An Ounce of Prevention
November 10, 2006 10:41 AM   Subscribe

It's getting cold out! Our Dodge Malibu, accustomed to the balmy climate of North Texas, now must navigate the chill of Western Washington! Oh, you know there's

I'm most interested in what maintainence steps to take before the big cold drops. We've got a decent set of all-season tires, so I'm less concerned with traction. But what work and checks should be performed on the engine (a V6) before December?

I'm also interested in the favorite winter driving tips of all you clever MeFites. Variations on "turn into the skid" or "go into neutral on hills" - that kind of thing.

Thanks, AskMe!
posted by EatTheWeak to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total)
 
Chevy Malibu?
posted by mattbucher at 10:50 AM on November 10, 2006


Do they get snow if western Washington?

Just make sure your coolent is good to zero. Not sure how cold it gets there so adjust as needed. Maybe have the radiator flushed.

And use a lighter weight oil.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 10:54 AM on November 10, 2006


Oh yeah, make sure your battery is working well. Replace if it's been a few years.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 10:55 AM on November 10, 2006


It's not so cold here. Today, 47 and raining.

Really, I wouldn't worry. It almost never snows here, and if it does it melts within a day. Coldest day of the year is maybe 32?

Because of that wind coming off the ocean, we get lots of rain and little temp variation.
posted by ImJustRick at 10:56 AM on November 10, 2006


What exactly do you mean by "the chill of Western Washington"? Are you up in the mountains where there might be snow, or are you down in the lowland/coastal areas that only occassionally go below freezing?

grew up in Chicago, find it hard to think of this weather as "the big cold"
posted by xil at 10:57 AM on November 10, 2006


Radiator flush with antifreeze that's good for freezing temps. Lighter weight oil. Make sure you go to a place that does an oil/coolant FLUSH and not just a oil replacement. Check your washer fluid to make sure it's antifreeze washer fluid. Get some traction tires -- *** NOT STUDDED TIRES *** !!!!!one!!one!!! Get ice scrapers and cable chains for your tires. Get an emergency kit put together for your car including flares, lots of blankets in case you get stuck away from help, a collapseable shovel, etc. Don't forget the ice scraper. ;)

Winter weather driving is an art and a science. The art of it is knowing how to override your natural tendencies to slam on the brakes, turn out of spins to correct your spin, etc. The science is knowing things like not to pop it in neutral when going downhill, using D3 or D2 when accelerating from a stopped position, trying NOT to completely stop if you can at all avoid it, knowing how to use your handbrake if you have one to keep the rear end of your car behind you in a slide, at what point your antilock brakes will kick in and remove all control of your car from you...

My advice would be to *carefully* drive your car to the nearest large parking lot without poles or other obstructions on the first day it snows. Figure out what you can do and what you shouldn't do.
posted by SpecialK at 11:01 AM on November 10, 2006


Oh. You said western, not eastern.

Nevermind, you don't have to do anything. It rarely gets that cold in the Seattle area. Now, Spokane, on the other hand...

Just don't buy studded tires. They reduce the amount of control you have in rain-slicked conditions, which is what you'll be dealing with 99% of the time.
posted by SpecialK at 11:03 AM on November 10, 2006


Year and mileage would help to make cogent recommendations. But generally, depending on mileage, and factory maintenance schedule recommendations:
  • Tuneup (filters, spark plugs, oil change, ignition system check, fuel system check)
  • Battery and charging system check (particularly if car is more than 3 years old) that would include alternator belt replacement.
  • Cooling system check (and flush and refill, if more than 3 years old or 36,000 miles since last service
  • Replace wiper blades
  • Check all exterior lights function and are aimed properly
And all weather radial tires are not that great if you live in snow country, where there are hills.
posted by paulsc at 11:04 AM on November 10, 2006


I grew up in MT with lots of snow and ice and the most important thing to remember when driving in it is to be very gentle with the brake, use it as little as possible. You should leave extra room between your car and others and allow the weight of the vehicle to slow you down first then gently apply the brake. If you do loose control the the vehicle take your foot off the brake and loosen your grip on the wheel, allow the wheels to catch then resume steering and braking if necessary.
posted by estronaut at 11:15 AM on November 10, 2006


SpecialK is right. Their idea of snow in western WA is 1/4". You really want to go practice on a parking lot early (before they clear it) if they get any kind of weather. I taught the kids to drive that way.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 11:33 AM on November 10, 2006


I second the advice for an emergency kit, complete with blankets, flares, first aid supplies, etc.

