Prepping the car for adverse weather

3. Antifreeze

There's a little confusion about antifreeze these days. Here's the deal: Antifreeze mixed (50-50) with water is designed to protect your radiator and engine block to about minus 34 degrees Fahrenheit. An inexpensive gauge called a "hydrometer" can tell you if your antifreeze makes the grade. Where some drivers go sideways is, they put in straight antifreeze, figuring more is better. Actually, more isn't better; in fact, it turns into something resembling lime Jell-O in winter, reducing its effectiveness. Antifreeze manufacturers have lately added to the confusion by selling premixed antifreeze. What a deal: 50-percent less for a dollar more!

Bad move: Ignoring your antifreeze. If you run your vehicle when the coolant is frozen and not circulating, the engine will get very hot, very fast and likely blow a gasket. Cost: $80 for two gaskets + eight hours labor = $760.

Good move: Checking your mix and replacing it if necessary. It's a good idea to back-flush your radiator every few years as well to remove sediment buildup -- but never do so on your driveway or other areas where pets might drink it, antifreeze is deadly to them.

4. Oil

When it comes to oil, it's all about the viscosity. Generally, it's best to follow the manufacturer's recommended weight: 10-40, 10-30 and so forth. But, if you have an older car that burns oil and requires, say, 20-50 in summer, it's a good idea to lighten up a bit in winter. "That 20-50 is going to be glue when the weather cools," says Duchene. A good winter choice for oil-burners might be 15-40.

Bad move: Using heavy oil in winter -- it takes more effort to start.

Good move: In addition to following manufacturer's recommendations, considering a switch to synthetic oils which pump a little more quickly in colder temperatures.

5. Tires

So many winter myths exist regarding tires that it's hard to know where to start. In Grandpa's day, folks would deflate their tires in winter, the assumption being it put more surface rubber on the road for traction. Paul says just the opposite happens: It closes up the tread and decreases traction. Stick to the recommended psi, or pounds per square inch.

The studded tire controversy also rages on. Our experts say: Use them if black ice is prevalent in your area. Snow tires can actually create a very costly winter blunder. Listen carefully: If you have a front-wheel drive, four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicle and you want to use snow tires, you need them on all four wheels. Front-wheel drive vehicles with snow tires on the front can easily spin upon braking when the front tires dig in better than the rear tires. On 4WD and AWD vehicles, you can even cause transmission damage if you run differently sized tires because the vehicle reads them as having different traction capacities and tries constantly to adjust.

Bad move: Buying mix-and-match tires on 4WD or AWD could cost you a transmission.


Good move: Running regular, snow or studded tires at the recommended pressures. As far as tread goes, a good rule of thumb is: Stick a nickel into the tread. If it doesn't cover part of Jefferson's head, start watching for tire sales.

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