Ah, Winter: season of sunless gloom, dismal freezer of suet spheres. We gather under your gunmetal grimace, gazing skyward in frigid, awestruck impotency, and as the cold overtakes us, we bellow but one desperate inquiry into your implacable overcast:
How can I winterize my modest mid-sized sedan in this economy?
You answer us, dear Winter, with mutant disdain. You rebuke us with hail the size of billiard balls, driving us like cattle back to the meager furnishings of our shacks and outhouses, where we await further reprisal for the question we’d so brazenly dared ask. Weeks of gelid, hail-ridden monotony ensue, our sole sustenance the miserly bubbling of moths’ milk over the fire. Sometimes, we peer sheepishly over windowsills long eroded by the drumming of our gaunt, nervous fingers. We know not what comes next, but by God, we know it will smell terrible. What to do?
Fear not, frozen reader! The I’m Leaving You School of Automotive Sciences (ILYSAS) is here to chafe your melancholy into a full-blown joy-rash. Prime your malnourished mind for savings so hot you’ll curse Thomas Edison, beach volleyball, and your retirement plan! Join us, loyal derelicts, as we peer deep into the inscrutable mechanism that carries you to the liquor store each afternoon.
Maintenance Tip #1: Oil Change
Locate your automobile by searching the area near your home or office for the car in which you can recall most recently having slept. From the farthest possible distance, approach the automobile in a slow inward spiral terminating at the driver’s side door. You must demonstrate confidence to onlookers and passersby, each of whom is assessing your behavior and plotting to rob you–so, consciously ensure that your stride is long, slow, and menacing. This is also an excellent opportunity to spot premature wear or snot on the exterior of the vehicle (see Tip #5).
Clear debris and other vehicles away from the automobile. Start your car by resting in the driver’s seat (port side) and depressing the accelerator with the full strength of your right leg while wrenching the ignition key clockwise with your right hand. Pretend you’re in a video game.
Having started the car, fumble and grab forcefully under the dashboard until you locate the hood-release lever, then lift the lever sharply to de-tension the hood latch. Exit the car and lift the hood. Don’t forget to maintain a keen sense of your surroundings and to clarify, via bared teeth, bicep-flexing, and hyperventilation, that you are in charge of everything you can see. Cut your eyes viciously from side to side, even if no one is visible nearby. Pretend you are a wolf.
Prop open the hood with a thin, brittle twig approximately 18 inches in length. Lower your body and rest your ear close to the hood latch, pressing your cheek lightly against the cold metal plating of the front bumper. Now, in a fast and sweeping motion, reach over your head and swipe away the twig, allowing the hood to inscribe a murderous arc and slam shut beside your waiting ear. What pitch do you hear? Record this in your logbook, then compare your measurement with our handy chart at the end of this article to determine your vehicle’s Static Resonant Frequency (SRF). Pretend you are a scientist.
Next, reopen the hood and locate the dipstick (in most American cars, this device is wedged between the ternary colluder (“Stetson apparatus”) and aft compressor (“compressor”)). The dipstick, a red-hot cutlass sheathed in a grimy black conduit, is an automotive dowsing rod mechanics use to guess oil levels. Withdraw the dipstick and raise the oiled end of the stick to your lips. Allow a small drip to grace the surface of your tongue. What flavor do you taste? Make a note of the unique character of the oil for comparison with our oil-pungency table following this article. Pretend you are a chef.
You are now ready to change your car’s oil. Ensure that you have purchased the proper oil by verifying that the oil’s packaging depicts a Nascar vehicle moving at high velocity. Proceed to turn off your car, drain the existing oil, replace your oil filter, refill with new oil, and discard all waste in proper containers.
Restart your car, then dive away from the vehicle, shielding both eyes. Rise; now, dust the gravel from your lapels. Play air guitar for anyone who will look at you.
Tip #2: Check fuel levels
Unscrew your car’s gas cap (located on the starboard side of the fuselage) and toss a small white marshmallow into the gas tank. Can you see the marshmallow in its cave of nauseating blackness? If not, add one gallon of gas and repeat these steps until one or more marshmallows are visible.
Tip #3: Acceleration Test
A person who is aware of his vehicle’s Acceleration Potential (AP) demonstrates confidence on the road and in the office. Defining your AP will not only elevate your self-esteem by opening a vast chasm of superiority between you and the bovine roustabouts you see seething in their crappy cars, sipping from styrofoam coffee cups as they navigate the predictable flatline of their diminishing lifespans on their way to tedious, unfulfilling jobs; it’ll also make great conversation at dinner parties.
