On January 21, 1985, the little shack I was renting in Athens felt like a solid block of ice. All the plumbing was blocked by freezing. Gainesville even beat the subzero Athens record with a low temperature of -8 degrees. But thanks to my keeping a jaundiced eye on car parts, the old Plymouth started up right away.
We’ll see severe cold snaps again, but like the 1985 event they tend to occur in January and February. During November the weather is more moderate. But this is the time when we see the regular occurrence of freezing nighttime weather.
My ancient Plymouth has been replaced by a 30-year old Chevrolet. In rural North Georgia, keeping the car in running condition is a must. If not, a six-mile walk from my house to the supermarket and back would be another memorable event. The first concern for car care should be antifreeze. If it’s been in the radiator for years and resembles brown swamp water, don’t bother testing it, just replace it. Pre-mixed antifreeze is convenient, but one can save a few bucks by purchasing the concentrate and adding 50% distilled water from the grocery store. Tap water isn’t a good idea because it adds minerals to the cooling system that’ll go in easily but won’t want to come back out. Eventually they’ll hurt the water pump seals and ring up a much bigger bill than distilled water.
Then there’s visibility. Windshield wipers deteriorate. This is the best time to replace them. Complicated clips on some models are confusing but many autoparts stores install wipers at no extra charge. There’s also a reservoir for the wiper fluid. Filling it with special freeze-protected liquid allows the wipers to still squirt the windshield instead of just scraping a frozen film around.
The battery is next. If it’s approaching its warranty limit (usually 3 to 6 years), it may be ready for replacement. This beats finding a dead car in the parking lot at the end of the work day.
A car that won’t start is bad. One that won’t stop is deadly. Roads will more frequently be slippery from rain, mud and ice now. Finding out that the brakes are worn, pulling the car into a sideways drift, can get extremely costly. There again, maintenance is a great investment and right now the period starts where it proves its value.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus of physical science at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.