A winter check is actually something our shop tries to do year round because what is discussed is important to vehicle operations year round.
However, in the customer's mind, it is a much greater consideration when they try to deal with some of winter's extremes.
We recently experienced temperatures that we haven't seen in years. We have also experienced more snow than occurred during the same period of the last several winters. So we have to realize that, at least as far as winter is going or has gone thus far, conditions are presenting sales opportunities that are much greater than ever.
I believe, for our shop, tire sales have been stronger than typical, and I have noticed that some warehouses are running low on or out of many snow tires. That is unusual considering winter has a long way to go.
My question is, has or is your shop taking advantage of the sales opportunities that are out there right now? Does every vehicle going through your shop get the tires checked, including tread depth, pressure, uneven wear, bubbles, cuts, etc.? Our work orders provide a spot to record the insides, outsides and center tread depths, as well as the before corrected tire pressure.
When reviewing work orders, I often find the readings that were provided are not as accurate as they could be. Just a few 32nds difference in tread depth can be the difference between recommending tires or not. I feel we need to constantly spend time in our service department to ensure that our employees are doing what we ask of them.
Does the sales writer offer every customer coming in for any services a winter checkup? We offer it in most cases, and typically it would include a close inspection of the tires (which we try to do on all cars anyway), testing the battery to determine its state of charge and its state of health.
Remember, a battery's state of charge is not the whole story. State of health takes into account the battery's ability to flow electricity, and most newer battery test equipment can calculate that by analyzing resistance in the battery. A battery can have a 100-pecent state of charge and still test poorly and be in need of replacement.
If you have test equipment that has a printer, normally all the equipment's capable test results will print out. If the equipment does not have a printer or is incapable of more complicated tests, technicians could assume a good state of charge is all the information needed and may inaccurately report the condition of the battery.
When testing the antifreeze/coolant, here gain, what you test with is important. Older testers simply tested for freeze-over/boil-over protection, while newer equipment or test strips also will check for pH (acidity or alkalinity) and nitrates (chemical contaminates or inhibitors).
Years ago, when antifreeze/coolant manufacturers started promoting it as long life or permanent, it was realized (likely later) that over time antifreeze/coolant will become more acidic, and the acidity can corrode the cooling system as well as the head and intake manifold gaskets. Today, most vehicle manufacturers recommend changing the antifreeze/coolant at 60-month intervals. While most customers are aware of concerns of freeze-over, many are not aware of the need to change/service the antifreeze/coolant to control pH and nitrates.
While I typically mention tires, antifreeze/coolant and battery tests as part of our winter check, we also check fluids, washer function, wipers, lights, filters, belts and hoses.
Here again, we need to be careful. I still find many customers will fill their own washer fluid; and this year, they may realize that the washer fluid they are using will not hold up in these severely cold temperatures. Many manufacturers of washer fluid sell summer blend during the spring and summer, and if it remains in the vehicle it will freeze in even moderately cold temperatures.
Our shop has never included topping off washer fluid as part of another service, such as an oil change, and today we only use winter blend year round. It is important to realize this, because it has only come to light in recent years. If the washer fluid in a vehicle does freeze, it will not only prevent the washers from working at a potentially critical time, but the pump and bottle could become damaged from freezing—and you don't want to be held responsible for that kind of damage.
If your shop does top off this fluid, make certain the washer fluid you are using holds up under these extremely low temperatures that we don't see often, but can come during a severe winter.
Bob Richey is owner-operator of Richey Inc./Goodyear Tire Center in Bellevue, Pa. This article, which first appeared in the Tire Dealers Association of Western Pennsylvania's newsletter, has been edited for length and clarity and is used by permission.