Winter Car Care Advice: It’s Not Cool (or Necessary) to Warm Up Your Engine Before Driving

As temperatures are falling in Amarillo this winter (it has been dipping below freezing at nighttime recently), you may be tempted to warm up your car in the early hours of the morning before you head to work—perhaps for your own comfort, or because you’ve heard letting the engine idle for a minute or two prolongs its life. We’re here to tell you there is no truth to the age-old practice of letting your car warm up on cold mornings. In fact, engine warming is NOT beneficial for your vehicle. (Sorry toes!)

The Reason Warming Up Your Engine Is Unnecessary & Potentially Harmful

Here’s what happens inside an internal combustion engine as it idles: when you start your car, the pistons compress air and vaporized fuel inside the engine cylinders. Then, the spark plugs ignite this mixture, creating a miniature explosion that supplies power to your vehicle’s drivetrain. However, when the engine is cold, the gas may not evaporate completely as it combines with the air. In modern cars with an electronic fuel injection, there are sensors that detect this and compensate by adding more gas to the mixture.

For this reason, letting your car idle can lead to excess fuel in the chamber, and when there is too much fuel in the chamber, some of it inevitably condenses onto the cylinder walls and strips away the lubricating oil. When the lubricating oil is gone, components like the cylinder liners and piston rings will wear prematurely. Adding insult to injury, extra fuel is also used, which means more trips to the gas station.

Wear Your Gloves & Don’t Wear Out Your Engine Components

Now that you know letting a cold engine idle can strip oil away from your pistons and cylinders (talk about counterproductive!), don’t do it. Warming up your car isn’t necessary in the winter no matter how chilly it is outside. Once you’re on the road, trust your engine will warm up as needed, and your thermostat and radiator will then keep the engine operating at proper temperature, so long as your vehicle is performing as it should. If you think your heating and/or cooling system isn’t functioning properly, make an appointment for service right away. A car can overheat in the colder temps as well, leading to a breakdown.

For more information on engine idling and performance, bring your car to Aardvark Automotive for a vehicle check-up, especially if any of your warning lights have come on, even if only for a brief amount of time. But as for warming up your engine, you can stop doing that.

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Winter driving: How to get out of a skid

Winter driving is very dangerous if you don't know how to handle your car

Winter driving is very dangerous if you don’t know how to handle your car

You know how to drive safely and you’ve read our article on how to drive defensively in winter weather. But it’s a Friday afternoon, you’ve just sat through an hour of torturous traffic, and you can’t wait another moment to get home to catch that football game. So you rev up the engine a little more than you should and push it on a curve.

Now here you are, spinning out of control in a blur of snow. You have two choices here: 1. Freak out and freeze, which will likely cause your car to spin into a tree (or oncoming traffic), or 2. Collect yourself and suavely maneuver out of the skid like a pro.

Don’t freeze up – we’re here to help. Whether you have a front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, manual, or stick shift, the technique for getting out of a skid is the same.

Consider this your worst-case scenario guide for skidding.

There are two ways to fall into a skid - the type of skid you're in determines how you get out of one

There are two ways to fall into a skid – the type of skid you’re in determines how you get out of it

Oversteering

This happens when you make a turn and the back wheels spin out to the outside of the curve, causing them to fishtail. To steer yourself out of this skid, look the way you want to go and countersteer. So if you’re making a right turn and the nose of your car is pointed too far too the right, look a little to the left and steer left. This is known as “steering into the skid.” Countersteering will bring your car back to the direction you wanted it to go in the first place.

While doing so, keep your foot off the brake (if you don’t have anti-lock brakes) and gas. If you have anti-lock brakes, brake firmly while steering into the skid.

Those with manual transmissions should let up on the clutch. Once your car is stabilized and has traction, countersteer to go in the direction you originally intended.

Understeering

When you go into a turn with too much speed, your car may not turn as much as you wanted it to, causing the front wheels to lose traction. The solution? Turn your wheels straight, even if that means turning them directly toward another car or a building.

Once your tires get enough grip, they will start rolling rather than sliding and you can steer properly again.

If you find yourself hydroplaning…

You could very easily throw yourself into a skid by braking or turning suddenly, so don’t do either! Ease your foot off the gas until you can feel the road again, and brake with light pumping motions. If your car has anti-lock brakes you can brake normally, since your anti-lock brakes will pump the brakes for you.

If your drive wheels hydroplane:

You will see an increase in your speedometer and RPM as your wheels spin. Release the gas, slow down, and steer your car straight on the road.

