Flushing out the Facts on Radiator Flushes

Dear Tracy,

I have not been a car owner for very long and am trying to learn what auto service is needed and what I can skip to save some cash. I have heard that getting a radiator flush should be part of car maintenance. Can you please tell me if a radiator flush is necessary, what it entails, and how often – if ever – my car needs to have one?

Rob L.

Dear Rob,

A radiator flush should definitely be a part of your regular vehicle maintenance. The function of your car’s radiator is to provide cooling to the engine by taking away the heat produced during normal engine operation. Your car’s cooling system does this by circulating a coolant through the engine block, which absorbs the heat and takes it to the radiator where it dissipates into the atmosphere. This prevents overheating which can otherwise damage the engine.

With the accumulation of miles, solid deposits can form inside your car’s radiator system, causing blockages that make the circulation of the coolant much less efficient. This causes the vehicle to run hotter and damage occurs due to excessive heat build-up. This problem can be avoided by periodically performing a radiator flush. A radiator flush involves draining the original coolant from the radiator and replacing it with a special coolant mixture that cleans the system. This mixture circulates through the vehicle’s cooling system, dissolving and removing any solid build-up inside the radiator channels. This mixture is then drained and replaced with a standard mix of coolant and water.

The radiator flush process can take a few hours because the vehicle’s existing coolant needs to have time to cool down completely before it can be safely drained. Your auto technician will then need to run the engine with the cleaning mixture until it reaches normal driving temperature. At this point, the vehicle’s heating system needs to run at its highest setting for a while. Then, after the cleaning mixture temperature drops, it needs to be drained and replaced with the standard coolant and water solution.

Vehicle manufacturers usually include a recommended schedule for radiator flushing. Schedules are based on engine specifications and the type of coolant that is used. The typical frequency is at least once every 2 years or 30,000 miles. In areas where winters are especially harsh or summers are extreme, it is recommended that you schedule a radiator flush at the start of each season.

Happy Thanksgiving

This being the week of Thanksgiving, most of us are busy trying to make the most of the short work week, grocery shopping, or making travel plans. In the midst of my chaotic morning, I received the following email from a friend. It was a great reminder of what makes Thanksgiving and the holiday weekend so special. What a joy to give thanks for blessings over a terrific meal, then enjoy a long weekend with family and friends doing all those things that make for special memories.

In honor of the season, I’d like to share my friend’s message with you, and wish you a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Dear Tracy,

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and the Lord willing I will go hunting in the morning for the 50th straight year. When I was a kid on the farm the Thanksgiving Day hunt was a much anticipated event. Some years my dad and uncles would participate and we would hunt the family farm which in those days was rife with small game. Other years we would head for Washington Court House to hunt pheasant on a farm owned by a friend of my parents. Other years my Uncle Clay would bring his beagles from Tennessee for a day of rabbit hunting that was exciting just watching his dogs work.

This year’s effort will probably be like last year, a pitiful ritual performed by me alone on my own farm. Last year I saw one rabbit which I took a half-hearted shot at and it left my dog Sandy so disgusted she left the hunt and returned to the house. The rest of the hunt consisted of shooting a few hedge apples and a beer can.

And yet when I’m out in the field tomorrow the memories of Thanksgivings past, the excitement of the dogs chasing game and the camaraderie of my dad and uncles will be relived and I will be thankful for another year. I hope you will enjoy your Thanksgiving Day as well – have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Roger M.

Winter Care for Car Batteries

Dear Tracy,

What, if any, maintenance should be performed on car batteries? Do batteries run out of charge more quickly in winter? With the cold weather moving in, I want to make sure I don’t get stuck in the cold with a dead battery.

Stacy D.

Dear Stacy,

Before the winter driving season arrives in full force, it is a good idea to take your car in for maintenance and inspection. Your mechanic can test your battery and if necessary, clean the battery tray and terminal posts. Your shop may also spray the terminals with a protectant to inhibit corrosion. In addition to battery maintenance, the mechanic can inspect your alternator and starting system to make sure everything related to your car’s battery performance is in good order.

