5 Cooling System Checks For Winter Driving

September 27, 2010

There is no system in a car so climate sensitive as the cooling system. Whether it is summer or winter, the cooling system either rolls with the punches or gets knocked out by extreme temperatures if it not prepped correctly.

Here are five tips that will prepare your car’s cooling system for winter driving:

Check for leaks. You can’t enter the coldest driving season without making sure that your cooling system is tight. If you have been adding anti-freeze, you have some detective work to do. Look for signs of leakage on the pavement under your car. A stain at the extreme front could be the sign of a radiator leak, while midway back under the hood and offset to one side may mean the water pump is leaking. If one of the many hoses that are under your hood begins to leak the signs could be found anywhere.

Confirm anti-freeze strength. Use an anti-freeze tester, which is not expensive, to find out how much protection you have. The tester will give you a reading in degrees Fahrenheit. The rule of thumb for moderate climates is -20 degrees. If you are in a location that needs more protection, it is probably one of the first things you learn when you move there--and I’m just preaching to the choir. When you draw some coolant into the tester you will also be able to see how dirty and degraded the coolant is.

Monitor thermostat function. The thermostat is a valve that, when closed, allows the coolant to reach operating temperature quicker. A properly working thermostat will allow the heater to warm the passenger cabin in a reasonable amount of time. If the temperature gauge on your dash is reading “cold” and you have no heat inside the car, you may have a thermostat that is stuck in the open position. If your gauge reads “hot” the thermostat may be stuck closed.

Check the serpentine belt. Most cars today have a single belt that drives multiple systems. This belt is aptly named because it works its way back and forth among pulleys and pumps and can be responsible for the power steering and water pumps as well as the air conditioner compressor. It makes sense to have the belt checked prior to winter since it is so vital to your car’s essential systems.

Road-test for problems. Take a ride in the car with the heater on. Note the temperature gauge at the same time. If your car tends to run hotter to the extreme as you drive it harder, you may have a clogged radiator. If it runs hotter but the heat supplied to the interior diminishes, you may have a bad thermostat.

If you spend just a little bit of time checking your car’s cooling system for winter you can avoid a lot of aggravation. Whether you drive Chevrolet Camaro or a Ford Mustang, winter can be challenging enough without having your car’s cooling system add to the stress.

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