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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Winter Driving Preps

Fall is here and winter is not far away. For the lucky people who live in warm areas, this means you may need to start keeping a light jacket in the car. Those of us who live in the northern states have to do a bit more than that to get ready for the inevitable.

I commute about 10 miles each way to and from work each day. Right now it's every day, as in 7 days a week for the last month, but harvest season is winding down and I'll soon be back to a more normal 5 or 6 days a week. Winter weather tends to stress certain parts of vehicles, so I've been preparing my pickup for a cold winter. My truck is a 2-wheel-drive Ford ¾ ton with a standard cab. I don't need 4WD often enough to justify the extra expenses in fuel and maintenance. I've owned them in the past and all those extra moving parts tend to wear out even if you're not using them.
  • New tires this year. The rear ones have a more aggressive tread than the front ones, since it is rear-wheel-drive. I will add weight to the rear by carrying sand bags or some large pieces of scrap metal once the snow begins to fly.
  • New starter. Normally when a starter gets weak it will give some sort of warning- hard cranking, not engaging the flywheel, sometimes they “stick” and can be temporarily repaired by tapping on them with a hammer. Mine just died one night in the local convenience store parking lot. Cold tends to make starters work harder because they are trying to turn over an engine full of cold, thick, oil. I'm glad I got to change the starter before the ice and snow hit.
  • New battery this year. I had an intermittent electrical fault that was shutting down my fuel pump this summer. Any time the temps got over 90° F, I got no fuel pressure. One of the possible causes was a weak battery, not providing enough voltage to the fuel pump, so I replaced the 6-year-old battery this summer. That didn't fix the problem, so....
  • New fuel pump and sender unit. Most of the country has different formulations of gasoline for summer and winter. Diesel formulation changes with the season as well. I run an ethanol blend of gasoline most of the time, which keeps the water out of my gas tank. Changing temps and high humidity cause condensation in the gas tank. Since water is heavier than gas or diesel, it sinks to the bottom of the tank and will freeze in the winter. Ethanol has a strong affinity for water and will absorb it and pass it through the engine.
  • New alternator soon. While shopping online for the starter, I found an alternator cheap so I bought it. It is sitting in my toolbox, waiting for a day off from work so I can get it installed. Cold weather puts a strain on the battery and charging system by making the starter work harder. The heater will be running constantly for the next few months, and it short daylight hours means the headlights will be getting used a lot more. I make it a habit to change out the battery and alternator at the same time, since one going bad will stress the other and usually kills it. I also look for an alternator rated for more amps than the factory installed, in this case I am replacing a 90 A alternator with a 130 A one. I like to have a bit more than stock power for giving jump-starts all winter long.
  • New (to me) toolbox. I picked up a used cross-over toolbox off Craigslist for $40. It needed a little TLC and I need to replace the locks, but it gives me more weather-tight storage for my tools and winter supplies. Standard cabs are becoming rare since everyone wants a four-door pickup, but I need the full 8 foot box to haul things in and I still need to be able to park it in a single-car garage. The downside is that there is very little room behind the seat anymore, and it gets worse when I have to move the seat as far back as it will go because they don't engineer things for tall people. I now have a place to safely store a winter Get Home Bag (GHB) and some spare clothes.
All in all I think I have a good start on getting my truck ready for winter. The first-aid kit and jumper cables are still behind the seat along with the tow rope and folding shovel. I've been driving for 40 years now, I think I may have finally figured winter out.


P.S. The ads you see on TV for rockauto.com are true. Their prices beat the local parts stores and their shipping is reasonable. I got a new (not rebuilt) starter and alternator for less than any of the parts stores wanted for just the starter. No core charges to mess with, either, which means I'll have a functional alternator to play with next year (think DIY 12V generator). The fuel pump was the same way, cheaper to buy online and wait an extra day for it to ship.

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