seasonal affective disorder and winter weight gains can all come into play. However, not many people think about how winter affects their vehicles. Now that the snowbanks have melted and the icicles have dripped off from your exhaust pipe, it's time to take a look at what the season has done to your car.

To the winter road warriors who suffered through storms, black ice and endless traffic jams, memories of those days can remain on your car in the form of salt and winter wear. While the temperatures outside are still freezing, this doesn't affect your car all that much. The snow and ice create a barrier from possible salt corrosion, and it's not until the snow melts that your car is put in a precarious situation. Once the temperature climbs past 32 degrees, you should get your car thoroughly washed, top to bottom and grille to taillights, right away.

Dimming headlights can be an overlooked problem. However, when you are on the road late at night and they're the only things between you and an accident, your headlights become very important. According to the lighting experts at Osram Sylvania, "headlight bulbs can dim up to 20 percent in just a few years." If your headlights appear dull, look into a headlight restoration kit or even replacing your fading bulbs.

Jim Lardear, the director of public and government affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic, warns drivers about the dangers of forgetting to align your tires: "Poor alignment will cost you money due to premature tire wear." Roads accrue damage during the winter, leaving potholes and other potentially dangerous obstacles. Underinflated or threadbare tires can lower your gas mileage and affect the braking, tread and handling of your car. To avoid accidents from worn-out tires meeting worn-out roads, be sure to keep your tires aligned, and conduct a thorough cleaning for road salts and de-icers. Also, check their air pressure regularly, and replace them about every 40,000 miles.

"Constant rain, snow, sleet and wind can easily damage vulnerable windshields, especially those that are of low quality," says Eva Wasko of 3M. Tiny spider web cracks, small bull's-eyes and other minimal flaws need to be fixed before they expand and force you to spend thousands of dollars on a new windshield. Now that scraping ice from your windshield is a thing of the past, pay careful attention to potential damage as a preventive measure.

As soon as you are finished cleaning up after the frigid winter, the boiling summer will be right around the corner. "Summer heat breaks down car batteries internally and accelerates the rate of corrosion on the vehicle's battery terminals," Lardear warns. "Both of these conditions can lead to insufficient electrical power being available and leave a motorist stranded without warning -- especially after a harsh winter weakens a battery." Summer and spring heat can also deplete coolant and antifreeze levels. Before hitting the road to enjoy the nice weather, take a look at your fluid tanks.

In general, the best advice is to perform regular maintenance. Oil changes usually need to occur every 3,000 to 3,500 miles, but after stop-and-go traffic and heavy winter loads of firewood, Christmas trees and endless amounts of holiday leftovers, maintenance might be required sooner, according to the experts at Express Oil Change.

When you do take your car in for servicing, be prepared to ask the right questions. If your mechanic is unwilling to put all quotes and warranties in writing prior to starting all services, go elsewhere. Don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion, either. After your car helped you survive the winter, it's only fair you help it survive the spring.

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