Winter's return serves as maintenance reminder to vehicle owners

Summy Tireís Jason Hermann readies a testing device Tuesday morning to check the power output of a carís battery after he changed the oil and inspected the vehicle in the Quincy shop. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)
Posted: Jan. 30, 2013 9:40 am Updated: Feb. 13, 2013 11:15 am

By STEVE EIGHINGERHerald-Whig Staff Writer

That springlike weather the region enjoyed for a couple of days this week was little more than a cruel joke.

For people who thought spring had arrived, think again. It's January, and that means there's plenty of cold weather -- and likely plenty more ice and snow, too -- in store in the coming days, weeks and possibly months.

That's not necessarily good news for family vehicles, especially the ones that haven't been serviced before or after the first wave of cold weather hit.

"A lot of people do get their cars serviced before winter -- but a lot of them don't," said Bruce Arens, service manager at Shottenkirk Chevrolet, 24th and Locust.

D.J. Peters, owner of Niehaus Auto and Truck Service, 3507 Glendale, said he knows when the area receives a blast of winter weather that his phone will be ringing off the wall the next morning.

"Most of the calls are about their battery not starting or they're stuck in a ditch," Peters said.

Jeff Carter, who owns Summy Tire and Auto Service, 418 S. 36th, stresses that there are three areas of maintenance that are always vital and even more so at this time of the year.

"You should always have your battery, tires and fluid levels checked," Carter said. "If your battery is more than four years old, you should probably get it replaced, and make sure there is good tread on your tires. Most tires these days have a tread-wear indicator. It's a horizontal marker between the treads that lets you know."

A general rule of thumb is that tires need to be replaced once they have between 50,000 to 60,000 miles on them. Regular rotation can ensure that they last that long and possibly longer, Carter said.

"Batteries and tires are probably the two biggest problems at this time of the year," Peters said. "General maintenance can always take care of a lot of (other potential) problems for cars."

Regular maintenance can make sure that a vehicle's anti-freeze can handle low temperatures and that other fluids are at the proper levels. Regular maintenance also might spot a problem that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.

One item that is important to safety but is often overlooked are wiper blades, which can be vital to providing clear sight lines for the driver in certain weather conditions. Peters said many car owners ruin their blades by running them over icy windshields to try to remove the ice. Peters said motorists should run the defroster first to help melt the ice before turning on the wipers.

For as much trouble as cold-weather conditions can cause for an engine and other parts of a vehicle, there is a worse time of the year.

"Both extremes of weather ≠-- hot and cold -- are the hardest on a vehicle, and heat is probably the worst because there are more issues involved ... like the air conditioning," Arens said.

Arens encourages vehicle owners to look ahead, whether in the early fall to have the cars or trucks winterized or at other times of the year.

"It won't be long until people will need to start bringing in their vehicles to have them checked for the (warm-weather months)," he said.

The bottom line is, car owners with the best intentions and practices still can fall victim to a problem at this or any other time of the year.

"You have to remember, these (vehicles) are machines, and sometimes they will break down or fail," Arens said.