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Preparing for Winter by Brad York

Fall inspections are essential for safe winter motoring. Photo: Huw Evans

There is no question that 2020 has proved to be one of the most challenging and disruptive years of recent times.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced ours and other industries, to change business plans and the way in which we interact with our customers.

If that hasn’t been enough, we now find ourselves heading into winter, which for service providers means It’s time to ensure our customers are prepared for the cold weather driving season ahead.

Looking to us

Although the need to social distance and take precautions is still very much a reality at this time, we also need to be aware of the fact that our customers look to us for their automotive needs, regardless of whether we are in the midst of a pandemic or not. Nobody likes being stranded on the side of the road in the dead of winter and the situation is made even more difficult this year, since many tow truck operators are not willing to offer motorists a ride and on top of it, many repair shops have either closed or severely restricted access to their reception areas.

That being said, as technicians and service providers, we can still put effective plans in place to ensure we are able to book our customers’ vehicles in for an inspection and make sure they are all set for the winter.

An inspection is important because it allows us to ensure their vehicle is safe for operation. And many of the tests we as technicians perform include not only inspection of the brakes while the tires are changed from all-season to winter, but also fluid levels and performing PH tests of the antifreeze to ensure it is up to standard as well as checking the condition of all the belts and hoses.

Winter can be very unforgiving on older rubber parts, especially if they are already showing signs of cracking or becoming brittle. They are cheap insurance and as long as you explain it properly, most customers will understand.

Block heaters

In parts of the country where it gets very cold, checking the block heater to make sure it is working and has the proper resistance should also be added to the list.

Batteries are another key area of failure and a battery test should be part and parcel of every single vehicle inspection. Our Canadian climate with its extremes of heat and cold takes its toll on batteries and with the level of electronics found on today’s vehicles which the electrical system has to support, battery life is often shortened.

Also ensure the brake fluid and lines are checked for any signs of moisture or corrosion—if found, the lines should be replaced and system flushed, since any moisture in the system could cause it to fail in extreme cold weather. The same goes for the power steering system, since the fluid can gel up which can damage power steering components, particularly when the temperature really drops.

And of course, there’s the tires. While not mandated in many areas of Canada, getting your customers to understand the benefits of winter tires, such as superior traction and grip when it comes to acceleration, road holding and stopping is critical.

While they might have to spend some money up front for a new set of winter tires and wheels, the savings are far greater, especially if it means the difference between avoiding the vehicle in front that brakes suddenly; or sliding into the back of it because your all-season tires lacked the grip necessary in cold temperatures to prevent it.

Obligation

Living in Canada, winter is a fact of life for most of us and as technicians and service providers we have an obligation to keep our customers safe on the roads no matter the conditions mother nature throws at us. And that means performing inspections on a regular basis, at least twice annually.

Today, thanks to the advent of technology such as digital inspections, it is easier than ever for us to show our customers what their vehicle needs and why it needs it. And by educating them about spending a little on maintenance on their vehicle now, not only can we provide them peace of mind when it comes to driving in the months ahead, it will also help avoid that situation of our customers ending up on the side of the road with a dead battery in the depths of winter, where due to an ongoing pandemic, passing motorists will likely be very reluctant to pick them up.


Brad York is a licensed automotive technician and owner of Three Sons Auto in St. Albert, Alta. You can reach him at [email protected]

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