New Year, New Tires

Dear Tracy,

As the new year approaches, I am coming up with a budget for the major purchases I will need to make. I have had my car awhile, and I think it may be due for a new set of tires in 2014. Is there a certain point at which new tires should be purchased, or are there signs to watch for that will tell me when I need to replace them?

Vanessa A.

Dear Vanessa,

First, let me congratulate you on your wise financial planning. Tires are a significant investment, and it makes sense to plan ahead for the purchase. Now, as to how soon you need to make that purchase – the best way to decide is to let your tires tell you.

Here are four basic things to look for in evaluating the condition of your tires. Any of these signs will mean that it is time to start shopping and get those old tires replaced:

Look at the tread depth. There should never been less than 1/16 of an inch of tread on your tires. How much is a 1/16 of an inch? The easy way to tell is with the penny test. Take your penny and insert it into the tread  with Abe’s head facing toward the tire. If you can see his entire head, that means you do not have enough tread left on your tires to be safe.

Look at the tread wear indicator bars. Newer tire models have tread wear indicator bars, which are designed to help you know when to replace your tires. These bars are mostly invisible when the tires are new and have plenty of tread. As the tire tread wears down, they gradually become visible as flat rubber bars running perpendicular to the direction of the tread. When you see these bars, it is time for new tires.

Check for cracks in the sidewalls. Look for cracks or cuts in the sidewall of each tire. These cracks may appear as lines that are visible to the naked eye. These could indicate that your tire is developing a leak or that it is on the verge of a blow out. If you discover the cracks in the sidewalls of your tires, replace them as soon as possible to avoid a hazardous situation.

Check for blisters or bulges. When the outer surface of a tire begins to weaken, a bulge or blister may appear on the surface of the tire. These tire bulges and blisters are weak or vulnerable spots that can cause a sudden blowout. If you notice this happening on the surface of your tires, it is definitely time to shop for a new set.


Season’s Greetings!

Santa Driving Car Vintage Postcard

I wish you all a wonderful holiday season full of great times and plenty of cheer. If you are traveling, remember to be prepared for winter roads and drive safely. Before you leave:

• Check your battery, wipers, lights, oil, coolant, and fluids
• Make sure your jumper cables, flares, and other emergency items are packed
• Charge your cell phone, and don’t forget to bring your car charger, if you have one
• Make sure you have up-to-date maps
• Put some gloves and a blanket or two in the car

And of course, make sure your tires are inflated to the right pressure! Happy Holidays!

Understanding All-Wheel and Four-Wheel Drive

Dear Tracy,

Can you tell me if there is a difference is between all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, or if these terms mean basically the same thing? I am also wondering if it is worth investing the extra cash to get an all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle. Is the safety and performance that much better?

Andrew J.

Dear Andrew,

To answer your first question, all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive are not the same. In the design of an all-wheel drive vehicle,  the drivetrain has a front, rear and center differential to provide power to all four wheels of a vehicle. The drivetrain on a four-wheel drive vehicle has two differentials and a transfer case to provide power to all four wheels of a vehicle. Cars and crossover vehicles often have all-wheel drive, while trucks and truck-based sport utility vehicles typically have four-wheel drive. Both all-wheel and four-wheel drive systems can improve vehicle acceleration in slippery conditions, and may offer better handling on some types of roads or terrain.

As to whether or not these systems are worth the extra investment, the answer will depend largely on the conditions under which you normally drive and what kind of driving you do. If you live in an area that gets heavy rain or snowfall for most of the year, the investment may be worth it. Similarly, if you do a lot of off-road driving or driving on unpaved roads, all-wheel or four-wheel drive may be highly beneficial. Some other advantages to having all-wheel drive or four wheel drive include better traction with towing and often times, added resale value.

On the downside, there are other drawbacks, besides the additional cost that you noted. All-wheel and four-wheel drive vehicles offer lower fuel economy and require more maintenance than standard vehicles. In regard to gas consumption, it is important to note that four-wheel drive, unlike all-wheel drive,  can be turned off so you have the option to only use it, and the extra gas it requires, when you need it.

In deciding whether or not to invest in all-wheel or four-wheel drive, remember that in many cases, such as winter driving, selecting the right type of tire may be the best thing you can do to enhance safety and performance.

The Salt Assault – Protect Your Car & Tires

Winter is just about the roughest season of all on your vehicle. Along with the snow, ice and freezing temperatures, your car and tires are under salt assault on the roads.

Salt and sand are typically spread over roads before or after a snow or ice storm. Salt lowers water’s freezing point, helping ice to melt even when the air temperature remains well below freezing. Sand helps keep the salt in place, while adding a degree of traction to wet and slushy roads.

Though salt and sand make the roads safer, their effects are anything but safe for your car and tires. The corrosive nature of these substances can damage paint finish, and make hoods, doors, fenders and tailgates susceptible to rust.

Help protect your car this winter with these tips:

Wash early, wash often – Be sure to keep the car clean with frequent washes, every one to two weeks. It is important to wash your car early in the day, making sure it has time to dry before nightfall, when temperatures drop.

Don’t get in too deep – Driving into heavy accumulations of snow is a bad idea. Not only due to the danger of getting stuck, but because the snow is mixed with salt and it packs into the undercarriage of your car. It is difficult to remove and leads to rust problems.

Just brush it off – If you park your car in a garage at night, take a moment to clear off any snow that may have accumulated on your car before you put it inside for the evening. Rust forms when moisture and oxygen combine on the bare metals of wheel wells, chrome, and the undercarriage.

Remember that old adage about an ounce of prevention? Getting your car ready for winter will give it  an extra line of defense. Wash your car and wax it with a good quality winter wax. A winter wax will provide your car with an added buffer of protection, and a fresh wax will make it much easier for the salt and grime to be washed off throughout the season.

Battery Care

Dear Tracy,

As the temperatures are getting colder,  I want to make sure I don’t get stranded in the cold with a dead battery. I was wondering if it is necessary to perform  any maintenance on my car’s battery. Is it true that car batteries run out of charge more quickly in winter?

Allison S.

Dear Allison,

Before every winter driving season it is a good idea to take your car in for seasonal maintenance and inspection. Part of this should include a test of your battery. It may also be necessary to clean the battery tray and terminal posts. Your auto service expert may also spray the terminals with a protective spray to prevent corrosion. Along with battery maintenance, your technician  can check your alternator and starting system to make sure everything is in good condition and will not inhibit your car’s battery performance.

To answer your second question,  technically your car battery does not  drain faster in the winter. It is true, however, that extremely cold temperatures do have an impact on battery performance. Cold substantially decreases the effectiveness of chemical reactions within the battery and also increase the battery’s internal resistance. This causes a reduction in cranking power, which is problematic because cars need an increased amount of cranking power in cold weather when motor oil is thicker.

You can reduce the likelihood of being stuck with a dead battery by watching for the signs of a low or dying battery. Your battery could be failing If notice the starter turns slowly, or alternator wiring problems can prevent the battery from fully charging. If you notice your headlights look dim at idle and but become brighter when you accelerate the engine, this could indicate a battery problem. Lastly, check the purchase date on the battery itself. Somewhere on the battery case there should be a sticker that displays its expected life. Avoid problems by replacing it when it reaches the end of its expected life.