Fall maintenance prevents winter driving woes | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Fall maintenance prevents winter driving woes

Some say there’s no substitute for personal experience.

Paul Hernandez, a Lake Tahoe Auto Village service technician, knows firsthand of the importance of getting a vehicle checked before the snow flies and the temperature drops.

When he returned to his car after snowboarding at Sierra-at-Tahoe a few years ago, he found his battery dead. Consequently, his trip home was delayed.

The battery tops the list of items needing a once-a-year service. Along with a cooling system, the battery also represents the most neglected item. Hernandez recommends motorists at least look at their battery every six months.

“Once the temperature drops to 32 degrees, you’re at 60 percent of your electrical power,” he said.

Moreover, corrosive build-up and inadequate connections may mean the difference between getting home on time or not. On some Tahoe roads in the middle of winter, it may even result in a life-or-death situation.

Hernandez said he’s heard some harrowing tales at his auto service shop.

Service shops like Lake Tahoe Auto Village have started seeing a growing number of residents coming in to gear up for what could turn out to be a hefty winter.

Weather forecasters have predicted a moderate El Ni-o, a tropical weather phenomenon that brings with it a big question mark to the Tahoe basin. But traditionally, it brings more precipitation.

If that’s the case, auto service technicians and law enforcement hope Tahoe motorists will have their tires checked. The rain freezing overnight may turn the roads into an ice skating rink the next morning.

Studded tires are not necessary but advantageous, Hernandez pointed out.

“You have the advantage of help with traction. Mud-and-snow tires have some traction, but they don’t dig down in the snow like studs. They’re like cat claws,” he said.

Either way, tires must be inflated at the recommended level. Underinflated tires may cause damage to the wheels. Overinflated ones may cause a loss of traction — a dangerous condition on Tahoe roads.

Shehadi Motors Service Manager Steve Klug advocates studded tires, noting longtime residents switching to their second set of tires in the fall to get a grip on the upcoming season.

“It’s a huge help. Once you spin your vehicle, you need to get back on the horse, and (these tires) gives you the confidence,” he said.

Commonly neglected items include belts and hoses. Mechanics say a handful of cracks in a three-quarter-inch span should prompt replacing a belt.

Cooling systems also make the list of forgotten fixes or checks. They also need to be flushed every fall. Otherwise, some coolants can cause a radiator to deteriorate, causing a leak.

There are no new products this year that would significantly help the driving situation for most vehicles. The anti-fog sprays applied to the inside of windshields are supposedly improved this year.

Motorists may also have their vehicles’ defrosters, heaters, lights, windshield wipers, U-joints, oil level and ignition system checked to assure adequate operation, according to Caltrans, AAA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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