Eastern Iowa's cold weather tough on cars, but good for repair business

Heaved paving and holes on roadways causing rise in suspension repairs

Published: March 9 2014 | 5:30 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:20 am in

Man and beast are not the only ones suffering from this winter’s extended cold temperatures and incessant snowfall. Automobiles also incurring more than their fair share of damage and mayhem.

Trying to get around in excessive cold, snow and ice is chaotic enough, but when stalled or broken vehicles get tossed into the mix, the challenges of winter driving and repair bills increase, keeping auto repair shops busy.

Goodyear Tire Center in Marion started seeing more customers in November, owner Troy Benham recalled.

“It’s been very brisk with the cold weather, all the snow and ... now with the condition of the roads,” he said.

Benham employs 11 full-time mechanics and estimated that they run 80 to 100 cars a day through his shop, 6 days a week.

“We are a high volume shop,” he said with some understatement.

“We are seeing a lot of broken suspensions. Also a lot of bent wheels, damaged tires and control arms,” he added.

The severe weather and the freezing and thawing process is taking its tolls on the roadways, which present heaved paving and holes that get deeper as traffic drives over them. The end result can lead to expensive repairs.

“The advice I would offer to people is to make sure they are compensating on the air pressure in their tires,” Benham said. “That is huge when the weather fluctuates. Tires lose 1 pound of air pressure for every 10 degrees of temperature loss.”

“When the cars with low profile tires get low on air and they hit one of these chuck holes, they do not have a lot of sidewall to take that cushion up, so that’s what bends wheels and pinches the tire in between the wheel and the chuck hole, damaging the tires then,” added Mike Hubbell, owner of Hubbell’s Auto Repair.

Hubbell employs five full time mechanics and on any given business day lately they see 10 to 15 vehicles in their shop for repairs.

“We saw an increase in our business volume up through January, but what we are seeing now is a lot of cars with suspension issues because of the roads,” he noted.

“We’ve had bent rims, and damaged tires. We’re also seeing an increase in broken sway bar links.

“Those are always oscillating underneath the car when the car is being driven down the road — and when someone hits a pothole, they are either being broken, or their life is shortened because of the severity of the bump.”

Hubbell noted that in early winter, “we were dealing with cars that needed repairs because they were fine when the weather was warm. But once it started getting cold, they couldn’t hack it.

“In December and January alone, we were probably selling two to three batteries per day, but that has dropped off now.”

Hubbell also has seen a rise in starting and heating problems, as well as coolant leaks due to the cold.

Extreme cold can cause rubber parts to become brittle. Radiator and heater hoses should be checked for cracks, leaks and contamination from oil or grease, and replaced if they feel brittle or overly soft, both repair shop owners said.

Hubbell added that car owners should continue basic maintenance, such as regularly changing their car’s oil and keeping all fluids topped off.

“We’ve probably seen a 10 percent increase just from the damage caused by hitting potholes this winter,” Phillips said. “The tires, shocks and struts absorb all of that pounding.

“Batteries and alternators have been very big sellers for us this season,” he added.

“If the battery is going bad, it can have an effect on the alternator because once the battery starts to go down, the alternator has to work harder to keep it maintained. With the cold weather dropping below zero for long periods of time, we’ve seen a lot of batteries failing — their cells are actually dropping out, which kills the battery.”

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