If your front wheels hydroplane:

Your car will slip towards the outside of the bend. Slow down and steer so your car can travel straight.

If your back wheels hydroplane:

Your car’s back wheels will veer into a skid. Steer into the skid and then steer in the opposite direction to straighten out your car.

Tips to avoid hydroplaning:

  • Keep your tires properly inflated with good tread depth
  • Replace worn tires – underinflated tires can deflect inwards, making the center higher and trapping water more easily
  • Drive slowly in wet conditions, and maintain mild pressure on your brake and gas
  • Try to drive in the tire tracks left by the car in front of you
  • Don’t suddenly accelerate, brake, or make sudden turns

References

http://www.wikihow.com/Stop-Hydroplaning

http://auto.howstuffworks.com/car-driving-safety/accidents-hazardous-conditions/how-to-steer-out-of-skid.htm

http://www.weather.com/activities/driving/drivingsafety/drivingsafetytips/hydroplane.html

If you need help getting your car through the winter, contact us at our website or call (806) 242-1073 to schedule an appointment today!

Aardvark Automotive

How to drive defensively in winter weather

It is imperative to drive with caution in the winter.

It is imperative to drive with caution in the winter.

Snow can make winter great fun – we’re sure every kid appreciates a snow day – but for drivers, the first snowfall ushers in the worst driving season of the year. Slippery, icy conditions and lack of visibility combined with shorter days make for treacherous roads. Less tire traction and more snow and ice building up on your car mean increased strain on your vehicle’s normal functions.

While you can’t snap your fingers and make the sun come back again, you can arm yourself against the weather. By following these 9 important winter weather driving tips, you can make it through the cold with minimal wear and tear

1. Slow down and increase your following distance

The speed limits posted are for motorists driving in ideal weather conditions – snow, ice, and rain don’t count. In general, do everything more slowly in the winter, since in snow, tires are just barely gripping the road. Accelerating or braking quickly can lead to skidding and accidents.

To familiarize yourself with driving on slick ice or snow without bumping into another car, practice in an empty lot. Avoid spinning the tires when you start by gently pressing the gas pedal. Get a feel for how to steer and brake, and slow down at least 3 times sooner than when you would normally turn or brake. Knowing how your car feels and drives will give you extra time to react in case difficult situations arise.

In snowy conditions, reduce your speed to half the posted speed limit.

2. Increase speed on the flat before going uphill

The key here is not to spin your wheels, which will make you lose traction and stall before you hit the hilltop. To ensure you have enough power, step on the accelerator on the flat before the hill. As the car slows up the hill, ease up on the accelerator and let the car slowly crest the hill.

Take it slow when you're on the snow.

Take it slow when you’re on the snow.

3. Grip the road during a curve

Lack of grip causes lack of control, and lack of control leads to accidents. To maximize grip, brake only before the curve while the car is traveling straight. Then take your foot off the brake as you head into the curve so you can use all grip available for steering. Accelerate as you finish the curve and straighten the steering wheel.

If you enter a corner with too much speed, you could risk spinning your wheels and losing control. Also key to preventing a skid is good steering wheel control, since being rough with your steering can cause your vehicle to lose balance.

4. Avoid skids by downshifting before you turn a corner (manual transmission only)

Repeat after us: DO NOT downshift in a curve. Gear changes should be made while you’re still going straight, before you hit a curve. Downshifting in a curve can destabilize your car and cause a skid.

5. Keep your low beams on in snow or fog

Using your low beams in fog will minimize glare and reflection and maximize visibility. Look to the right when there are oncoming cars to avoid getting blinded.

6. Know how to use your ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System) to increase grip

Brake slowly and smoothly in normal conditions. In case of emergency, step on the brakes hard, but only if you have an ABS. Anti-lock brakes allow you to steer even as you’re braking to (hopefully) navigate you out of danger.

Snow plow

 7. Watch out for danger ahead, especially shady areas with “black ice”

Good drivers know to anticipate problems so they’ll react correctly and promptly. Road conditions vary from one area to another – sometimes ice may remain on bridges even though the rest of the roads are clear.

As a rule of thumb, roads are cooler in shady areas. Sometimes “black ice,” or a transparent coating of ice over roads, can make the black of asphalt roads show through and appear as if there is no ice at all. The ice’s invisibility causes skidding and accidents for unassuming drivers.