Place a cinder block tightly against each of the rear wheels of your car. Now, start the car and shift the transmission into neutral (this is typically signified by the letter N embossed on the shifter, but may also appear as an asterisk or skull-and-crossbones, which should be ignored). Hold your foot against the gas pedal until the tachometer’s needle touches the red end of its spectrum, which indicates the engine’s Heat Threshold (HT) is adequate to the forthcoming exercise.
Maintaining full pressure on the gas pedal, shift the car rapidly into reverse (R, or, on European models, an octagonal enclosure framing the profile of a naked woman in repose). A well-tuned car will accelerate backward and roll cleanly over the cinderblocks. Did you drive over the blocks? Record this in your logbook, then accelerate over your logbook.
Tip #4: Interior Dust Check (IDC)
Sit in the driver’s seat of your car, facing forward. Lean toward the dashboard gauges and inhale deeply from your stomach, allowing your diaphragm to inflate fully. Now, expel the air from your lips with the full force of your burning lungs. (You should feel a light pain beneath your sternum.)
Did you cough, choke, or pass out? If you conducted this test, there is too much dust in your car.
Tip #5: Paint Assessment
Scan your car for rusty or vulnerable spots by tapping a ball peen hammer lightly over the entirety of the vehicle’s exterior. Note weak spots with a permanent marker. Think about the money you’re saving at this very moment. Now think about your childhood. Now go to sleep.
Tip #6: Windshield Wiper Efficiency
How effective are your windshield wipers? Even brand-new blades may snap during the terrors of heavy rain, hood sex, or sudden mist. Augment bad-weather performance by spreading a thin bead of Virgin Olive Oil along the length of each wiper blade. Repeat this procedure once per week until your windshield is fully seasoned and retains a protective sheen.
Tip #7: Washer Fluid Test
Gauge the viscosity of your windshield washer fluid by dipping a biscotti (a hard Italian cookie whose name, roughly translated, means “stale toe”) into the top of the reservoir. Quickly remove the cookie and note how much blue liquid has been absorbed.
Pro tip: If you’re an early riser, the biscotti, after a light washing, makes a delicious breakfast treat.
Tip #8: Brake Check
Braking defines the automotive experience by imparting the illusion of safety and control to the gullible driver. Well-tuned brakes can mean the difference between driving a serviceable jalopy and landing a lead role in a daytime soap opera.
Test your brakes by driving to a quiet neighborhood with light traffic. Come to a complete stop, then accelerate as rapidly as possible for two seconds. Immediately hit the brakes with your full strength while activating the horn. Repeat five times, or until you see smoke (anywhere). Your brakes are now calibrated for the road. If you move to a new location, be sure to repeat the calibration process to adjust for asphalt density.
Pro tip: Wrap your car in police tape to show the authorities that you are conducting a mechanical safety check and should not be interrupted.
Tip #9: Heat/AC Test
By this point in the process, you’re undoubtedly ready for a low-quality sexual rendezvous in the very car you’re examining. But how, tenderfoot mechanic, will you lure a stranger into a car that’s too hot or too cold for your warped sense of romantic atmosphere? To bind the future around the maypole of your personal fulfillment, test your heat and air conditioning regularly.
Start your car and remain in the driver’s seat. Ensure all windows and vents are closed, then move the heat control to its maximum setting. Using a stopwatch, measure how long you can endure the discomfort you have knowingly induced. This number is your maximum heat capacity in BTUs; record this in your logbook, then go to sleep if you feel tired.
Pro tip: If you are pregnant or retired, have a friend monitor you from a safe distance of 120 feet.
Tip #10: Tire Pressure
The importance of tire pressure cannot be overstated. Nevertheless, do not attempt to exaggerate the significance of tire pressure at any time during this exercise.
Approaching your vehicle from the side, locate one of its four tires. Then, from a standing position, kick the tire once with the maximum force available to your lower extremities. (Many mechanics choose to augment kicking power by indulging in a sports fantasy in which punting a soccer ball filled with explosives over a broad ravine is the only way to destroy a bridge crowded with angry dinosaurs.) If in a public area, shout and hold one hand aloft to signal you are about to kick.
After kicking, look down at your foot. How much do you regret your self-inflicted pain? Record any curse words you can think of in your logbook. If you conjured more than five offensive words, your tire’s pressure is adequate for highway driving. Repeat for the remaining three tires, adjusting your kicking fantasy as required.
There’s no better feeling than the unshakable certainty that the wiles of the universe are powerless to harm you. If you’ve followed our tips closely, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll ever experience this sensation. Still, there are other boons–perhaps you’ve managed to corral some small shred of knowledge, or made sense of some previously arcane automotive concept, or met a police officer.
From everyone at the I’m Leaving You School of Automotive Sciences, have a great winter and keep those engines idling. Now get back inside, where it’s safe.
*None of these tips are essential, nor should you, under any circumstances, follow the advice written in this article. These tips are extremely unsafe and uncouth.