Winter Auto Maintenance
Winter weather can be rough on vehicles, especially church buses and vans that sit unused for long periods of time. To prevent breakdowns, be sure to service all vehicles on a regular basis through the cold weather season. Follow this advice from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
Have your mechanic inspect the entire vehicle for leaks, bad hoses, or any other parts needing repair. Pay particular attention to the tires, battery, and cooling system.
Test Your Tires
Underinflated tires can lead to diminished handling and rollover crashes. To improve handling (and gas mileage), check each tire monthly and set it to the vehicle manufacturer's suggested PSI (pounds per square inch) of air pressure. You’ll find the correct PSI listed in your owner's manual and on a label inside the driver's door. Don’t forget to check the spare tire, too. In addition:
- Keep a tire pressure gauge in your vehicle at all times.
- Check pressure when tires are “cold”—meaning they haven't been driven on for at least three hours.
- Look closely at your tread and replace tires with uneven wear or insufficient tread. Tread should be at least 1/16 of an inch or greater on all tires.
Power Up Your Battery
When the temperature drops, so does battery power. Plus, it takes more power to start your vehicle in cold weather than in warm. Find out if your battery is up to the challenges of winter:
- Have your mechanic check your battery for sufficient voltage.
- Have the charging system and belts inspected.
- Replace the battery or make system repairs, if necessary.
Conduct a Winter Chill Check
When coolant freezes, it expands. Such expansion can potentially damage your vehicle's engine block beyond repair. Don't let this happen to your vehicle this winter!
- Make sure you have enough coolant in your vehicle and that it's designed to withstand the winter temperatures you might experience in your area.
- A 50/50 mix of coolant to water is sufficient for most regions of the country. See your vehicle owner's manual for specific recommendations.
- Thoroughly check the cooling system for leaks or have your mechanic do it for you.
- If your system hasn't been “flushed” (draining the system and replacing the coolant) for several years, have it done now. Over time, rust inhibitors in anti-freeze break down and become ineffective. Coolant also needs to be refreshed periodically to remove dirt and rust particles that can clog the cooling system and cause it to fail.
Wipe That Snow Away
Safe winter driving depends on achieving and maintaining the best visibility possible. Check your windshield wiper blades and defroster system periodically.
- Make sure your windshield wipers work and replace worn blades.
- If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow and ice, consider installing heavy-duty winter wipers.
- Check to see that your window defrosters (front and rear) work properly.
Monitor Your Windshield Washer Reservoir
You can go through a lot of windshield wiper fluid in a single snowstorm, so be prepared for whatever comes your way.
- Completely fill your vehicle's reservoir before the first snow hits.
- Use high-quality, “no-freeze” fluid.
- Buy extra to keep in your vehicle.
Keep Your Vehicles Up to the Challenge
Winter can be one of the roughest seasons for church vehicles, but with a little extra maintenance you can keep them in top running condition. Make sure to prepare your drivers, too. Check out these tips for keeping your vehicles on the road during the winter weather.
Adapted from “Checklist & Tips for Safe Winter Driving,” by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, www.nhtsa.gov.