Therefore, always slow your car in shady areas, bridges, or infrequently used roads, since they freeze first and can remain frozen even if the temperature is above freezing.

Snow also means snow plows will be on the road. While they will be driving slowly, do not cut them off, since their visibility is severely limited by blowing snow.

8. Keep driving conditions comfortable + clear your car of ice

Turn on cool air to keep windows clear and to keep you awake. Avoid large, bulky clothing while you are driving.

Keep lights and your windshield clean with snow and ice scrapers. There are also special blades designed to remove ice from your windshield.

9. Don’t think you are invincible because you have four-wheel drive

Four-wheel drive does not increase braking or curve-turning capability – like all other vehicles, four-wheel drive cars depend on four tire contact points on the ground for grip. Imprecise, hurried driving causes all cars to lose balance just the same.

Snow tires or chains help increase traction, but chains are more effective, since snow tires can still slide around on ice and packed snow.

Note: If you have a rear-wheel drive vehicle, you can put a bag or two of sand behind the rear axle to increase traction. Just don’t put too much weight back there, or you could risk weighing down the back too much and lifting up the front, reducing your braking and steering abilities.

References

http://www.edmunds.com/how-to/how-to-drive-in-the-snow.html

http://www.safemotorist.com/articles/winter_driving.aspx

http://www.cartalk.com/content/winter-driving-tips-7

Thanksgiving road trip driving tips

Thanksgiving Travel Forecast 2013

AAA’s Thanksgiving Travel Forecast 2013

This Thanksgiving, the AAA estimates that 43.4 million motorists will be on our nation’s freeways and roads. That’s approximately 14% of the U.S. population. And more cars equals more traffic and driving hazards. While the solution may simply be to stay home and take cover from the onslaught of congestion, according to the AAA, most of us will make at least a 50-mile trek for that coveted turkey dinner.

So if you’re commuting this year, follow these simple tips to make the journey a little easier.

Have a driver who’s connected to live traffic

Holidays are one of the worst times for driving since everyone is out on the road trying to get to family and friends. Thus, being able to check on live traffic is a great tool for navigating your route. However, since distracted driving is a major cause of traffic collisions, the best plan of action is to have someone on your passenger side looking at live traffic on his or her phone or GPS.

Apps like Sigalert.com, Beat the Traffic Plus+, and Waze Social GPS, Maps & Traffic give you an accurate, up-to-date map with current traffic conditions. Sigalert.com will even give you route time estimates based on speed and traffic.

Plan an alternate route

It never hurts to have a few escape routes established ahead of time so you’re not caught off guard. You can use sites like routes.tomtom.com or maps.google.com to see how you can escape congested areas by taking surface streets or lesser used freeways.

You may have to drive a few miles longer on an alternate route, so in the end it’s your choice: drive 12 miles extra at a reasonable speed (and probably on an enjoyable scenic route), or sit in a parking lot of cars on the freeway for an extra hour.

Avoid major metropolitan areas if possible.

Load your cell phone with numbers and keep it charged

Winter equals bad weather, especially in Amarillo, so create a buffer for yourself by having a group of people you can call in case of an emergency. In addition to family numbers, take down local emergency lines. Log all your numbers on both your phone and on a piece of paper.

Remember to bring charging cords for your smartphone or GPS.

Leave – and return – at off hours or on Thanksgiving

Most people drive during the day, so your solution? Drive at night. Rest during the day and make sure you switch off with another driver every few hours to avoid fatigue.

Another option: it may not sound appetizing, but leaving on Thanksgiving will cut down your drive time significantly. Making your trip on Thanksgiving also means you won’t have to leave at an awkward time to beat traffic.

Yet another option: If you have the vacation days to spare, leave on Tuesday and come back Saturday or Monday, since Wednesday and Sunday are the busiest days to travel.

Prep your kids and/or pets

Oftentimes, kids + road trips = a contained nuclear explosion. To do your best to buffer your kids’ boredom, pack snacks, lots of games, water, DVDs, and music.

And if you’re hitting the road with a furry friend, secure him or her with a harness or a crate. Pets can present a driving distraction and jump out onto the freeway without these safety measures in place.

Bring food, water, toys, dog waste bags, and a leash.

Make sure your car is in good shape

Even if getting your car to the shop is the last thing on your mind, a dead car means a stranded family and a missed Thanksgiving.

