Winterizing your car, Chicago style

Chicago is a city with its own style. We’ve got Chicago style pizza. We’ve got Chicago style hot dogs. And Lord knows, we have Chicago style weather – especially in the wintertime.

Yes, from blinding blizzards to bone-chilling cold, the severity of winter in Chicago is legendary. Which means if you want to keep your car not only running, but also healthy for the long term, you’ve got to winterize your vehicle, Chicago style.

Of course, in the event of an accident, Gold Coast Auto Body is equipped to get you back on the road in like-new condition. But wouldn’t it be better to avoid the accident all together?

One thing to keep in mind as you debate how detailed you want to get in your winterization of your vehicle is that many winter collisions that could result in damage to your automobile are easily preventable if your car is truly road worthy for winter driving.

Fluids
The first thing you should do in winterizing your car is to be sure to fill your windshield wiper fluid with a winter blend. These blends contain a heavier balance of alcohol to water, translating to a lower freezing temperature.

If you can’t see the road clearly, you’re inviting an accident. Making sure your windshield wiper fluid is working properly despite winter temperatures and conditions is vital to preventing auto collisions that could find you bringing your vehicle to GCAB for repair.

According to this article in The Columbus Dispatch, the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration lists the inability to see the road clearly is a leading cause of automotive accidents.

As its name suggests, antifreeze is specifically formulated to regulate your engine during extreme temperatures. Whether you are talking about extreme heat in the summer, or extreme cold in the winter, it ensures that the engine block stays at an even operating temperature.

You should check your antifreeze (more commonly referred to as “coolant) at least twice a year – at the start of summer and at the start of winter. And be sure to flush the radiator on a regular basis. As a general rule of thumb, flush and fill service is recommended every 30,000 miles or 5 years, whichever comes first. For more information on engine coolant and considerations you should check out this article from Cars.com.

Your gas line can also benefit from its own type of antifreeze. Putting special fuel-line antifreeze in the gas tank during winter will help eliminate water from the fuel line to prevent freezing. It’s also a good idea to keep your tank at least half full during the winter months to prevent a fuel line freeze.

Finally, don’t forget to change the oil. For Chicago winters, you’ll want to use an oil with a lower viscosity – that is, the relative thickness. A lower viscosity oil will be more fluid and flow better at lower temperatures. For information on oil types and viscosity read this FAQ from Valvoline.

Rubber Belts and Wipers
Like fluids, rubber products can be adversely affected by cold weather. Your serpentine belt (also referred to as the “S belt”) has grooves like a tire. If these grooves are worn out and cracked it’s a good idea to have the belt changed to avoid having it snap in the winter. Older neoprene rubber belts typically last about 50,000 miles. By contrast, newer ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) rubber belts can last up to 100,000 miles.

Windshield wiper blades also feature a partial rubber construction. Properly functioning wiper blades are just as important as having the right windshield wiper fluid. According to the Federal Highway Administration, visibility is associated with almost 50% of fatal crashes.

You may want to consider installing winter wiper blades, which are generally bigger and have a sturdier frame. The rubber is typically constructed of synthetic materials such as Teflon and silicone to stand up to the harshest temperatures. For information on the difference between summer and winter wiper blades, read this article from Blain’s Farm & Fleet.

Tires
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, tire problems are associated with 35% of accidents studied for the administration’s Traffic Safety Facts Crash Stats report. While Gold Coast Auto Body will always be ready to repair any collision damage to your car, obviously you are going to want to avoid collisions whenever possible.

Some people change their entire wardrobe from summer to winter; it can be a good idea for your tires, too. Don’t be misled by the term “all-season tires.” The truth is, such tires generally don’t measure up in snow and ice. Winter tires are constructed of a softer rubber to enhance grip, and feature superior tread patterns that are specifically designed to achieve better traction on ice and snow. For a more detailed explanation of the advantages of winter tires consider this article from AutoBlog.com.

Tire pressure is another important point. When the temperature drops by as little as 10 degrees, it can cause a 10 percent loss of tire pressure. Since having the correct tire pressure is vital to ensure proper handling, it is very important that you check your tire pressure frequently during the winter and adjust accordingly.

Battery
Typically, it is recommended that you replace your battery every three years. While you can push that timetable to up to five years in some parts of the country, in Chicago three years is the safe way to go.

Even if it’s not time to replace it, you’ll still want to inspect the battery for corrosion, which usually shows up as a white powder around the nodes and clamps. While this can be cleaned with baking soda and water (usually with a toothbrush or similar soft bristled device), you may want to just replace the battery early and give yourself peace of mind that you’re not going to get stranded in the middle of a Chicago severe weather situation.

While checking your battery, make sure you ensure the cables are nice and tight. You should also take the opportunity to replace your spark plugs.

Of course, even a brand new battery can fail you in the face of a subzero cold snap. So while you are winterizing, make sure you have a working set of jumper cables in your car. You can never be too cautious. Other winter items to have onboard include a first aid kit, kitty litter or rock salt, emergency flares, gloves and hat, a blanket, possibly a shovel if you have space, extra windshield washer fluid, and a sturdy ice scraper and snow brush.

In summary, even “mild” Chicago winters can be brutal for your car. Make sure you take all of the proper steps to winterize your car in advance. If you don’t have the time or know-how to do it yourself, take your vehicle to a trusted mechanic to handle winterization for you. Just make sure you do it. Better safe than sorry!

For more information on the specifics of winterizing in the Windy City, take a look at this Chicago Tribune article.