How One Expert Preps His Vehicles For Winter Travel
The change in fall colors triggers an automated vehicle reminder in the memory of one nationally recognized maintenance expert.
“Every autumn I put my vehicles through inspection,” said Tony Molla, vice president of industry relations for the Automotive Service Association. “I always recommend a health check-up before holiday driving.”
Molla eyes automobiles the way a home inspector looks at every nook and crevice of a house. Forty years of experience as an auto expert gives him a keen insight for things that may cause trouble but often lurk beneath the surface.
“Summer heat is hard on a vehicle,” said Molla, who earned his credentials as an ASE-Certified automotive service technician. “A professional service technician can see things that may otherwise go undetected.”
Squeaks, squeals, rattles and shakes light up an internal warning in Molla’s analytical mind.
Slight vibration in the steering wheel on the highway? Possible unbalanced tire. Chirping noise coming from the rear wheel well? Might be time to replace the brake pads.
Tread wearing in an odd pattern? Time for an alignment check to extend the life of the tires. Battery sluggish after sitting overnight? It may need replacement.
According to Molla, autumn check-ups should be considered a natural follow-up to summer driving. All the potholes, frequent braking, long-haul driving and hot summer days take their toll. Yet, problems generally don’t appear right away.
“I always worry about having a vehicle break-down during holiday travel,” Molla said. “I would rather pay for routine maintenance now than an expensive repair later.
“I really don’t want to get towed when I’m visiting relatives hundreds of miles away from home.”
Molla offered the following list of clues to share with service technicians when he takes his vehicles for routine autumn maintenance:
1. Have you conducted a quick walk around? Do the tires look low on air? Is the tread worn or wearing unevenly? Are there any headlight or taillight bulbs that need to be replaced?
2. Does the climate control system heat up slowly or does air circulate poorly? Autumn leaves can clog vents. Leaks or low fluid levels can prevent the system from working properly.
3. Want to help prevent allergens from entering the cabin? Change out the cabin air filter. It’s an inexpensive way to keep clean air flowing. Autumn debris can collect in the metal grating and summer dust and pollen clogs filters. Imagine how much dust, debris and lint coats a home furnace filter -- the same kinds of problems affect your vehicle cabin air filter.
4. Forgot to change out wiper blades? Consider winter blades if you live in climates prone to freezing temperatures; they’re made with rubber compounds that remain flexible in extreme weather. For rain-soaked areas look for blades that have silicon compounds--they resist cracking, remain pliable and form to your windshield contour.
5. Added windshield wiper fluid lately? Don’t wait until the next storm to find out your wiper tank has emptied. There are many choices of fluids including some designed for bug removal and others that are intended for freezing climates. Winter grades may contain chemicals that have use restrictions.
6. Do you hear any grinding or squeaking noises coming when you're braking? Long summer drives can accelerate wear on brake pads, and grinding or squealing noises are two signs they probably need replacement.
7. Does your vehicle take several tries to start? Avoid imminent battery failure. Drop by for a battery charge check. A weak battery can go dead literally overnight.
8. Feel any vibration when your vehicle is at a stop? Motor mounts are made of rubber compounds and can deteriorate like any other rubber-based product. Worn mounts only get worse over time, and they allow engine movement that may cause other problems such as loose hoses, torn belts and abnormal tire wear. Get that vibration checked.
9. Screeching sounds underneath the hood? Engine belts are worn and need replacement. A cracked or worn belt may look perfectly fine to the untrained eye.
10. Have engine hoses been inspected recently? The rubber used in hoses is designed for flexibility and wide temperature fluctuations, just like vehicle tires. They eventually lose their pliability and become hardened. Summer weather can exacerbate their demise.
“Ozone attacks rubber and certain acids in the coolant can eat away at the radiator hoses over time,” said Molla, who explained that even a slight crack in the hose can turn into a leaky problem away from home.
11. Did your vehicle sit for long periods during COVID stay-at-home requirements? The traditional oil change service every 5,000 or 7,000 miles usually doesn’t apply. Engine oil additives break down even when a vehicle is sitting. Also, vehicles with low mileage may get moisture condensation build-up in the crankcase, which can lead to engine wear and tear.
“I have a simple answer for drivers concerned about any vehicle issue: When in doubt, have a professional automotive technician take a look,” said Molla, who has lived in climates with inclement weather. “The best time to get your vehicle checkup is before severe storms arrive.”