By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
The globe refuses to warm. What happened, Al?
The opposite is happening. The globe is cooling. Brutally so. Here in the “South” — where it’s supposed to be warm — it has been getting colder and colder with each passing year. Fall has transitioned from balmy to brutal. Two weeks shy of Thanksgiving and it’s going to dip into the teens overnight. “Winter” is still — technically — weeks away.
Our cars suffer, too.
How to ease their pain — and perhaps, ours? Here are a few suggestions that ought to help:
Polish and wax your windshield –
Your car’s windshield is also a bug and other flying debris shield. It gets splattered, scratched, caked and chipped. Run your hand over the windshields of a brand-new car and a five-year-old car. The difference in surface smoothness will usually be obvious. Using a polish wax — which contains mild abrasives — will clean up the glass, restoring most of its original smoothness.
That, in turn, will make the wipers more effective — and ought to increase their useful life, too.
A just waxed-windshield will wick away water noticeably better — often sufficiently (in light rain) that one doesn’t need to use the wipers as much, which is another way to extend their useful life. This is important, given the cost of replacement blades.
But being able to see clearly is priceless.
Additional tips: If you park outside in cold and wet weather, try to avoid leaving your wiper blades to freeze onto the windshield. Most windshield wipers have flexible arms that allow you to manually bend them forward and outward so that they are not contacting the glass. Leave them that way overnight. In the morning, scrape the windshield free of ice before you turn on the windshield wipers. If you don’t, the rough surface — the ice on the glass — will make short work of your blades and they will smear rather than clear.
Also — if your car has automatic/intermittent wipers — be sure you let them cycle completely before you turn off the engine and leave the car for the night. People sometimes just key the engine off, with the automatic wipers in mid-sweep. Left overnight, the blades freeze on the glass. When you go to start the car next morning, the electric motor that operates the wipers tries to finish that final sweep that was interrupted the previous evening — but the blades are stuck to the glass. This puts lots of stress on the motor and the usually plastic bushings inside the mechanism, which will eventually result in their premature failure — probably at a most inconvenient and extremely cold moment.
* Now is the time to check your battery terminals –
You’ve no doubt read — and probably know — that a battery which seems healthy in warm weather may turn sick on you suddenly in cold weather. Reason being, it takes more amps to start a cold engine on a cold day — and battery performance dips with the mercury. But a poor connection can also make a battery that’s strong seem weak.
To avoid that awful click-click-click (and no start scenario) pop the hood and check that both terminals are tight.
Now, are they clean?
If you see flaky white stuff around the connections, they definitely need to be cleaned. Auto parts stores sell specialized brushes for this purpose, but you can also use clean steel wool or Scotchbright abrasive pads or even fine sandpaper. So long as you end up with a clean/shiny metal surface. Reinstall the clamps, being sure they’re tight but not overtightened — and then mist each terminal with a spritz of WD-40, which will leave a protective coating on the surface.
Check them again (and re-clean, if need be) in six months’ time.
* Replace conventional oil in the engine and manual transmissions/axles with synthetics –
Synthetic lubricants cost more than conventional lubricants. But the payoff is noticeably easier start-ups on very cold days and — in vehicles with manual transmissions — smoother gear engagement/operation (as well as less wear and tear). You will likely also see a slight but noticeable uptick in your gas mileage — the result of reduced friction and faster warm-ups. Synthetics are much superior at the extremes of temperature — extreme cold and extreme heat. They flow better than conventional lubricants — which is why you’ll audibly and otherwise notice your car’s engine starting with less apparent struggle when it’s in the minuses outside. And the engine should warm-up faster, too — which means you’ll be warmed up faster as well.
Caveat: Some late-model vehicles with manual transmissions require the use of automatic transmission fluid (ATF). Do not use oil — synthetic or otherwise — in such a vehicle.
* Run the AC –
It sounds like a bad idea, but — if you want to avoid AC repair bills come summer — it’s actually a really good idea. The AC system in your car contains both refrigerant and lubricant. Neither of which circulate when the AC’s not in use. The lubricant is supposed to keep seals pliable (rather than brittle) so as to prevent the refrigerant from leaking — which will render your AC not working.
By cycling the AC on for about 5-10 minutes every couple of weeks during the winter months, you’ll decrease the odds of that happening. It’s not necessary to have the thing set on “max cool,” either. Just so the AC’s actually on.
PS: Running the AC has another benefit. It dehumidifies the air, which helps keep the windshield from fogging up. Try it yourself and see.