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Are you and your SAAB ready for winter?

Be prepared for the first snowTraditionally, garages in the UK have advised their customers to ensure that their cars have adequate levels of antifreeze in their cars’ coolant systems by November 1st  but adapting to Winter conditions doesn't’t just involve checking the antifreeze or tyres. 

The bigger picture involves taking simple precautions, adapting driving style and making sure that the basic kit in the car is substantially augmented for possible emergency use.  Sometimes, a shovel and a can of deicer is more use than a socket set if your car is stuck in a snow drift!

There have been years in which the whole of the UK seemed to be totally unready for quite modest snowfalls.  Roads were not gritted, train services were cancelled and schools closed as heating systems proved incapable of meeting the challenge but the UK enjoys a much milder climate than Scandinavia or parts of Canada and many central European countries cope very much better.

This article aims to look at ways every SAAB driver can be prepared for winter and although some technical knowledge is helpful, it isn't essential and much of the extra equipment recommended isn't so much found in the garage workshop, toolshop or hardware store so much as already scattered around your house. Although critical systems checks and the procurement of extra equipment form the bulk of your preparations, the third equally important element is a change of driving style, as we shall see later.

You can delegate the technical bits…

When people think about winter motoring, one of the first topics mentioned is anti-freeze. In the UK, we can usually get away with a 33% concentration of antifreeze but SAAB recommend 50%. Whether it is up to strength or not, the coolant should be changed every 2 years because the effectiveness of anticorrosion additives diminish with time and this can lead to components like frost plugs deteriorating prematurely. A garage workshop would probably use a refractometer or a device to measure the specific gravity of the coolant but the author has been horrified to see owners dip their fingers in the coolant and taste it! Not only is this a poor measure of the strength but coolant is toxic.

The modern workshop uses a rafractometer to measure antifreeze strength accurately

As the air temperature drops, it is sensible to check that the heating (including the heated rear window, if fitted) is working properly. Over time, thermostats can stick and on the 9-5, the heater bypass valve can fail, leading to a situation where the engine reaches normal operating temperature but the heater does not.

Tyres should be inspected -including the spare- for wear and damage before winter but it is a good idea to start by checking you know the location of the locking wheel nut key, wheelbrace and the location of the jacking points. Even if the tyres are new or nearly new, it is still a good idea to check the pressures. All the authors cars have the wheels removed as a matter of routine - road grime and alloy wheel cleaner can result in the wheels becoming bonded to the hubs - not an ideal situation if one is stuck at the side of a road in the dark or in a blizzard.

The battery and charging circuit should be checked by a garage with suitable test gear. Frosty mornings increase friction within engines and diesel fuel gets heavier and many a battery that has performed well enough during the summer months has failed with the advent of the first frosts. Serpentine drive belts take a lot of wear but don't last forever - the author changes these at 75,000 mile intervals along with any pulleys that show any wear. The wise owner would do well to check that this item is in good health, particularly if the vehicle history isn't known. If the belt snaps on the road, it is not a feasible roadside repair.

If you find any problems, write them down and ask your SAAB dealer or independent specialist to investigate for you but bear in mind some tyre shops offer free winter safety checks on lighting and tyres but do check that prices quoted for tyres are competitive.

Finally, before moving away from the 'oily/technical bits' the author recommends an engine oil change before the winter. The oil takes a real caning, especially in a turbocharged engine and in really cold weather it is worth changing to the lowest viscosity oil recommended by the maker - 0/30 Mobil 1 would be the oil chosen by the author.

There are some nice easy jobs too...

Start with the screen washer reservoir. Scares about Legionnaires disease aside, plain water simply doesn't cut it when the temperature drops - there simply is no substitute for a proprietary screen wash additive, although the author tends to augment his with methylated spirit. Don't be tempted to use washing up detergent - this contains salt, which will have a bad effect on paintwork.

The wiper blades that have withstood an assault of summer bugs and tree sap may just be past their best - invest in a new pair, if they don't clear the screen properly. SAAB wiper blades as a rule are not especially taxing to fit but observe the golden rule of never leaving the wiper arm at 90° to the screen - if it springs back, the glass could break! Also note that it is seldom worth the saving to change just the blade rubber - if you get the fitting wrong, the screen could be scratched. Make sure that all the screen washer jets are working - some can block, while others may need the aim resetting. Some washer jets that seem to block again after being cleared may benefit from careful application of compressed air.

Vehicle lighting should, of course, be subject to weekly checks but in reality bulbs are often neglected. The current vogue for clear lenses exposes a flaw in bulb monitoring system - they only advise that a system is working but orange coloured direction indicator bulbs are coated and in time, they revert to white. Change any that are starting to peel.

Load up on essential supplies

Add a shovel to your basic kit but longer journeys require the kit to be supplemented with a hi-vis coat, extra clothing, emergency food and a thermos flask of tea or soup.Start with the essentials - an ice scraper, torch and can of de-icer makes a good start but a shovel, gloves and either overalls or a spare set of warm clothing and a blanket is a sensible addition, just in case you end up spending the night in the car. A hi vis vest or coat is a wise thing to carry because you need to be seen when visibility drops in falling snow or sleet.

A friend who runs a classic VW Beetle always carries a paving slab in the front luggage boot (trunk) when driving in the winter months but keeping more fuel in the tank will help grip at the rear wheels in a SAAB as well as providing an extra safety margin should you end up in a traffic jam somewhere as a result of an accident or road closure - the extra fuel will help when running the engine to keep the cabin warm or charging the battery.

A bag of rocksalt, sand or cat litter can also be of great assistance when traction is lost. Although most people wouldn't go anywhere without their mobile telephone, those embarking on longer runs in bad weather during the winter should consider investing in a spare phone battery - when things are grim, the ability to keep in touch with friends and family can boost morale. If the driver or any passenger requires medication, it may be sensible to carry extra supplies to cover the eventuality that arrival at the destination may be delayed. In very bad weather, it is wise to carry a thermos flask of either tea or soup, while a block of chocolate can prove invaluable in preventing blood sugar levels from falling too low.

Adjust to winter roads

Winter increases the risk of waking up to a covering of snow on your car, so do budget for extra time required to clear away the snow from the roof, bonnet and glass of your car. Do be vigilant and aware of the risk that thieves are looking around for vehicles left running to warm up on drives. On the road, the initial response should be to build up speed gradually, avoiding harsh acceleration, steering or braking. Drive at lower road speeds than normal and increase the distance between the vehicle in front to allow gentler application of the foot brake. Remember: icy conditions can increase stopping distances tenfold! Slow down if areas of shade are encountered - they may hide black ice and never assume that because you are travelling on a main traffic artery that the road will have been treated with grit.



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