While it doesn't get cold here, the foliage is dense. A winter or two ago, a woman crashed and wasn't found for a week, despite being near the road she veered off of, because people couldn't see her or her car through the thick foliage. I think it took a psychic to lead rescuers to her, as they had already given up.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:36 AM on November 10, 2006


When I lived in Oregon, I personally found that the police's constant use of psychics was harder to get used to than the climate. ;)
posted by SpecialK at 11:43 AM on November 10, 2006


Do you have a block heater installed? If it gets cold enough, you'll probably want one.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:15 PM on November 10, 2006


mattbutcher - Chevy Malibu, you're totally right. My bad.

Thanks for all the good advice, folks. It's most appreciated.
posted by EatTheWeak at 12:23 PM on November 10, 2006


I'm in Western Washington, too, and I've never worried about my car unless I was going over the passes. Don't lose any sleep over it, but do take the bus (if possible) if it _does_ ice over -- people here drive like idiots when there's any snow or ice.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:40 PM on November 10, 2006


Seriously, I've lived here twenty years. It does snow occasionally, so you should probably have actual anti-freeze in your car, and you might want to pick up an ice scraper, but this isn't Minnesota. You don't need a block heater or snow tires or anything like that. If you plan on going to eastern Washington, you might want to pick up chains. The thing you really want to do is make sure your wipers don't suck and beware of black ice.
posted by Captain_Tenille at 2:49 PM on November 10, 2006


I'll second the ice scraper. Western WA seems to get at least six days a year of freezing rain and/or fog. You'll also want to be sure your door and window and trunk seals do not leak even a little bit, otherwise you'll eventually have moldy upholstry. A very powerful defog/defrost fan and solid, fast-heating heat pump will save you time too.
posted by quacky at 2:56 PM on November 10, 2006


Yep, a block heater is completely unnecessary. The coldest I've ever seen it here is around 5 degrees fahrenheit -- almost 20 years ago. And that was a huge deal. Maybe twice in my 41 years here here I've seen temps in the single digits. More typically, we have about a week of lows in the 20s right after Christmas and the rest of the winter we have lows in the 30s and highs in the 40s. It is common to have no snow all winter. When we do have snow, it usually doesn't last long. But of course, some years are unusual.

There was a snow/ice storm on Boxing Day in 1996, the day before I got married, and I guess more snow showed up while we were gone on our honeymoon -- and since then, I can't think of a single notable snowstorm here in Seattle. Just a few minor snowfalls that melted within a day. There have been a couple bigger snows in other parts of Western WA, though.

We did have some serious snow (by Seattle standards) in 1985, 1989, and 1990 that I have fond memories of. Especially delivering pizza on the icy roads. You see, the thing is -- it doesn't get that cold here. So if there is snow, what you end up with is a layer of slush during the day, which then freezes at night, then the next day melts enough so there is more slush, which then freezes into a nice ice layer the next night... the streets become skating rinks. And Seattle is, well, hilly. This is why the city shuts down when it snows. Even people who have 4WD, good tires, and know how to drive in the snow may find they just get stuck, or they are suddenly sliding. Since these conditions are relatively rare here, it's easiest just to take them as a holiday and stay off the roads.

The main hazard, as people have mentioned, is black ice -- wet streets that get a thin invisible layer of ice in cold weather. Very thin. But enough to cause you grief.

If you are in Bellingham you are likely to get more snow than us Seattleites -- I think the cold comes in through the Fraser River valley up in BC. Still, it doesn't get that cold, but you are more likely to get snow. And of course, if you're up in the foothills it's going to be colder.

Statistically we are most likely to get snow the two weeks after Christmas. (But not so much before. White Christmases here in Seattle are rare indeed.) If you get through that period snow-free you're in good shape. :)
posted by litlnemo at 3:42 PM on November 10, 2006


Ah, as others have said, you don't need to worry so much about the snow factor in western WA. Worry more about the idiots who think they can drive in bad weather (they can't). Fortunately, Olympia's hill issues aren't nearly as dire as Seattle's.

I would, however, take this opportunity to upgrade your wiper blades. Get nice ones; as you may have guessed after this past week, you're going to be using them a lot. You'll want a good ice scraper too. Also, keep some kind of lock de-icer inside the house for days with freezing fog/rain. When that sort of thing happens, it's really the only way to get into your car.
posted by Vervain at 10:14 PM on November 11, 2006


And now I have to laugh because we are getting some unusually early snow. :) It figures.
posted by litlnemo at 5:10 PM on November 27, 2006


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