Time for Your Car’s Winter Checkup

Spencer Law Group Dec. 23, 2020

Time for Your Car’s Winter Checkup by Jonathan Kurtz

Winter can be a stressful time. With less to do outside, the kids are probably climbing the walls.  There’s the last minute rush for Holiday gifts, and yesterday you found out your inlaws want to “stop by” for a week or two, pandemic or no pandemic.  Luckily, your friends at the Spencer Law Group have a great idea for you to take a  break from the holiday madness and spend some quality time with one of your best friends:  your car.

As stressful as winter can be on us, it is even more stressful on your car.  The colder temperatures can negatively effect a lot of important systems that keep your car running safely.  Road conditions can be sketchy at best or downright dangerous at worst.  Fortunately, there are a few simple things you can check to keep your car running safely during the cold months.

Your battery is one of the most important parts of your car.  If your battery runs dead, you are going exactly  nowhere, which can be problematic when you have that car full of kids, inlaws, or last minute Christmas gifts.  Car batteries can last from four to six years before needing replacement.  Of course, driving conditions, the health of your car’s electrical system, and the battery’s exposure to heat and cold can drastically reduce this life expectancy.  Most auto parts stores can test your battery free of charge to confirm that it is working properly.  Batteries need to have sufficient power both to “crank” the engine during starting, and run the car’s electrical system properly if the engine is shut down or idling.  Your mechanic or auto parts store should be able to tell you whether your battery is good to go or needs replacement.  You may also want to consider keeping your car in the garage or running a deep-cycle “trickle charger” to keep the battery’s charge topped off during the cold months.

Tires rely on heat to work properly.  A tire “sticks” to the road best when friction between the treads and the ground warm the tire to proper operating temperature.  In the colder months, this takes longer.  The result?  Your tires need to be in good shape, or traction is reduced.  Check your tires for excessive wear.  Each tire has a minimum amount of tread for safe use, and some tires even have “wear indicators” built in between the treads.  Certainly, if you see any damage to the tread or the sidewall of the tire, consider replacement.  Colder temperatures will reduce the pressure in your tires as well, which can cause unsafe handling at speed.  Make sure your air pressure is topped off to your manufacturer’s specifications.  Some local shops can fill  your tires with nitrogen, which is less sensitive to temperature and may hold the correct pressure for longer.  While you are looking at your tires, check out your brake pads and rotors as well.  If you notice excessive grooving in the rotors, or a thick cake of brake dust on your wheels, this may be an indication that your brake pads or rotors need replacement.

Now, lets look under the hood.  Make sure your battery connectors are tight and free of corrosion.  When was the last time you checked your coolant?  Your car’s radiator fluid has a shelf life.  If it is too old, it may freeze and damage your engine.  Now, look at the air filter.  If it is excessively dirty, this means your engine isn’t getting the proper amount of air it needs to run smoothly.  Does all of this sound too complicated?  Don’t worry, most shops or instant oil change stores can check all of this for you cheaply or free of charge.

Your car’s headlights are also very important, both to see and be seen.  Check the high and low beams to ensure they are not burned out.  Check your brake lights and indicators to make sure others can see you.  On a lot of cars, the headlight lens can fog up over time with soap residue and road grime.  This makes it harder for your headlights to illuminate the road in front of you.  Most auto parts stores sell kits to fix this, but on my own cars, I’ve found a little polishing compound or even toothpaste with a rag can remove this grime and restore your headlights to their original, transparent condition.

Even the best preparation and maintenance doesn’t guarantee that you won’t find yourself stranded out in the cold because of a  breakdown.  Give some thought to what you might need for yourself and your family if you are stuck in the car for several  hours.  An emergency supply kit is a very good idea, and only takes up a little space in the trunk.  Consider packing it with the following items:

  • First Aid Kit

  • Blankets

  • Warm Clothing

  • Waterproof slickers, umbrellas, or the like

  • Nonperishable snacks and water

  • Extra cell phone battery

  • Flashlight

  • Spare fuses, sparkplugs, etc.

  • Jumper cables or a chargeable “jump box”

  • A few simple hand tools

  • Pen and paper, a few games for the kids

  • A list of emergency numbers

  • Warning triangles, reflective vest, or flares (to warn other vehicles)

Having these items can make the difference between a few hours of boredom on the side of the road and a potentially life threatening situation.  If you do break down, get as far off the main road as possible and clearly mark your position with reflective cones for at least 100 feet behind your vehicle.  We have seen a number of cases where drivers “target fixate” on disabled vehicles on the shoulder and cause a collision.  If the weather permits it, you may consider getting out of the car altogether.  If this isn’t possible, do everything you can to make your vehicle seen while on the side of the road.

Finally, have a look at your insurance policy.  Do you have roadside assistance?  If so, keep the number handy.  If not, look at your credit cards.  Your cardholder may offer this service, as may your bank, car loan company, or even your “preferred customer” subscription to any number of retail businesses.  This can save you a lot of money if you need a tow.

In addition to roadside assistance, this is a good time to look at your other coverages.  Every driver (excluding motorcycles) in Kentucky is required to have $10,000.00 of medical coverage, known as “basic reparations benefits” on their auto policy.  This pays for your medical bills in the event of a crash, up to the limits.  After that, your health insurance should kick in to pay the difference.  Your insurance policy should also have “liability” coverage of at least $25,000.00 to pay someone else’s damages if you cause an accident.  Separately, your policy should have “property damage” liability to pay for damages to another person’s property if you cause a crash.   If the damages to the other guy or his property exceed those limits, YOU are responsible to pay those  yourself.  Consider additional coverages accordingly.  We never recommend only purchasing the state-required minimums.

Does your policy have collision coverage?  This pays for repairs to your vehicle if you are in a crash.  What is the deductible?  Could you afford to pay that deductible if you had to do it tomorrow?  Comprehensive coverage pays for non-collision damage to your vehicle, such as theft, fire, etc.  Take a look at the policy to see what your company pays for under this coverage and what it excludes.  Finally, do you have “uninsured” and “underinsured” coverage.  This pays you if you are in a collision caused by someone else, and their insurance is insufficient to pay for your losses.

You pay insurance premiums every month.  Make sure you know what you are paying for.  If you have questions, give us a call.

Have a safe and joyful holiday season, and if you travel this year, do so safely. Happy Holidays from everyone at Spencer Law Group.