Addressing Auto Issues as the Seasons Change
It pays to keep your car in shape, especially with winter weather not far off. For starters, here’s a handy list.
Winter is fast approaching, so be sure your car is ready to handle the conditions of the season. Where to start? The logical place is your local AAA-owned Car Care location or AAA Approved Auto Repair facility. Their pros can do a thorough inspection to see if there are any issues with your car before trouble comes calling on a snowy, icy, blustery-cold day.
Here’s why preventive maintenance makes sense, including some tips for taking care of your car so it’s in top shape for driving in any weather conditions.
Ready Your Ride: Change-of-Season Maintenance
Your vehicle’s needs shift with the seasons. Here are a few things to address as winter is on its way.
Tire pressure to perform
You expect a lot from your tires, which are in involved in all aspects of handling and performance: braking, turning, traction, ride quality, fuel efficiency and, of course, passenger safety. Take care of your tires by checking the air pressure weekly and rotating them regularly (depending on vehicle mileage) so they wear properly and tread life is maximized, giving you more time before you have to buy new tires.
A sensible rotation interval to help keep tires in good shape is every 5,000 to 7,500 miles. Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual for specific information.
As for tire pressure (in pounds per square inch, or psi), most passenger car tires have a recommended cold inflation pressure of between 30 and 35 psi; to measure this, check tire pressure after the vehicle has been sitting for a while, ideally overnight. Don’t forget to also check the air pressure in your spare tire, even if it’s one of those small, space-saving temporary types.
Car manufacturers typically provide tire pressure numbers on a sticker on the driver-side door jamb. It could also be on the rear edge of the door itself, in the glove compartment, on the inside of the fuel door or in the vehicle owner’s manual.
Routine car maintenance
Little things can build up, so pay attention to everyday maintenance issues, such as checking the air filter, brake pads, brake fluid, coolant, car battery, hoses and engine oil. Staying on top of these items will go a long way toward keeping your car in good condition.
You don’t recall the automotive recall?
Auto manufacturers will occasionally issue recall notices so they can repair or replace a part or system—free of charge—that has been discovered to be defective or that is likely to develop an issue, even if your car is in good condition.
Be on the lookout for such notices, and either call your local dealership to confirm a recall or check online with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to see if your vehicle make, year and model are included in a recall. All you need is your vehicle identification number (VIN) to search the NHTSA database.
Car maintenance and warning lights
Few things cause drivers more instant angst than seeing an ominous check engine warning light come to life on the instrument panel. The understandable gut reaction in absence of additional info about what’s actually happening: This is going to be a major car maintenance expense.
A warning light can mean practically nothing—such as a loose gas cap, which can activate a sensor in the pollution-control system—or perhaps something more substantial, such as a dropping oil level or a failing engine component. Whatever the problem, don’t ignore those lights that never seem to go away on their own.
All cars made after 1996 (and some made before then) are equipped with onboard diagnostics (OBD) systems that monitor the engine, transmission, emissions and electronics for problems. Whenever a fault occurs in any of the systems, the information is saved along with a diagnostic trouble code (DTC) that identifies the type of problem.
Once you have a DTC, you can use AAA Onboard Diagnostics to learn more. The site will also show you nearby AAA Owned Car Care locations and AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities, where your vehicle can be serviced with confidence.
NOTE: As a AAA Member, you’ll receive a 10% discount on labor (up to $50 in FL, GA, IL, NC and SC) at AAA Car Care, and 10% on labor (up to $75) for regular-price services at AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities.
Steady Your Driving: Tips in Unfavorable Weather
As road conditions often worsen with dropping temperatures, stay mindful of these tips for driving in inclement weather.
It may be just a very thin layer of water between your tires and the road surface, but don’t underestimate the potentially dangerous power of hydroplaning, which happens even to the best cars.
This situation can be tricky because as your vehicle starts sliding, you lose control of your direction and speed. The results can be disastrous.
Depending on variables like vehicle speed, the depth of the water, and the depth (or lack thereof) of your tire tread, hydroplaning can vary in severity.
If you begin hydroplaning, you can try to mitigate its effects by doing the following:
- Gently ease off the accelerator.
- Look and steer where you want the vehicle to go.
- Wait to feel your tires reconnect with the road surface.
- Brake gently and only as needed. Do the same if you start skidding on wet leaves.
Seeing better in foggy conditions
Driving in fog is another safety challenge for drivers, especially the dense, heavy variety of fog that can greatly impair your ability to see. AAA has some driving tips:
- Use fog lights along with low-beam headlights. Avoid using the high beams, as they only make matters worse by creating glare off of the precipitation. When your headlights are on, so are your taillights, of course, which the drivers behind you appreciate seeing to indicate your presence in front of them.
- Turn on your hazard warning lights to further boost your visibility to fellow drivers.
- Keep an eye on the far right outside edge of the roadway, where the solid white line runs, as a helpful guide to staying in your lane when fog is at its worst.
- Don’t change lanes and keep driving. Instead, move to the side of the road if visibility greatly deteriorates and wait for the fog to dissipate.
Riding out the storm
Intense lightning, torrential rainfall, hail, strong winds and deafening cracks of thunder: There’s nothing quite like a powerful storm to get your attention. What do you do if you’re on the road when a severe thunderstorm hits?
Thankfully, such storms are often more bark than bite, but the smart play is to not drive if possible. Wait it out. If you’re already in transit, pull over and park in a safe location, turn off the car’s engine, and turn on your hazard warning lights.
Stay inside your car and avoid touching any metal surfaces or electronics. Be patient; wait until the storm has substantially weakened or moved on altogether before you get back on the road.