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Why Mid-Winter Oil Changes are Critical

Almost none of the stuff we depend on is specifically designed for our climate. We usually have to DIY something to make it Fairbanks-durable.

At METRO, we make it our business to design ways to care for cars so they perform and last. One of these designs is the mid-winter oil change and inspection. 

Regardless of mileage, January and February are the time for clean oil and an under-car inspection.  Especially in years when road conditions are unusually abusive.

Engine Oil Should Behave as a Liquid

At Fairbanks temperatures, engine oil liquidity can range between thick molasses and wet sawdust! Neither molasses nor wet sawdust can travel throughout the system of tiny ducts crucial to engine protection and performance. Imagine sucking molasses through a straw. This is what your engine has to do on a normal day in Fairbanks if you don’t plug in. AND, even when you do plug in, the moment oil splashes on frozen engine components it can stiffen. 

Prolonged cold and a freeze-thaw cycle of engine operation quickly degrades the lubricating properties of oil and causes significant wear on an engine. Our Fairbanks Fix? Refresh your oil mid-winter, no matter what, so oil maintains its protective properties. January and February are a firm window for scheduled maintenance intervals in our climate.

Mid-winter Oil Change Gotta Have the Right Filter

You’d never think a filter could be a non-Fairbanks thing, but believe us they can be! A poorly designed oil filter will cause damage to an engine, particularly in cold temperatures. A Mid-Winter Oil change will actually do harm if it includes the wrong filter. 

Oil filters are what they sound like: a sieve that filters debris and maintains the smooth, protective properties of oil. Cold weather changes the liquidity of oil making it difficult to push through a mesh designed to catch miniscule abrasives. 

All filters are designed with a “by-pass” valving system that ensures oil flow to the engine if the filter becomes clogged. Poorly designed filters use the by-pass valve exclusively during cold weather or if they are paired with an engine that produces high pressure. This means the filter is not performing at all during engine operation. 

How do you know if your automotive repair shop is using the right filter? Ask. Your Shop must have local knowledge and must specialize in understanding engine specifications and oil viscosity in order to prepare for these fluid and mechanical relationships. 

At METRO, we cut oil filters in half just to see. We read specs and pair them with the right engine. Be sure to select a high-quality oil filter suitable for cold weather and high pressure, or come to a Shop with dedication and experience in an arctic climate. 

Engine Idling: Let’s Look at Some Numbers

If you idle your car to warm it up, (and I hope you do) you must perform a Mid-Winter oil change if you want to protect your engine from damage. If you have an auto-start, you must have a January or February, scheduled service. 

Here is why: Engine idling is essentially mileage that does not appear on the odometer, making it impossible to track service intervals. Ten minutes of idling is the equivalent of 8 miles on the odometer. The average garaged vehicle will idle 40 minutes a day during winter, more if the commute involves errands or stops. At the very least, a garaged vehicle will accumulate roughly 40 miles per day that do not reflect on the instrument panel. 

On average we have 5.5 months of “idling” temperatures. This amounts to 6,600 miles that do not appear on the odometer. If you park your car outside, this number goes up to 9,900 miles that do not appear on the odometer. Mid-winter oil changes are genuinely crucial to preventing damage to engines in a sub-arctic climate.

Winter Storage and Oil Change Preparation

If you’re planning to store your vehicle for an extended period of time this winter, be sure to head to your mechanic or handle a few preventative maintenance tasks yourself if you know how. You might want to see if any of your fluids need to be flushed and topped off, and you’ll want to be sure, of course, that your antifreeze is mixed to -50F and that it is topped off. What some people don’t realize, however, is that an oil change before storing your car for winter is also a good idea. When your oil is old, moisture and debris can build up in your engine. By changing your oil and oil filter before storing your vehicle, you’ll reduce the amount of contaminants in your engine that can cause a build-up of moisture and cause corrosion. Following the fresh oil change you must run the engine for at least five minutes at an idle to be sure the oil is flushed from small passageways. If you have questions about your oil change or about storing your car for winter, stop by METRO or schedule an appointment today!