Monday, December 26, 2011

Starting your car in winter

Starting a car in winter is nothing like it use to be back when cars were carbureted. With modern fuel injection most people don't even think or wonder if their car will start. This is a good thing but just because your car starts doesn't mean it is ready to go. No I am not saying you need to let it warm up for a few minutes or any thing like that. When the weather gets colder it is even harder on your vehicle and special precautions should be taken. Below are my recommendations for start your car when it is really code.

  1. Let it run for a bit once started - I am not talking about the 1-3 minute warm up time of old as that isn't needed. What I am saying is put your foot on the break put the car in gear (if it has an automatic transmission) while running and let the fluids circulate and built pressure for a few seconds before driving off. This is usually when I am putting my seat belt on and adjusting the radio, you know 10-15 seconds. When it is cold oil doesn't flow as fast so why risk damage to your engine or transmission by running it faster than it needs to before oil has fully circulated. 
  2. If you have a block heater plug it in the night before. Block heaters a wonderful they either heat the oil or heat the coolant so that your vehicle has an easier time starting and also causes it to warm up quicker. If your vehicle doesn't have one installed you can get some aftermarket ones that you put in line with the coolant system or can attach to the oil pan. They are well worth their cost.
  3. Put the batter on the charger over night - You are not trying to charge the battery but you are trying to keep some warmth in the battery. So by putting it on a charger at the 1.5 to 2 amp trickle charge you can ensure that the battery doesn't freeze. For instruction on how to charge your batter see this article.
  4. Drive lightly - Once your vehicle is started don't drive it like a race car until it is up to full operating temperature. This means driving it lightly as you go through the neighborhood and don't do the jack rabbit starts from a stop. 
  5. If you flooded the engine (yes this can happen with fuel injected vehicles if you press the gas pedal down some when trying to start it) there is a way to unflood  it with modern fuel injected vehicles. Press the gas pedal all the way to the floor and as soon as you hear the engine catch let off the gas. You shouldn't be touching the gas pedal when starting a fuel injected vehicle even in the cold weather. these aren't like the old cars with carburetors
  6. If you have a diesel vehicle you have your own set of issues and probably know these secrets for getting it started but a neat trick I learned from one of my coworkers who has a diesel is to use some of those adhesive block heaters* that stick to your oil pan but instead stick them to your fuel tank. This will prevent your diesel fuel from gelling up and makes starting easier.
* Note I am not sponsored by or endorsing O'Reilly Auto Parts I just know that they carried the adhesive block heater pads and wanted to provide an example. I have no relationship with O'Reilly Auto Parts other than as a customer.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Winter supplies

Now is the time of year, especially with the Christmas holiday approaching, that the local news paper or local news has a segments on what you should carry with you for traveling in inclement weather. Below is my list which is probably more complete and useful.

  • Blanket - one per person
  • Snacks - some chips, candy, jerky or other snacks like food that won't go bad in case you are stranded
  • 1 quart oil - doesn't everyone have one of these in their trunk
  • Jumper cables - You will need to know how to used these. Even if you don't need them for your self you can be the hero as it seems no one carries these anymore.
  • Warmers - The hand and foot warmers that heat up when they are exposed to air. These work great as I use them when hunting and am out side for weeks on end in the cold weather.
  • Hat
  • Mittens/gloves
  • Tow chain or tow rope - Yes I have one of these, if you get stuck hopefully a 4WD truck or 4WD SUV comes by and can help pull you out. Then I suggest giving the person some cash since they did stop and pull you out of the ditch. This is a lot cheaper than getting a tow truck to pull you out which charge like $75 to hook up your car. I have even helped pull people out of ditches a couple of weeks ago with my Jeep who got stuck.
  • A full tank of gas - It doesn't have to be full but keep it above half a tank. I see an awful lot of people who are stuck on the side of the road because they ran out of gas and now are walking to a gas station.
  • Some cash - Keep $40 or so in cash in your car in small bills. It is nice since things seem to get bad when you are out in the middle of no where with limited services and they don't take credit card. Often gas stations require a cash deposit to use a gas can as well.
  • Flash light with working batteries
  • Some basic tools - If you work on your own car you probably have a good idea of what the most used tools for it are. Typically this is a couple of screw drivers, and a handful of wrenches. I know BMW's have a little tool kit in the trunk that has this but I don't know if other vehicles do as well but I wouldn't be surprised if Mercedes do as well.
  • Tire chains - If you are getting into some deep unplowed snow this will make your car go like a tank. Being from Minnesota you would think that they would be common here but they aren't. Most people think they are banned in this state but they aren't according to MN Statute 169.72
  • Ice scrapper
  • Windshield washer fluid (the non freezing type)
  • Shovel - Those folding military/camping shovels work great for tossing in your trunk.
  • Flash light.
  • 40lbs sack of rock salt - Some people use kitty litter but I like rock salt better as it will provide traction like kitty litter but will also melt ice. Just get a 40lbs sack of the rock water softener salt. If you don't need it during the winter then you can go dump it in your water softener. If you have a rear wheel drive vehicle I would suggest two 40lbs sacks, one over each rear wheel. 
  • Some fire starters - In case you are stranded for a long time having a fire for warmth might be nice if you are off in the woods.
  • First aid kit
  • Something to drink - Everyone suggests water, but that just freezes, bottles of pop freeze at a much lower temperature so instead of having a frozen block of ice you might actually have something to drink. Don't have cans of pop as when they freeze they will just burst and then you have a sticky mess so get plastic bottles.

