You may recall that there was some discussion here last week about the cold weather ailments that afflict automobiles.
I wasn't concerned about cars that won't start at all on a frosty morning. They're not the ones that tie up traffic.
The ones I wondered about were the ones that start, and seem to be running all right - but then die in the middle of rush hour traffic. Why? What causes the breakdown?
The first thing mentioned by the police and by crane operators was "battery problems." They also gave prominent mentioned to insufficient antifreeze protection, malfunctioning radiators, worn fan belts and alternator belts, and even that hardy perennial, lack of gasoline.
Several District Liners considered this list incomplete, and wrote at once to suggest additions. A few excerpts from their letters might be instructive.
The operator of a repair shop wrote:
"You failed to mention a major cause of roadside breakdowns, summer or winter, and that is worn radiator hoses that finally let loose, and always at an awkward time. These breakdowns can be avoided very easily, but people just don't take the necessary precautions.
"I try to examine every customer's hoses, regardless of what the car was brought in for, and I call attention to soft spots that are a signal the hose is ready to blow. But a lot of people just say yeah yeah, they'll take care of it next time. Maybe they think I'm trying to sell them something they don't need."
Another man in the auto repair business wrote: "You would be amazed how many people do not know that a storage battery needs water in the winter, they are just begging for trouble."
Another reader wrote: "You failed to mention gas line freezeups or condensation, which are also major causes of cars becoming disabled in cold weather. The condensation gets into distributors and other parts of the car's electrical system. Then ice crystals form, and later thaw, and this causes a multitude of ignition and electrical problems. This is why it is always better to leave your car in a sheltered spot on a bitter cold night rather than to leave it out on the street."
In preparing this column, I showed an early draft of it to a colleague who was raised in Canada and worked for a time in Alaska. As he read, I noticed that he nodded agreement with each of the points that was made. When he got to the final letter, he offered a comment of his own.
"You know what we used to do?" he said. "We used to run an extension cord out to the car at night and leave a 100-watt bulb burning under the hood. You have to be careful not to let the hood crunch down and mash your wire, of course, but the heat from just that one little bulb will prevent condensation and electrical glitches, and in the morning that motor used to turn right over for me. Would you believe a 100-watt bulb throws that much heat?"
Yes, anybody who has touched one that was burning for even half a minute will believe they throw heat. And most auto hoods are insulated on the underside, so it is entirely believable that when the hood is down (or almost all the way down) it forms an enclosure that retains heat reasonably well. I hope that the comments and suggestions offered today will make life a little bit easier for you during the remainder of our current Ice Age.