While your car battery does not actually drain faster in the winter, extreme cold does have an effect on battery performance. Cold temperatures greatly reduce the effectiveness of chemical reactions within the battery and also increase the battery’s internal resistance. As the temperatures fall, these factors cause a reduction in cranking power. Vehicles need an increased amount of cranking power in cold weather because motor oil is thicker and makes engines harder to crank.

To reduce your chances of being stranded, remember to watch for the signs of a low or dying battery. If the starter turns slowly, your battery could be failing or you may have alternator wiring problems that prevent the battery from fully charging. Another sign of trouble is if your headlights look dim at idle and but become brighter when you accelerate the engine. Finally, if you have any concerns about your battery, look for a purchase date on the battery itself. The battery case should have a decal stating its expected life. If it’s getting close to the end of this expected service life, replace it.

Are All Season Tires Really All Season?

Dear Tracy,

I recently moved from Florida to Kentucky. This will be the first winter that I will be experiencing driving in ice and snow. I am wondering if I need to get a set of snow or winter tires for the coming months. My car currently has a new set of all season tires installed – doesn’t that mean these tires are appropriate for driving in all seasons?

Sophia L.

Dear Sophia,

In moving from the sunshine state to bluegrass-country, you are undoubtedly in Winter Drivingfor a very different driving experience this winter! The mild weather you experienced in Florida probably never gave you the opportunity to navigate ice or snow covered roadways. Kentucky will most likely give you that chance on many occasions this winter.

Even though it would seem that all season tires should be suitable for driving in all seasons, they are not appropriate for driving in all types of weather conditions. While all season tires are designed to provide the best ride and comfort in a variety of temperatures, winter tires have specific features, developed for cold, snow, and ice. One basic difference in winter tires is that the rubber used in these tires is developed to grip better in low temperatures. Winter tires also feature small tread blocks and siping, which means that the treads are cut specifically for better traction and to prevent hydroplaning. Since the rubber used in winter tires is softer, it does wear more quickly, so winter tires may need to be every three or four seasons. It will be important to switch back to your all season tires as soon as spring returns.

It is definitely a good idea to invest in a good set of winter tires, especially if you are in a rural part of Kentucky that may not get roads treated as quickly as more populated areas. It is also important for safe winter driving to keep your tire pressure at the recommended levels.

Rolling Resistance & Fuel Economy

Dear Tracy,

I know that I am going to need to replace my tires soon and am currently doing research on my options. Can you tell me how important a factor “rolling resistance” is when selecting tires? Is this a crucial feature in getting the best fuel economy with my car?

Adam S.

Dear Adam,

Rolling resistance refers to the force resisting motion when the tire moves along the surface of the road. The rolling resistance of a vehicle’s tires definitely does have an impact on its fuel economy. In fact, most vehicle manufacturers specify original equipment tires with low rolling resistance to optimize performance for government Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandate testing. These tires are usually designed for lower weight and rolling resistance, and can be constructed with thinner sidewalls and shallower tread depths. Even the tire’s chemistry may have an impact of rolling resistance. While good for fuel economy, these tires may not have all the attributes you would want in your replacement tires.

Fuel economy is one of many tire buying considerations you should think about in selecting a set of replacement tires. The type of tire you select should offer both performance and safety for your particular car, the type of driving you do, and for the climate in which you live and drive. Many of today’s major tire manufacturers are now offering fuel-saving, low-rolling-resistance tires. Make sure you work with your tire dealer to find a quality tire that offers a good balance of the features and benefits that are important to you.

Finally, when striving for the best fuel economy, remember that your tire selection is just the beginning. Proper tire maintenance is essential not only in getting the best fuel economy, but also making the most of your tire investment. Monitor your tire pressure at least monthly, and keep the pressure level at the amount recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. The correct pressure will be listed in your owner’s manual or labeled on the driver side doorjamb. Regular checks on balance and alignment will also help to make sure you get the best mileage and longest performance life from your tires.