Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
Every year, AAA comes out with a list of things every driver should check on his or her vehicle before cold weather sets in.
The National Safety Council estimated there were 436 traffic fatalities across the nation during the 2012 Thanksgiving season.
Some of those situations could be made safer if people left early for their destinations, drove more slowly and checked the conditions of their vehicles before they left, said Laverne expert mechanic, Salvador Echevarria of R&R Service Center.
And still, about 20 percent of the time, drivers get caught in bad and even dangerous weather without so much as a jack to change a tire with, Echevarria said.
“I would say about 20 percent of the time, they may have a jack, but no jack handle, or they may not have a spare tire,” Echevarria said.
But make no mistake about it, Echevarria isn’t making fun of these people. Because, he admits, even a professional mechanic can make the mistake of not preparing his vehicle for winter weather.
“I always make sure I have new, good tires on my vehicles and so I hardly ever have a flat tire,” Echevarria said. “So I was on a long trip and I heard this thumping and I realized, even though they were new, I had a flat tire. So, ‘that’s not problem,’ I said to myself. I have a spare and I will change it. But when I got to the spare, it was flat.”
So perhaps one of first things Echevarria would suggest might be the easiest. Before winter really sets in, every driver should walk out to their vehicle and check the spare for air. While you’re there, make sure you not only have a good, workable jack, but a handle to go with it.
Another seemingly obvious thing to check would be the antifreeze.
Echevarria said many people don’t understand how important it is to have the right mixture of antifreeze with water in their engine cooling system. He suggests taking it to any shop you trust and having the antifreeze tested. Echevarria said the testing is very easy and it will tell a driver how cold it can get before it starts to freeze.
“A lot of times, if you test the antifreeze, it will show that it is good to 20 degrees,” Echevarria said. “But that is not really good enough here, because it gets colder than that. I would say it should test between five and 20 degrees below zero.
Windshield wiper fluid is also important. According to Echevarria, some people will pour straight water into their windshield wiper system over the summer.
“You need to change that to windshield wiper solution because the water will freeze in the pump and ruin it,” he said.
It is also important to have the air pressure in your tires checked to make sure they are inflated to the pressure best suited for the brand of tire you have, Improperly inflated tires can become much more dangerous in icy conditions, he said.
Batteries can also become a problem during the winter months. The best way to get through a season of cold weather is to have your battery checked before bad weather begins, he said.
“There is just something about the cold weather that just eats batteries I think,” he said, laughing. “But get it checked early to make sure you don’t already have problems with the battery before snow falls.”
During the winter, especially before a long trip in bad weather, a driver should take the time to check the oil and other fluid levels, such as windshield wiper fluid in case you are stranded in bad weather
Too many times, he said, people get out on the highway and the weather is bad and they have no windshield wiper fluid to keep moisture from freezing on the windshield and obscuring their vision.
Echevarria also suggests taking the time right now to put a pair of coveralls and some good gloves into your vehicle in case you need to change a tire in the bad weather.
AAA adds to Echevarria’s list by reminding drivers to leave early, slow down appropriately for icy and snowy roads, apply brakes and accelerator gently and always wear a seatbelt.
Finally, to make sure you have the best and safest holiday, place your phone in the silent mode to reduce the temptation to text or talk while driving.