We checked with a couple of long-time car care businesses in our neighborhood about priorities this time of year, and they were quick to flag five common car owner mistakes:
1. Speeding Past Essentials On Your Way Out of Town
Over on Martin City’s west side, we caught up with Firestone Service Manager Tom Brown as he was booking appointments one after another. Brown knows cold weather is a hot time for mechanics. He’s been on the job for 18 years, including three years in our neighborhood.
“Martin City car owners tend to take pretty good care of their cars. It’s nice to see,” says Brown with a smile. “I’ve worked in other areas of Kansas City where the cars tend to be older, and drivers don’t give regular care as much attention.”
Winter is no time to take chances. Brown recommends a close look at essentials where the rubber meets the road, before you take a long drive on a holiday trip. “You’ve got to check that tire pressure. It’s the best way to avoid a tire problem that can leave you stuck on the side of the road.”
Tire tread depth is key, too. Don’t wait to start sliding around before you get serious about traction. “A big snow really wakes people up. Our calendar fills up quickly, so it’s smart to make sure your tire depth is okay before a winter storm puts you in danger or on a waiting list for new tire service.”
Cold is just as much of a threat as ice and snow. Brown says you don’t want to find out about an antifreeze problem when the temperatures drop. “If your antifreeze hasn’t been checked or changed in a few years, you may be pushing your luck. In frigid weather, poor antifreeze is a shortcut to serious engine trouble.”
2. Shifting an Oil Change into the Slow Lane
It’s cold outside, you’re rushing around getting holiday shopping done, and there’s not much time to spare for your regular oil change. But before you skip it, consider that fresh oil may be the best thing you can do to keep your car running right during the winter.
“We get a lot of oil change appointments this time of year,” says Brown, passing off paperwork to store manager Braden McWilliams. “Many people know it’s got to get done without delay because it minimizes the stress on engines.”
Cold weather can slow the flow of oil through your car, so fresh oil is your best bet for keeping it moving like it should. Stick with aging oil that’s already been through thousands of miles, and your motor may start acting up.
“Don’t skip timely brake maintenance either,” says Brown. “When you’re navigating snowy roads, you definitely want your breaks to perform well.”
3. Parking in Person vs Dropping Off for the Day
If you think just swinging by a car service business and waiting in the lobby saves time, think again. Ultimately, you could wind up spending more time than you expect.
“We all want everything on demand, including car service,” says Brown. “We want it done right now. But the reality is service can take a few hours, depending on what’s going on with your car. That’s a long time to sit and wait when you could be doing other things around town.”
Brown says making an appointment and then dropping off your car for the day is a wise decision because it puts mechanics in a better position to work efficiently for your benefit.
“If we come across something unexpected that needs immediate attention, we may have enough time to knock it out before you pick your car up at the end of the day. Otherwise, your wait in our lobby gets longer or you may even opt to come back another day for the rest of the service you need.”
4. Steering Toward the Wrong Service at a Parts Store
Over at O’Reilly Auto Parts on Holmes Road in Martin City, Robert Branscumb is working hard to accommodate customers who have already formed a line at the counter just minutes after the store opened on a cold December morning.
“It’s like this most mornings,” says Branscumb, juggling a ringing phone while ringing up purchases. “Some people know exactly what they need, but others are looking for our expertise to make the right choices.”
The expertise at this O’Reilly’s is seen as particularly valuable, no doubt. In fact, many customers want the pros behind the counter to do more than the business is built to do.
“Many get the impression that we’re a full service car care store, and we’re not,” says Branscumb, guiding another customer to the product they need. “Maybe we can help with easily accessible, low effort things like dropping in certain kinds of batteries or helping with wipers and simple air filters. But sometimes they want us to be mechanics. We just can’t do that.”
What O’Reilly can do is offer you a selection of premium parts so that you can tackle basic maintenance and repair yourself. They certainly know how it all works and what’s right for your particular vehicle. Ask Branscumb about a part and he immediately sets off to find it for you. “I enjoy doing what I can to make things easier for customers. It’s rewarding work.”
5. Putting the Brakes on Winter Supplies
Some of the most popular supplies inside O’Reilly’s right now are specifically designed to help your car get through another winter. Wipers always fly off the shelf when the weather turns cold, in addition to ice scrapers, de-icer, gas tank additives, and batteries.
“My advice would be to get your winter supplies while the weather is good,” says Brown. “It’s always better to be prepared than to get stuck without what you need when conditions on the road get difficult. And don’t forget to include an emergency kit.”