At this point in the school year, many RIT students may be wondering why they chose to go to college in Rochester. With all of the cold, wind, snow and ice, it can make walking around campus a dreadful experience. Driving and taking care of a car even worse.
Car care in the winter can be a costly and irritating task, but it doesn’t have to be. The following tips from local mechanics will help keep you safe, and save time and money. They will also make taking care of your car a lot less stressful. You and your car can have a good relationship, even in the winter.
Instant Death: Just Add Idiot
Because many RIT students are coming from areas that do not get as much snowfall as Rochester, and some are relatively new to driving, general driving advice for winter conditions may be helpful.
Slow down: The posted speed limit is for ideal travel conditions. When roads are slick and visibility is low, it is safer to go at a lower speed.
Give yourself space: Allow more space between your car and the one in front of you. It takes more time to stop in the snow. In ideal conditions, you should pass a mark on the road two seconds after the car in front of you passes it. That factor should increase as weather worsens.
Give yourself time: Driving at a slower speed means it will take longer to get to your destination. Also, allow time in the morning to clean off your car.
Your Honda’s Hygiene
Snow vs. All Season: For the winter months, you will need tires with adequate tread. Ben Lee, a mechanic at Ferrel’s Garage on University Avenue, recommends buying snow tires over new all season tires, prolonging the life of your current all season tires and saving you money in the long run.
According to Stephen Kean, a Manufacturing and Mechanical Systems Integration graduate student and previously a certified mechanic, if you cannot afford winter tires, it is a good idea to invest a new set of all season tires or rims for your snow tires.
Kean said that having rims for your snow tires means you can rotate the tires yourself and save money. “It’s just like changing a spare tire,” Kean said. Even if you do not want to change the tires yourself, it will take a mechanic less time to rotate the tires if they have rims.
Air Pressure: “Every 10 degrees that the temperature drops, the air pressure in your tires drops by one pound,” said Ron Epner of Ron’s Auto Repair in Webster. Epner has been a mechanic for over 41 years. According to him, air pressure needs to be checked more often in the winter. This is an efficient and free way to extend the life of your vehicle’s tires as well as improve on gas mileage; a win-win.
For Lee, the only thing more common than white fields and freezing winds during a Rochester winter are dead batteries. If your battery dies, he recommended going to a parts store where free battery tests are common.
However, it is good to keep in mind the potential sinister nature of “good” advice. Kean warned that some shops have the goal of selling you a battery, so be sure to have them prove that yours is worth changing. A car battery should last five years, and if it dies earlier, you may be eligible reimbursement from the manufacturer.
In the winter, there is a chance that the coolant in your car will freeze. A good idea, according to Lee, is to test your coolant for effectiveness around the winter season. A coolant tester can be purchased at a parts store for the price of a Gracie’s dinner ($9 for all you meal-planners) and usually provides operation instructions.
If the coolant does freeze, it can cause the radiator to fail; a costly, but preventable repair. For solutions on how to deal with frozen coolant, Lee said running the car to heat the engine and melt the coolant could be a valuable technique.
Kean, on the other hand, recommends regular green (non-Dexcool) or red coolant, which is good for three years. However, some cars require high-end gold coolant, which is better for most cars if you can afford it. (Be advised that all brands of coolant vary the additives they include. Ask your mechanic or consult your owner’s manual for the specifics on which is right for your vehicle.)
Wiper Blades and Fluid
Wiper Care: “I would always recommend keeping wiper blades in good condition because if you can’t see ... that’s kind of a big deal,” Kean said. He advised against going for the cheapest brand in Walmart when it came to purchasing a new set of winter blades.
Changing wiper blades yourself is easy and free. “If you pay someone else to do that, I’d be embarrassed,” Kean said. To care for wipers, be sure to clean them before turning them on if there is any chance they could be iced down. Failing to do so can damage the rubber on the blades, their motor and/or transmission, added Epner. Lastly, if it is going to snow overnight or during class and your car is outside, bend the wiper arms up so they are not touching the windshield. This will prevent ice buildup.
Wiper Fluid: This is another liquid that often freezes in the cold weather. If your fluid dispenser is not functioning properly, first check to see if there is buildup on the sprayer nozzles. If there is, try to melt it.
If the nozzles still do not spray, open the hood and make sure that the rubber hoses connecting the fluid to the nozzles are attached.
As a last resort, run the engine to melt the fluid and drain it out. Frozen fluid means that a better brand is needed that has a lower freezing point.
Words for the Road
Selecting a Mechanic
Kean stressed the importance of forming a relationship with the person who is working on your car. Do not just communicate through the receptionist at the front desk.
Ask if the employees are paid hourly or on a flat rate. Flat rate means mechanics get paid per job. A standard flat rate book lists how many hours it should take to complete a repair. The mechanic will get paid for that number of hours regardless of actual hours worked. This does not mean that you need to avoid one type of place. “It will give you a better idea and a better understanding of how things are working,” said Lee.
Wash It Up
Kean recommends washing your vehicle regularly in the winter time. Having salt in the crevices of your car can significantly degrade its performance and value. Spare change in the cup every couple weeks can help avoid this.
Warm It Up
Your vehicle is designed to run optimally at a specific temperature. Therefore, your car needs a chance to warm up (30 seconds on modern engines) before starting to drive. “It’s just like waking yourself up in the morning. You don’t want to go that fast, and if you do, you’re going to hurt something,” Kean said.
Know Your Car
This is especially important during the snowy season. For instance, does your car have ABS brakes? If so, the myth your grandmother told you about pumping your breaks is ineffective. The ABS braking system pumps the brakes for you.
Do yourself a favor and put your owner’s manual in your apartment bathroom so that you can read up every now and then. It may save your life one day.
Most importantly, drive smart and drive safe, RIT. Life’s a journey, not a destination.