So here’s your checklist before you drive:

  1. Make sure every light works correctly
  2. Check fluid levels
  3. Check for loose belts and hoses
  4. Check that battery connections are good
  5. Make sure your tires are properly inflated, and that there’s a good amount of tread (especially important if it’s snowing)
  6. Ensure your windshield wipers work well

More winter car care and driving tips can be found on our blog on winterizing your car.

Watch the weather

Our tip for this is simple: if there is a blizzard in the forecast, don’t drive! And if you simply must go out, clear off snow and ice, reduce your speed, and drive defensively. Allow plenty of space between you and the person in front of you (in rainy or snowy conditions, leave 6 seconds of following distance).

Check your vehicle’s load capacity

The total weight your vehicle can carry should be on a sticker inside the driver’s door jamb.

Be extra careful when driving around trucks

Be careful around a truck’s blind spots. If you can’t see the trucker in his/her mirrors, the truck driver can’t see you. On a similar note, don’t cut trucks off – trucks are heavier and take longer to stop.

FYI: You may be underestimating how big a truck’s blind spot really is. Check out this video to see just how much a trucker can’t see.

We hope y’all have a great Thanksgiving! Drive safely!

Robert & Lynda

6 fall and early winter car care tips from an ASE Master Technician

Wintery conditions put extra stress on your car.

Wintery conditions put extra stress on your car.

While you should keep your car up-to-date on maintenance year-round, November is a particularly important month because all the prep you do now will set your car up for impending harsh winter weather.

Nobody wants to be stranded on the way to a holiday party or family dinner, so do yourself and anyone who rides in your car a favor by following this checklist of fall care tips.

Car Care 101: Read your owner’s manual and follow the recommended maintenance schedule

While it may seem obvious to read your owner’s manual, many of us admittedly don’t. Your owner’s manual will let you know when you need to check your car’s tires, brakes, filters, and fluids. If you’re still confused, just visit us! We have recommendations for the best time and mileage intervals.

Oil and air filter changes are especially important for keeping your MPG high and your engine humming along. Most modern vehicles only need an oil change every 5,000 miles, while older vehicles may need an oil change every 3,000 miles.

Ensure your tires are in good condition

The weather here in Amarillo changes in the blink of an eye, especially in the fall and winter. We might get snow one day and 80-degree weather the next. As a result, our tires literally weather a lot.

In order for your car to survive an Amarillo winter, you will have to make sure your tires can take the chill. When tires are cool, check their pressure as well as the pressure of the spare. See if your jack is in good working condition.

Keep your tires properly inflated, since underinflated tires will make the engine work harder and eat up more gas. They will also be susceptible to road hazards (which increase in winter) and heat damage.

Simply look at the sticker on your door jamb to see the manufacturer’s recommended pressure.

If you come to the shop, have a tire tread depth inspection done with each oil change or before winter hits.

Have your battery tested and correct engine performance problems

Battery

Have you ever trudged through snow to your car on a dark winter morning, only to turn the key and feel your heart drop as you hear the dreaded click click click? Very hot summer weather can damage a battery, but this damage will not be noticeable until a big temperature change occurs. Because of this, the cooler months are the source of many a dead battery. Have a technician check your battery’s health during the fall. Your technician may clean away corrosion and re-tighten connections.

Engine Performance

Just as you’re more likely to get sick during the winter, cold weather can cause and aggravate engine problems. Correct drivability problems like stalling and idling at the shop. Fixing engine problems will give you better fuel mileage along with more reliability.

Keep your gas tank filled

Ice crystals look gorgeous outdoors, but are less desirable when they’re in your fuel. To ensure you don’t end up with a fuel popsicle, keep your gas tank filled.

Make sure your cooling and heating systems are running smoothly

Cooling

Check the condition, level, and concentration of your coolant.

We recommend a BG Cooling System Service every 2 years or 30,000 miles. At our shop we check the coolant level with every oil change, as well as your belts and hoses.

Heating

Get your heater checked in the fall so you can avoid the long lines of people waiting to get their heaters fixed in the winter. After all, the heater will be one of your most prized possessions when it’s 17 degrees outside and you still have an hour to go before you get home.

Extra Tip: Don’t forget an emergency kit!

Make an uncomfortable situation a bit more bearable by packing necessities like a flashlight, tire chains, boots, blankets, a shovel, gloves, and snacks.

 

Wishing you and your family a safe fall and a wonderful holiday season,

Robert

Aardvark Automotive owner and ASE-certified Master Technician

For more driving tips or questions about your car, feel free to contact us at (806) 242-1073 or visit our website.