How to avoid the car mechanic during cold weather
Winter can be tough on cars in eastern Idaho.
It’s dangerous to drive on icy roads and sometimes, when temperatures drop below freezing — especially below 0 degrees, as Idaho Falls residents experienced this week — vehicles just won’t start.
While cold temps can make it a bad time to be a car owner, it’s a good time to be a car mechanic.
If you want to avoid the mechanic, the following is advice, from car experts, to keep your car running as the temperatures drop.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the cold alone that’s bad for your car.
Mechanics told the Post Register the most common reason a vehicle has problems in the winter (other than car accidents), is that it hasn’t been maintained well enough to handle the cold weather.
Common issues occur with batteries, heaters and fuel systems.
“With the heat, if you’re not servicing the coolant regularly (cold temperatures) will take out the heater,” said Joe McCord, manager at C&S Auto Repair. “If the battery isn’t maintained, (cold temperatures) will take it out even faster.”
Craig Eldredge, office manager at Richard’s Diesel & Auto Repair Inc., who has sold auto parts for more than four decades, said working in an auto repair shop has opened his eyes to poor vehicle maintenance.
He said the high cost of auto repairs is likely a reason that vehicles aren’t regularly maintained.
“Most people don’t take good care of their vehicles,” Eldredge said. “When we hit these really cold streaks, where it’s down below zero at night, it’s harder on the vehicles. The cold weather takes them out, especially if they haven’t kept up the maintenance.”
Eldredge added, “If they’re kept in good running condition and they’re kept up with maintenance, they’ll fire right up.”
McCord said vehicles should be driven often, rather than allowing them to sit unused for long periods of time.
“It’s worse to have it sit for a long time rather than driving it a lot,” he said. “The seals and gaskets break down.”
Matthew Conde, AAA Idaho’s public affairs director, said AAA is recommending that drivers keep an eye on hoses and fluids.
“The fluid is the lifeblood of the vehicle,” Conde said. “Sometimes those small leaks add up to a lot of fluid over time.”
The most common reason for visiting a mechanic during winter is car accidents caused by poor driving conditions.
Whether from accidents, dead batteries, flat tires or other car problems, AAA expects to rescue 7.2 million drivers this winter, including more than 14,000 in Idaho alone, Conde said.
Being prepared for poor conditions starts before you get in the car. Check weather alerts and traffic cameras, know how to put on chains (even if you don’t expect to need them) and pack your car with essentials before long drives, such as warm clothes, a blanket, a first aid kit, tools, jumper cables and extra food and water.
“The best outcome is to catch a problem from the warmth and comfort of your garage and not a dark and stormy night,” Conde said.
And make sure you’re well rested before hitting the road.
“Our research shows that drivers that only get between four and five hours of sleep perform the same as drivers with a high alcohol level,” Conde said.
While driving, Conde said, you should increase following distance to between 8 and 10 seconds. And, of course, be extra careful around snowplows.
If you do experience a problem and are pulled over to the side of the road, put up your car hood and turn on hazard lights on to make it known that you need help, Conde said. If you need to stay in your car while it’s running to keep warm, occasionally check the tail pipe to ensure it’s not covered by snow.