BEIRUT

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Take the bite out of winter motoring

As winter rolls around each year, we start wearing warmer clothing, turn up the heat in the house, shift to more cold-appropriate meals, and start going out armed with umbrellas, jackets and waterproof footwear.

As for our cars, we just slap on a ski rack and call it a day.

Then one day we’re late to work because the car wouldn’t start. We angrily kick the tire and start shouting obscenities at the hapless automobile.It’s actually kind of absurd that after several decades of the proliferation of motor vehicles, most people forget – or possibly don’t realize – that cars, like people, require special care and protection in the colder months, and also like people, they need to be equipped to handle the harsh conditions winter throws at us.

First off, winter means cold weather. Yes, it’s stating the obvious, but the most commonly occurring problem with cars in the winter is a dead battery, and cold weather is usually the culprit.

Batteries which are on their last legs tend to give up the ghost as soon as the barometer drops, and it’s well worth the foresight to change the unit before it gets the opportunity to let you down.

Cars also require fluids to function, and coolant can freeze, expand and crack both your engine and radiator. That’s definitely not the best way to start your day.

You should check your cooling system before the cold arrives, because a bad thermostat or a small leak can extend the warm-up time and prevent proper heating of the cabin. Also, adding antifreeze to your vehicle’s coolant will spare you the anguish of waking up only to find your pride and joy with a wrecked cooling system.

Furthermore, lubricants are produced in varying grades, with different weather conditions requiring the appropriate specifications.

It’s also best to replace the oil, because fresh lubricants will let your car start easier when cold. A simple search online or a phone call or visit to your service garage can get you all the information you need to replace your lubricant with a more appropriate grade for winter use.

Winter also means rain, and consequently slippery roads. The fact that car accidents occur more often in wet conditions is no coincidence.

Winter driving is already difficult enough, with reduced visibility, flooded streets and ridiculous traffic, but things such as worn, dry or inappropriate tires can exacerbate an already miserable commute to work and compromise your safety, possibly causing your drive to end prematurely.

Ensure that your car has been fitted with winter tires with sufficient thread depth to channel out water. Tire threads feature markers that indicate whether or not the rubber is still usable.

Dry rubber is also pretty much useless on wet roads. Regardless of how deep the thread is, rubber grows brittle with age – more so in the cold – providing neither grip nor flexibility, and increasing the likelihood of a bad crash significantly.

For whatever reason, if they’re bad, replace them. It’ll cost far less than having to repair a car wrapped around a telephone pole.

It’s also important to check tire pressure. Even if you have no punctures or leaks, cold air contracts, causing a marked reduction in tire pressure. Deflated tires compromise handling, steering and traction, essentially endangering your life. Inflate your tires to the recommended pressure and check them regularly (once a week).

Check your brakes. Dry or worn pads are as useless as the aforementioned tires, affording marginal friction and compromising your ability to stop when you need to.

Old and brittle wipers should also be replaced. They do not clear your windshield efficiently and are also likely to scratch the glass, eventually compromising visibility further.

Washer fluid level is often neglected, although it happens to be a crucial factor in safe driving. Make sure it is always topped up, and consider adding an appropriate antifreeze as it too can, well, freeze.

Other things to inspect as winter arrives include the rear window defogger and the heater, which not only keeps you warm but also clears fogged up windshields. Also keep your car interior dry, not only to avoid getting wet yourself, but because moisture in the cabin fogs up your windows, causes corrosion, and can ruin the electronics in your car.

Clean the rain gutters regularly. Remove leaves and other debris from where they tend to accumulate, right under the hood at the bottom of the windshield, and under the trunk cover.

A few other things that can pay off include lubricating your door seals to prevent sticking.

Also lubricate your door handles and locks as well as the hinges on your doors, trunk and hood.

Of course all the precautions in the world won’t help you avoid all the flooding, water-filled potholes and manic drivers that grace Lebanon’s roads, but hopefully, with a bit of preparation you can survive another year of winter motoring without too much wear.

 

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