Get Your Car Ready for Winter

With winter on its way or already here now is the time to start getting you car ready for winter. Below are the things that I do to prep my car for winter.
  1. Check the coolant - You should already be doing this each oil change but it is worth another check. Unlike in the summer you will need to have a mix and not run 100% water. Usually a 50/50 mix is the ideal ratio to balance boil over and freeze prevention. The last thing you want is to have your engine coolant freeze as this would probably be the end of a number of parts.
  2. Check your battery - A number of auto parts stores will check your battery for free if you don't have the tools to do it your self. Cold weather is hard on batteries and if you have a battery approaching the end of its life it might just freeze which will be the end of that battery.
  3. If you haven't done a flush and fill recently on you coolant now would be a good time to do so. This ensures that you have both good coolant and that you don't have a plugged heater core. 
  4. Switch to a lighter weight oil - Now your car will typically have a recommended oil usually 5w30, some vehicles have 2 oils they recommend based off of the temperatures it will operate in. In my daily driver (the BMW 540i) I will run 4 different weight oils throughout the year. In the peak heat of the summer I run 15w40 while in the middle of winter I will run 0w30 while running 5w30 and 10w30 in the less extreme  temperatures. The first number is the cold flow number so the cooler it is the lighter oil you can go with. When the day time highs are going to only be -10F it would be worth while to run a light oil that actually will flow and build oil pressure. The second number is the hot flow number and means this oil will thin no more than a X weight oil so 0w30 when cold flows like a 0 weight oil but once it warms up it flows like a 30 weight oil. Using a lighter oil also will help it start when it is cold as well. 
  5. Use synthetic oil - If you haven't read my write up on using synthetics one of the reasons they are better is they have better flow at low temperatures. This allows your engine to build oil pressure sooner. This will also make starting it easier as well.
  6. Wax you car - Now is a great time to go and do a nice hand waxing. The nice shine won't last but it will provide additional protection from road salt. If you are lucky enough to not live in an area that salts the daylights out of the road then go and enjoy some time in the nice weather and wax your car anyway.
  7. Get some rubber floor mats - This will keep your carpet in nice condition and also helps prevent the floor of your car from rusting out. It seems to take forever for automotive carpet to dry out so this will keep then dry and also prevent them from getting that awful salt stain.
  8. Check the tread on your tires - With the snow and ice on the road you don't want other factors decreasing your cars traction. Good tread helps provide as much traction as possible which you will need.
  9. Get the snow tires on it - If you are lucky enough to have snow tires they make a world of difference when driving on snowy and icy roads. The reason is that they are made with rubber compounds that can provide better traction on theses surfaces. These compounds are very soft so you don't want to run snow tires in the summer otherwise they will just wear away but in the winter do wonders. If you don't have snow tires but would like some I would suggest purchasing a set of cheap steel rims to have them mounted on as it will save you money in the long run since you will other wise be paying to have them mounted and balanced on your existing rims and then paying to have them unmounted and the summer tires put back on in just a few months.